Has the New Jersey Devils goaltending turned a corner?

Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid have been better as of late for the Devils.

Dec 13, 2023; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) plays the
Dec 13, 2023; Newark, New Jersey, USA; New Jersey Devils goaltender Vitek Vanecek (41) plays the / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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The New Jersey Devils are right there for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card with 31 points.

That’s after a thrilling overtime victory against a dominant Boston Bruins team.

The Devils were supposed to be high-flying this season and comfortably in one of the Metropolitan Divisions’ top three spots. Unfortunately, spotty goaltending has been the main thing holding them back.

Goaltending wasn’t supposed to be a strong suit for the Devils entering this season but it’s been worse than you could have imagined.

You had to feel the Devils' crease was living on borrowed time. Last season, Vitek Vanecek played well above expectations on a team where everybody played above expectations.

The New Jersey Devils need both of their goalies to be better going forward

He has since fallen back down to Earth to the tune of a .883 save percentage and a 3.33 goals-against average on the season.

Akira Schmid was supposed to be a season or two away but the brilliance he showed in the Devils first-round matchup against the New York Rangers was enough for them to ship off then restricted free agent Mackenzie Blackwood to the San Jose Sharks. Blackwood was shown flashes of his former self in San Jose.

The Devils were one of those teams that only needed league-average goaltending to be successful, yet even being league-average would be a step up from where they are now.

Add the fact that their top two centers Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes both concurrently dealt with injuries and added some expected scoring woes. The Devils are 7-2 in the nine games since Hischier returned and appear to have turned a corner, along with their goaltending.

Vanecek is on a personal four-game winning streak. The Devils have won his last five appearances but he was pulled in the Devil’s wild win against the New York Islanders after letting in four goals on 18 shots.

One of those consecutive wins also saw Vanecek surrender two goals on only 12 Buffalo Sabres shots. In his past two games, Vanecek has posted save percentages of .920 against the Calgary Flames and .958 against the Bruins.

The Boston game might have been Vanecek’s best and most complete game all season but it wasn't without drama. Boston’s only goal, courtesy of Morgan Geekie, came off Vanecek allowing an ugly rebound chance.

Ugly rebounds have been a kryptonite for Vanecek this year. That Geekie goal was enough to make Devils fans collectively say “Here we go again”.

Vanecek posted a clean sheet the rest of the way. The Devils began to do a better job moving the puck away from danger taking away Boston’s second chances. It cannot be overstated how much of a huge help that was for Vanecek.

Schmid’s more of a mixed bag in his last five-game starting sample size. He has a 2-3 record and both of those victories had him post save percentages of over .930 (against the Philadelphia Flyers and Seattle Kraken).

His last appearance was a loss against the Edmonton Oilers but Connor McDavid and his team were on fire in that game. It happens and it can be forgiven.

What we can’t forgive is his .706 save percentage performance against the San Jose Sharks where he allowed five goals.

Even if recent returns are trending for the better that’s not to say the Devils aren’t looking for an upgrade in net.

The Devils continue to be linked to Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson. Gibson has posted a back-to-back season of double-digit negative goals saved above expected, -14.3 in 2021-2022 and -11.5 last season.

Even if the Ducks are rebuilding, how bad is the team before you start pinning some of that poor performance on Gibson himself?

Both Devils goaltenders have negative goals saved above expected even after their little turnaround. Vanecek currently sits at -5.5 goals saved above expected with Schmid sitting at a -2. Even if the Devils just need “average” goaltending, there’s still room for improvement.

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