New Jersey Devils Goalie Shows Improvement

vitek vanecek goaltending

Last season, the New Jersey Devils ran seven goaltenders through the blue paint. Mackenzie Blackwood, Scott Wedgewood, Nico Daws, Jon Gillies, Andrew Hammond, Akira Schmid, and Jonathan Bernier all put in minutes for the Devils. However, none put up the performance the team was looking for in trying to become a contender. The position was the number one priority or improvement for the Devils, and they made important moves during the offseason to attempt to upgrade in the net. Adding Vitek Vanecek and his goaltending from the Washington Capitals has been the right answer so far.

Vitek Vanecek Improves Goaltending  

When Vanecek first joined the Devils, the assumption was that he would be playing capable backup to Blackwood. The was similar to his role on the Washington Capitals when he was playing behind Ilya Samsonov. However, Blackwood’s injury-riddled career continued. This culiinated with the Devils announcing that Blackwood would be out 4-6 weeks following an MCL sprain on November 8th.

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Vanecek was the next man up and has proven himself through his 10 starts. He has a 9-1 record with a save percentage of .918 and has been a solid backbone to the Devils’ thirteen-game win streak. Against current league averages, Vanecek has been good, but not exceptional. His current save percentage places him 17th in the league, and his goals saved above expected places him 38th. However, when compared to the numbers from last season, Vanecek has shown considerable improvement for the team overall. 

Vanecek Outperforming 2021-22 Numbers 

On average during the 2021-22 season, the Devils goaltenders had a combined save percentage of .886, down .021 from the league average of .907.  Among all seven goaltenders to cycle through the blue paint, Jonathan Bernier was the only one with a save percentage above .900, with a .902 percentage through 10 games. When these percentages were broken down into high chances, the goaltending for the Devils became even more dire. 

New Jersey saved .766 of high-danger chances last season, abysmal when compared to the league average of .817. This season, Vanecek has a high danger save percentage of .814. This is much closer to the league average of .822. The difference is even more stark when comparing shots not classified as a high-danger chance. Last season, the Devils’ goaltending team had a .925 save percentage against non-high-danger chances, falling behind the NHL average of .940. Vanecek is currently outperforming this year’s low danger average by .015, meaning that he is saving an average of about three goals more a game for the Devils as compared to last season. This improvement to even average goaltending means that the Devils are on pace to prevent around 53 goals throughout the season

Vanecek’s Numbers Are a Reflection of Defensive Success 

While Vanecek has been a marked improvement over the disastrous goaltending of last season, there may be another reason for his success. The New Jersey defence has been remarkably effective in limiting high-danger chances. They’ve been allowing just 24.9% through 19 games this season.

Led by Nico Hischier’s ability to hinder the top players and the defensive efforts of veterans like Dougie Hamilton and new additions John Marino, New Jersey is well below the NHL average of 27.8% high-danger chances, and are consistently forcing opposing teams to take the middle and low-danger shots that Vanecek has been strong at stopping. In doing so, Vanecek’s numbers get a boost, as well as the Devils continuing to set themselves up for success. By putting their goalie behind a defensive system that plays to his strengths, the Devils can control play and keep themselves ahead. It’s been thirteen straight wins for the Devils, and if they keep playing like this, it could be a lot more. 

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