Editor's Note: If I had a nickel for every time I heard some variation of, "Oh, no, the other team has their backup in net, the Devils always make their backups look great," I'd have tens of dollars. I really appreciated that triumph looked at the data to see whether there's any actual basis behind such statements. Hence, it's on the front page.
It's a prevailing belief among die-hard NHL fans that their team struggles with 'unknown' goalies. I have seen Devils fans express this thought many times over the years, especially when one of these goalies is facing the Devils that very night. "Time to make this guy look like [insert Hall-of-Fame level goalie]', they'll say. I decided to see whether there is any truth to this belief, at least for Devils fans. As it turns out, there is some - not enough for me to dismiss the prevailing belief as warrantless.
I decided to investigate every game the Devils had played against goalies with fewer than 50 NHL regular season games and fewer than 3 full NHL seasons under their belt, so long as they were still 'unknown' (e.g. Cam Ward after he won the Conn Smythe is hardly an unknown). Here are the results - apologies if this is difficult to read, it's a pain to make these. I also may have missed a few games, as finding this information at hockey-reference is somewhat tedious.
Rookie goaltenders are 28-17-9 against New Jersey over this stretch - that's rather impressive given how good the Devils have been over that time. The Devils have shot 7.4% against rookie goaltenders - I am not going to go winnow out empty net goals to figure out how well they shot against non-rookie goaltenders, but it is slightly better. A caveat, however, is that the Devils seem to have performed poorly mostly against players who became starters - I am thinking here about players like Lundqvist and Price, who both allowed 5 goals in their first 3 games against New Jersey.
I don't see much reason for this to continue, and to truly test things out, we'd have to compare the save percentages of goalies in their first 50 games to save percentages overall. NHL teams tend to hang on to players long past their expiration date - Chris Osgood and Vesa Toskala are two players that come to mind who NHL teams continued to employ long past the time it was obvious that they were not NHL quality goaltenders.
Still, your trepidation when Joe Johnassonov is making his 6th career start against the Devils is not unfounded. Here's hoping New Jersey continues this trend of beating up on young goalies this season, at least.