Big save marks memorable debut
It was only one save.
A pretty good save, though, and one that will probably define goalie Keith Kinkaid’s first night on NHL ice.
Kinkaid had been recalled by New Jersey on Feb. 26 to serve as a back-up goalie to Johan Hedberg while Martin Brodeur is out with a sore back. He had done his duty as the door man amicably throughout the recall, and then, in a flash, he was on the ice Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Devils trailed, 3-0, at 13:13, and coach Pete DeBoer pulled Hedberg for Kinkaid, not because Hedberg was playing poorly, but just to try to light a fire under the rest of the team.
“My first thoughts were, ‘Where’s my equipment?’ I didn’t know where to go, I didn’t know what to do, whether to go on the ice or go get my own equipment,” Kinkaid said Wednesday at Knickerbacker Arena in Troy, where he had just finished practice with the Albany Devils of the AHL after being reassigned that morning.
“It was just an unbelievable feeling to finally get out there, the crowd chanting your name, which was pretty cool. I just had a great time.”
For a little while, the Union College product faced no shots. Then a puck off the stick of Tampa Bay defenseman Sami Salo got through traffic.
That’s not the defining save, though.
“It’s good to get your feet wet. It was a good experience, and now I know what to expect,” Kinkaid said. “The guys are bigger. They do the right things there. A lot of bodies in front. The first shot I faced, I didn’t even see it. It hit me.”
He stopped all three shots he faced before heading to the dressing room for the second intermission.
He really didn’t have anyone trying to offer sage advice or keep him calm during that break, he said, but he did need a little help slowing things down.
“They were just saying, ‘Good job,’ in good spirits,” Kinkaid said. “I actually had to put ice bags on myself to calm myself down. I was kind of overheating from all the excitement and all the nervousness, but it was a great feeling.”
Back out on the ice for the third period, it wasn’t long before the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos worked for a breakaway and came storming toward the second-year goalie.
This was the save.
It was a save that kept Stamkos scoreless on the night, breaking a 10-game point streak in which he had at least one goal in eight of the previous nine games.
It was a save, one-on-one, on a guy who had 60 goals last year, his third straight season with 90 or more points.
Stamkos came straight at Kinkaid and skirted around the right side of the crease, waiting for the young goalie to commit, then to score behind him at the right post.
Kinkaid waited, though, dropping as Stamkos reached the right corner of the crease and making sure his left pad was in position, on the ice and stretched to the post. The shot was low and hit Kinkaid’s pad, then the puck came out a couple feet, where Kinkaid’s glove was waiting to cover it.
Kinkaid didn’t miraculously lead the Devils back to victory. He didn’t even stop every shot he faced, allowing one goal on the 13 shots the Lightning threw at him.
That didn’t really matter so much, though, after he made that terrific save on one of the league’s top players early in his first NHL appearance.
“He scored 60-something goals last year. The top scorer in the league coming down at you, and you hope someone will trip him down, hopefully,” Kinkaid said. “I just stayed with what they tell me here, make him make the first move, and he did. It’s a good thing he didn’t elevate it, and I got a pad on it.”
The moment was a tense one even for Albany coach Rick Kowalsky, watching the game on TV 150 miles away.
“It was funny — I was watching it with my kids, and Stamkos almost broke through a couple times, and Keith hadn’t had a shot yet,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Just get him a shot to get him in the game.’ Then the Salo shot went through and he made a couple saves. Then sure enough, of all the guys to break through, just on a clear breakaway. It was pretty nerve-wracking for us, I’m sure it was for him. It’s a great experience for him.
“Any time a kid gets the opportunity to play in the NHL, a guy that you’ve worked with, it’s a proud moment for everybody.”
Midway through the third period, Kinkaid once again had some bodies in front. In fact, he had a Lightning forward basically in his lap when Nate Thompson’s shot sailed into the net.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know it went in,” he said. “I guess it went in and out so quick. There was a guy in front of me. They made a good play. They’re the highest-scoring offense in the league, and I was just trying to give my team a chance to come back.”
They came back a little, with a short-handed goal by Adam Henrique and a power-play tally by Patrick Elias. At that point, with Kinkaid in the net, the Devils were outscoring the Lightning, 2-1, but were they to get one more goal and lose, 4-3, the way NHL stats work, Kinkaid would have taken the loss because he allowed what ultimately was the winning goal.
One of the stupidest applications of statistics in all of sports, right there.
Not that it would have mattered much when all was considered. No goalie is judged based solely on his record. The Devils, though, dropped a 5-2 decision after a late empty-netter.
The outcome couldn’t have tarnished the night for Kinkaid, nor for his family from Farmingville on Long Island, some of whom were in attendance.
“My family was coming up, regardless,” Kinkaid said. “My mom was crying after the game. She was crying during the game, my mom’s friend said, too. It was a good experience for them to see. They support me a lot, and I’m thankful for that.”
It was a point of pride, too, for the staff in Albany.
“It’s always good when one of the guys gets to go up and not only play, but play in their first NHL game,” Kowalsky said. “Of all guys, he stops a breakaway on Stamkos. I think he was pretty pumped this morning, and we were pretty excited to see him get his first NHL game in.”
BACK IN ALBANY
“I found out last night, they wanted to send me down and get me some games,” Kinkaid said. “It was a fun experience up there, now it’s back to work to get back up there as soon as possible.”
It might be viewed as a demotion by excited fans who like to pull for young talent and were hopeful Kinkaid was about to catch on.
The truth, though, is that it is better for him to be back in Albany — where he is 17-11-5 this season with a 2.69 goals-against average and .905 save percentage — and playing more regularly than he has during his recall.
Hedberg will continue to be the go-to guy for New Jersey in Brodeur’s absence. For the moment, Jeff Frazee will be his back-up after his recall Wednesday morning.
Frazee has been outstanding recently, going 4-1-0 in his last six appearances, five of them starts. In that time, he has stopped 179 of 190 shots for a save percentage of .942. On the season, he is 7-9-4 with a 2.33 GAA and .920 save percentage.
“I’m happy for him,” Kinkaid said of Frazee’s recall. “He deserves it. He’s been working hard. He had a great weekend this past weekend, from what I saw.”
He said he had no trouble accepting the reassignment.
“You don’t want to be cold and not play a game for more than two weeks,” Kinkaid said. “I understand. It’s just motivation to get back at it and show them what I do here.”
Kinkaid also made sure to stick up for Hedberg a bit. Even DeBoer said after the game to the New Jersey media that he didn’t pull the goalie because of his play, but because of that of the other skaters.
“It’s upsetting to see him getting pulled like that,” Kinkaid said. “I don’t think the goals were his fault, at all. He’s just got to get support.”
He only played a little more than a period, but Kinkaid hopes what he showed, and what he will continue to show the brass as he plays in Albany, will eventually bring him back to Newark.
“You just keep battling, you hope for the best, and your shot will come,” Kinkaid said. “Hopefully, in the few minutes I played, I showed them I maybe deserve a start or I’m ready. I’ll just keep working at it and getting better down here, and hopefully, I get the call-up soon.”
“If anything, it’ll give him a little confidence,” Kowalsky said. “He only played a period up there, but he’s been able to work with [New Jersey goaltending coach] Chris Terreri and see some NHL shooters. Just the experience, I think, has got to make you feel good about yourself and be excited to get back down here and get into some regular action.”