Johan Hedberg is playing some of the worst hockey of his New Jersey Devils career. Martin Brodeur is hurt, Keith Kinkaid is unproven, the Devils are reeling, and there are few options to mitigate Hedberg’s poor performances. While it’s impossible to blame Johan Hedberg for all of New Jersey’s struggles since Brodeur’s injury, the Devils cannot start Hedberg against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday if they want to snap their stretch of embarrassing losses.
First, Hedberg’s propensity to allow soft goals is killing the Devils. Blown leads and first period struggles have come to characterize New Jersey’s five-game winless streak. With the man who anchored three Stanley Cup victories missing between the pipes, Hedberg looks incapable of stopping the bleeding. He consistently blows leads, and he has had terrible luck. The goal that he poked through his own five hole on Monday night is a microcosm of his stint as a starting goalie. If the Devils want to inspire change across the roster and spark the team into playing better, they need to change the goalie. That means starting Keith Kinkaid and hoping the team responds because, after five losses in a row, it cannot get much worse than this.
Hedberg’s comments after the game show his confidence is gone, and his play isn’t going to improve until he gets a reprieve. If the Devils trot a mentally-defeated, slumping, struggling goaltender into the teeth of the Tampa Bay Lightning offense, the results could jeopardize Hedberg for the rest of the season. The Devils have an obligation to protect Hedberg from himself, and that means starting Kinkaid.
Lastly, who knows what Kinkaid can do at the NHL level? Kinkaid could step in and never look back. While his numbers haven’t been overly impressive in the AHL, he can respond to the opportunity to play in the NHL. At worst, the Devils lose another game. The reward far outweighs the risk when evaluating their young goalie.
The offense is missing the net and squandering scoring opportunities. The defense is sloppy and allowing scoring chances, sometimes as early as eight seconds into a game. Peter DeBoer seems utterly confused as to how to get his roster playing well again, and his line combinations have failed miserably. Aside from the goaltending, the New Jersey Devils have plenty of problems to address – but Johan Hedberg is the biggest, most devastating under-performer of the losing streak. He needs to sit, and Keith Kinkaid needs to get a shot.