Not much has gone according to plan this season for the New Jersey Devils and Chicago Blackhawks. But the evidence that on-the-fly adjustments could pay off for both teams down the road likely will be on display in the nets Monday night, when the Devils host the Blackhawks at Prudential Center in Newark.
The two teams were off Sunday after playing Saturday, when the host Devils snapped a three-game losing streak by edging the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, and the Blackhawks lost their third straight by falling to the visiting Vegas Golden Knights, 4-3, in overtime.
Devils rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood, 22, joined some select company Saturday when he carried a shutout into the third period and recorded 32 saves in winning for the fourth time in nine NHL games. He is just the fourth goalie in New Jersey history to win at least four times in his first nine games, joining Hall of Fame member Martin Brodeur, Sean Burke and Scott Clemmensen.
The recent surge has, at the very least, established Blackwood as a potential 1A goalie going forward for the Devils (17-20-7). Cory Schneider, who took over for Brodeur during the 2013-14 season, underwent hip surgery last May and went 0-5-1 this season before going on injured reserve with an abdominal injury in December.
"He's played really strong each game he's played," said Devils center Nico Hischier, who scored a goal Saturday, said of Blackwood. "Huge saves. That's huge for us. He gives us confidences, gives us momentum. So it's really huge for us."
The Blackhawks (16-22-9) also have received a boost in the middle of a lost season from a rookie goaltender. Collin Delia, 24, entered this year with two games of NHL experience, and he has gone 3-1-3 since he was thrust into the No. 1 job when starter Corey Crawford suffered a concussion Dec. 16.
Delia, who took the loss after making 29 saves Saturday, has allowed three goals or fewer in regulation in five of his seven starts despite facing at least 30 shots every time. Head coach Jeremy Colliton said he knows the Blackhawks have to lessen the demands placed on Delia, who likely is playing himself into a vital long-term role with Chicago. Crawford missed the final 47 games of last season because of a concussion.
"I'm not looking for regression," Colliton told reporters last week. "We're trying to help him prepare as best he can to give us a chance to win every night. That's separate from how the team's playing. The team needs to defend hard. We want to give up less shots. We want to decrease the quality of the chance against, and that's an ongoing process. We're not thinking, 'Oh, he plays well when he gets a lot of work.' That's not what we're looking for. But there's no reason why he can't keep playing the way he is."
Blackwood never has faced the Blackhawks, and Delia never has opposed the Devils.
--Field Level Media