The New Jersey Devils had yet to post a win three games into the season and, on Oct. 13, the pressure was on against the Nashville Predators. Currently ranked first in the Central Division, the odds were in favor of the Predators to open the scoring early on in the game and clinch the victory in the end.
While the Devils remained a lower seed in their conference, the prospects for a lively game did not seem likely. However, with backup goaltender Keith Kinkaid in the net, the Devils were able to maintain their competitive edge against their highly-ranked opponent.
Following the birth of his son, starting goaltender Cory Schneider was unable to attend practice the morning leading up to the game against the Predators. In his absence, Kinkaid knew he would be the one to take Schneider’s place on the ice and thus serve as the last line of defense standing between the Predators and their chances of victory that night.
Heading into the game, Head Coach John Hynes was well-aware of the Predators’ thirdplace ranking in the Western Conference and knew his team, sitting 14th in the Eastern Conference, would already be at a disadvantage. Kinkaid’s addition to the roster for the night’s game only left room for further speculation among members of the press and fans regarding a home-team victory.
“We take it how it is, you know, [for] any team. We take any team the same,” said Kinkaid of their match-up against the Predators. “It was a good game to get up to for. They’re a good team and I saw a lot of bright spots for us tonight.”
Coming onto the ice as the clear underdog, Kinkaid found himself to be the center of attention as the Predators kept the game mostly in his end. In the second period, Kinkaid made vital saves off two consecutive shots from the Nashville centerman Cody Hodgson. Ultimately, the visiting team did not relent for the remainder of the game, scoring a total of three goals for the night versus the Devils’ one.
While one was scored on Kinkaid, the other two were scored on an empty net from across the ice in the waning moments of the game. “It’s tough, but we had a power play and we wanted to give six-on-four a shot,” said Kinkaid of his early departure from the ice. “Obviously, if I’m on the ice, they’re not going to score from the other end. At least I hope not.”
Though that night was only his second game of the season, Kinkaid left the ice with 16 saves, a .944 save percentage and 58 minutes played in total against the Predators. “I built off the last game I played a few nights ago, worked on a few things,” said Kinkaid. “You know, obviously not too much work for me tonight, but, when there was, I had to stay sharp.”
Following the game, Hynes spoke of both Kinkaid’s performance as well as his decision to pull the goalie so soon in the third period’s power play, leading to a certain win for the Predators. “I thought Keith was fine. He played well. When we had some breakdowns, he did his job,” said Hynes. “I think every situation’s different, but, in that situation, we had an opportunity where we had possession. We had a good opportunity.”
In the end, the backup goaltender was not only able to showcase his talent but stand out among the rest of his teammates in what looked like a fight against the Predators, proving to be relentless. “It’s fast out there,” said Kinkaid. “We’re a fast-attacking team. That’s what we want to be. That’s what we want our identity to be. It’s good to see that everyone has a lot of energy. It brings positive vibes.”