It was a long way back to Oct. 20.
Exiting November without a win since that 30-save shutout in Worcester, Albany Devils second-year goalie Keith Kinkaid had decent numbers, but a string of seven straight losses — three of them in shootouts, one of those after allowing just one regulation goal.
Now, the Union College product is riding a four-game winning streak, the latest a 6-3 win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday.
“The guys have been doing a great job in front of me,” Kinkaid said after practice at Knickerbacker Arena on Thursday. “Getting six goals last night definitely helped. I wasn’t on my best game. But it’s been good, and hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Even not at his best, he was good enough to win, and coach Rick Kowalsky will likely trot him out at the front of the warm-up line again tonight in Hartford as the Devils take on the Connecticut Whale at 7. They will return to Albany on Saturday night to host Providence at 7.
Kinkaid’s four straight starts, and a possible fifth tonight, are no reflection on Jeff Frazee’s performance. He has been outstanding for the Devils so far this season, but Kinkaid has the hot hand.
His streak started at Adirondack on Dec. 1, a 3-2 win with a career-high 44 saves. Then he booked a 3-1 home win over Bridgeport last Saturday with 22 saves, then a 1-0 shutout at Connecticut on Sunday with 30 saves. He made 24 stops in the win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“Jeff’s looked great in practice, no issues. We’ve said from the beginning of the year, if a guy gets hot and wins, we’re going to go with him,” Kowalsky said. “Last night, if you look at the goals, of the four [games], it was probably Keith’s least-spectacular performance, but he was still good. When they get back-to-back games, and he’s played a lot of hockey here, but it’s hard to change it up when the kid’s winning. Until we get into a situation where we have to rest one of them because of travel — which we may get into this weekend — or based on how many shots or what type of game, you take all that into the equation. But he’s confident right now, we’re playing well in front of him, and we’re going to stick with it.”
Entering tonight’s game with the Whale, Kinkaid has a goals-against average of 2.35 and a save percentage of .921, which would normally figure for a record better than his 5-5-3, but the Devils weren’t providing much goal support for a while this season.
Frazee, meanwhile, is no slouch with a 2.22 GAA and .917 save percentage, showing a record of 3-3-2.
While the team struggled in so many facets of the game early in the season, which is now 21 games deep for the Devils, the goalies were a bright spot. Part of the credit for that has to go to new assistant coach Dave Caruso, who was brought in to work with the goalies after six years as a professional goalie, four of those in the Devils’ minor-league system.
“I think it was long overdue,” Kowalsky said of bringing in a goaltending coach. “We took our time and got the right guy, a guy I coached and had a relationship with, and it’s been a good fit. He didn’t know Keith, coming in, but has a relationship with Jeff, and it’s paid off in the little things we, as coaches, don’t see in practice or the little adjustments he has them make. It’s good to have a voice that’s played the position, whether it’s a good night or a bad night, or just a small adjustment, whether it’s in a game or practice.
“I think it’s been a huge reason why our goaltenders got off to the start they had. The extra time he’s able to spend with them with video after and before practices, there’s no question he’s been valuable.”
Just having another goalie on hand, one recently removed from the game, to tell the two active netminders what they need to hear — even if it’s something they already know — is a valuable asset.
“The whole month of November, I didn’t have a win, and I was getting a little frustrated,” Kinkaid said. “[Caruso] said, ‘Keep playing your game, and the wins will come.’ So far, the wins have come, and it’s been great. I’ve done nothing but stick to my game and work hard in practice.
“[Now] I’m ready to keep the streak going as long as I can. I’m always ready to play.”