Life As a Backup Goalie Isn’t Always Easy

It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it. It can be said about a lot of things including the job as a backup goaltender in the National Hockey League.

Keith Kinkaid got the last start against the Islanders at Barclays Center, after 24 days without any NHL game action.

With a chance to draw even with the Islanders in points, and to within three points of the eighth and final playoff spot, Kinkaid allowed six goals in the first 41 minutes, including two in the opening minute of the third period after a Devils’ comeback got the team to within a goal at 4-3. In his post game interview, Kinkaid said, “I was sharp when I was playing more.”

He did take responsibility by adding, “Any time you get four goals, you should win the game. So that game’s on me.”

But the situation begs the question: How do you keep sharp without getting playing time?

“It’s not easy, and I didn’t feel sharp like I did a month ago,” said Kinkaid. “No excuses but even the big save in the first, that rebound is probably never going there if I was on my game. I just wasn’t feeling sharp.”

After a day away from the rink, I asked him this morning if he thought this role as a backup is tougher on him because he’s young.

Martin Brodeur wanted to play 70-80 games every year, and his backups were almost always veterans, who mostly thrived in the role. One of those backups was Chris Terreri, who just happens to be Kinkaid’s goalie coach.

“Chris (Terreri) has said I have to make my practice time count more, more intense, I need to ramp it up, battle harder,” said Kinkaid.

He also said something that made me pause.

“I’m glad you think I’m young.”

DETROIT, MI - JANUARY 31: Keith Kinkaid #1 of the New Jersey Devils skates off the ice after an NHL game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on January 31, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. The Devils defeated the Wings 4-3. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

What that means to me is that he doesn’t see himself as young (he turns 28 in July). At least not so young that he has all the time In the world to carve out a career at the NHL level.

John Hynes said as much. “Keith’s very motivated … and he’s anxious. He’s a young guy. He wants to make a career of it, find his place in the NHL.”

But as far as being a backup?

According to John Hynes today, “That’s the job. Sometimes backups go two, three weeks without playing. Chris Terreri made a living at that. It’s really the primary job/role of the backup. That’s one challenge of being a backup, to understand how to be mentally prepared. Keith needs to be ready to play. Whether that means taking advantage of practice time or upping his focus.”

The Devils need Kinkaid to be playing at the top of his game which is, by the way, at a very high level … when he’s at his best.