The Devils have started the 2018-19 campaign off very well. Despite a little bit of a sloppy game on Thursday night—the first the team lost this season—New Jersey is in second place in the Metropolitan Division and looking like a team that is headed for the playoffs for the second straight season. In fact, the Devils have played the least number of games in the division and are only one point behind Carolina, with two games in hand.
Yes, the Devils have had an excellent 4-1-0 start of the 2018-19 season, all in front of the outstanding netminding of one Keith Kinkaid, the backup goaltender. Kinkaid has been excellent—tops in the league in shutouts, tied for the most wins, the top five in GAA, and top five in save percentage (amongst goalies that have played more than two games).
What a perfect situation. The backup netminder has filled in nicely, and when the number one, Cory Schneider comes off the IR, he should step right back in, right? Yes, but Schneider’s doing so was at some time in the future–until yesterday. Yesterday, Schneider was activated off the IR and assigned to Binghamton on a conditioning loan. So, it is only a couple of weeks before Schneider is ready to play and take back his net.
The question is, when he is ready, should the $6 million per year Schneider just step right back in when Kinkaid is playing so well? Anyone who remembers last year’s playoffs knows this answer to this very well. Kinkaid led the Devils to the playoffs last season after Cory Schneider went down to injury last spring and was allowed to start the series against Tampa Bay. He got shellacked and Schneider was called upon to replace him. The Lightning won the series (as heavy favorites, the team had much more talent), but Schneider played very well.
Recovering now from hip surgery, Schneider should and will get the net. But expect Kinkaid to get plenty of starts between now and the trade deadline. And if Schneider should falter, Kinkaid could step right in. Things could get interesting quickly on this front. Schneider is signed for three more seasons (after this). Kinkaid, who makes $1.25 this year, is a UFA after 2018-19. Undrafted, Kinkaid has been in the Devils organization since college. At age 29 now, he could be a starter next year and the next couple of months will be very important in determining whether or not that happens. In the meantime, the Devils will have to make a decision about Kinkaid. With Mackenzie Blackwood in waiting, Cam Johnson getting a long look in Binghamton, as well as two very young goaltenders (Gilles Senne and Akira Schmid) drafted in the fifth rounds of the last two drafts, a trade is always possible. Maybe that is why there were so many NHL scouts in attendance at the game at the Rock on Thursday evening.