The moment is a real son of a bitch. Far too often it's quick to imprison even the most objective of fans in it's unforgiving web of dire pessimism or, more recently, unadulterated optimism. For that reason, Mackenzie Blackwood's awe inspiring start to his NHL career has the jump to conclusions looking like the line for the diving board on the first day of summer. Expectations for the Devils' future in net are growing at a rate that is more unsustainable than maintaining a 1.25 GAA behind a defense that's more leaky than the ship on which their playoff hopes rest...well...restlessly.
Unfortunately, I can't even blame those that are getting their hopes up, because the rookie netminder has basically served as the anti-venom in running through a gauntlet of New Jersey's crippling kryptonite unscathed. Artemi Panarin, the Boston Bruins, and the Carolina Hurricanes would be the type of bosses that would make them routinely restart the console if the rigors of a typical NHL season were put it into video game form and the controller was placed in the hands of the Devils, so suppressing the excitement from a run of victories (be they actual or moral) that were previously unthinkable is not currently an option. Mix in the uncertainty of their early season goaltending woes, splash in a spritz controversial contractual situations at the position, and - voila - you have the recipe ripe for people to get dumb drunk off what, in a perfect world, would be an intoxicating dawn to a new day.
Plus, it's not just the statistics that Mackenzie Blackwood has put up during four starts, three straight wins, and two straight shutouts that are so encouraging, but also the reactionary saves, the rebound control, and the positioning and awareness that make both those things look much more casual than Devils fans are used to. All due respect to Keith Kinkaid, who has had bursts of brilliance over the course of Cory Schneider's winless year, but even at his most impenetrable he wasn't confidently commandeering the crease the way Mackenzie Blackwood has of late. He is very much finding the puck and dictating its path as opposed to vice versa. His numbers are definitely due a reality check, but there's nothing depreciating about assets such as the size and athleticism he's displayed while inflating them.
The truth is, throughout the last week and change, the last line of defense has made all the other lines of defense look better by association with timely saves, smart covers, and perfect puck placement that have helped immensely in weathering the storm. I'm not ready to start awarding Mackenzie Blackwood imaginary assists, as the Devils uptick in being opportunistic offensively was inevitable. However, there's probably some correlation with how much looser players like Blake Coleman, Nico Hischier, Pavel Zacha, and Miles Wood have been gripping their sticks in knowing their margin for error - even without the Hart beat of Taylor Hall setting the pace - is no longer infinitesimal.
To label a rookie goaltender who spent time in the ECHL as recently as last year the savior is getting laughably ahead of yourself. The regression, even if it's just relative, is coming soon. That said, it's next to impossible to not only like but love what you've seen out of the kid thus far. He's not always going to be without error in using them to their max efficiency, but the tools to put together a bright future in between pipes that have otherwise yet to be taken ownership of this season are all there. That's something that couldn't have been said about the Devils' goaltending situation no more than two weeks ago.