Penguins center Nick Bjugstad (not shown) scores a goal on New Jersey Devils goaltender Keith Kinkaid on Feb. 19, 2019, at the Prudential Center.

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Lichtenstein: Struggles This Season May Make Devils' Kinkaid Difficult To Trade

Goalie Has Been Atrocious In 2019

Steve Lichtenstein
February 20, 2019 - 10:50 am
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It was around this time last year when goalie Keith Kinkaid began a remarkable stretch run in which he went 16-4-1 to lead the Devils to an unexpected playoff berth. With a strong glove hand and an uncanny ability to track pucks while in scramble mode, Kinkaid flat out stole some key games when every point ended up mattering.

That netminder’s game has been missing in action since early this season.

After starting 2018-19 with a 4-0 record (with two shutouts) and stopping 99 of 103 shots, Kinkaid has been atrocious. Only tanking Ottawa’s Craig Anderson has worse numbers than Kinkaid’s 3.62 goals-against average and .886 save percentage among goalies who have played at least 20 games since Oct. 17.

In my last post, I noted how Marcus Johansson has seemingly been energized since his name began popping up in trade rumors. The Devils left wing continued his hot streak with two gorgeous plays that resulted in a goal and a primary assist in New Jersey’s 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday night at the Prudential Center. Johansson, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, has four goals and three assists in his last six games in front of legions of NHL scouts. I envisioned Devils general manager Ray Shero exclaiming, “ka-ching!” after Johansson stripped Pittsburgh wing Phil Kessel in the Penguins’ zone and then beat goalie Matt Murray with a high backhand on the ensuing charge to the net to put New Jersey up 2-1 in the first period. 

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If only Kinkaid, similarly unrestricted after this season, could have wowed potential buyers in advance of Monday’s trade deadline as much as Johansson, whose price as a rental could conceivably be no worse than a second-round draft pick.

If Kinkaid continues to play at this level, he might not even be able to fetch a bucket of pucks. He is 2-8 with a ghastly 4.34/.870 GAA/save percentage split in his last 11 starts.

Unfortunately, Tuesday night may have been Kinkaid’s last showcase, since the Devils jumped through hoops to give more work to Cory Schneider, who finally snapped a 21-game winless streak dating back to Dec. 27, 2017, with a 5-4 overtime victory in relief of a struggling Kinkaid on Friday in Minnesota and then defeated Buffalo 4-1 on Sunday.

Let’s put it mildly: If this was indeed Kinkaid’s final opportunity this week, he did not overwhelm anyone with his performance.

Pittsburgh’s two second-period goals Tuesday were particularly troublesome. Kinkaid did not seem to be in the proper position when Penguins wing Bryan Rust took Jake Guentzel’s feed off the rush and quickly snapped the puck on net. It somehow squeezed through Kinkaid’s pads for the go-ahead goal.

Later in the period, Pittsburgh defenseman Chad Ruhwedel one-timed a slap shot from the point that acted like one of Mariano Rivera’s cutters and found the top corner on Kinkaid’s stick side.

“I don’t think Manny Machado is even hitting that fourth one,” Kinkaid said. “We played a pretty good game -- well enough to win.  A few bad bounces ended up in our net. I don’t think their shots were too harmful. Just a bad, crazy curve on the fourth one, and I’ve got to find a way to squeeze that third one. That’s on me. I’ve got to come up with a big save.”  

I asked Devils coach John Hynes to clarify what he meant by his comment that in the second period the Penguins “had some chances that went in -- we probably could have used some stops there.” Did he see it differently from Kinkaid, who thought he was more the victim of bad luck?

“Yes,” Hynes said.

I was on the record for refusing to excuse Schneider for all the shots that weren’t saved during his run of misfortune, so what’s good for Schneider is good for Kinkaid. This is a results-oriented business.

With one exception. MacKenzie Blackwood was banished to Binghamton earlier this month after going 6-4 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage in 13 NHL games to make room for Schneider, who recovered from an abdominal injury and needed to prove one way or another whether he is worth paying $18 million over the next three seasons of his contract.

Either way, Kinkaid does not seem to have much of a future in New Jersey.

The only question that remains is whether the Long Island native has so depleted his trade value that no other team would be willing to part with even a late-round draft pick to acquire him. 

There could be some Western Conference clubs who might think about buffering their goaltending depth for a postseason run by adding one with high-pressure experience like Kinkaid. San Jose is one possible destination.  At a $1.25 million average annual value, which would get prorated anyway for salary cap purposes, Kinkaid is highly affordable.

However, contending clubs don’t buy lemons. It’s unfortunate that the sour taste of this season has erased much of the memory of the sweet ride that Kinkaid took only one year ago.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1