Mackenzie Blackwood

Sharks' Mackenzie Blackwood advance stats encouraging, discouraging

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Anybody can see that new Sharks goalie Mackenzie Blackwood’s Save Percentage is trending down.

In his first two NHL seasons, highlighted by a 2019-20 sixth-place finish for the Calder Trophy, Blackwood sported a .918 and .915 Save Percentage, respectively. That number dropped to .902 in 2020-21. Then the last two years, it has been .892 and .893, respectively.

But what’s not so obvious? The numbers behind the numbers, two positive, one negative.

An Underrated Season?

Let’s start with the positive, because there has been so much negativity surrounding Blackwood over the last two seasons.

The would-be New Jersey Devils starter only has played 47 games in that time period, missing significant stretches because of heel surgery, a sprained MCL and a groin injury.

This led to the Devils trading Blackwood to the Sharks for just a 2023 sixth-round draft pick.

But before that?

Of course, Blackwood’s reputation was made with a strong first two years. But underrated? Blackwood’s 2020-21 and his pedestrian-looking .902 Save Percentage.

Looking harder though, Blackwood was solid at even strength during the COVID-19 campaign. Per SPORTLOGiQ, his .920 Even Strength Save Percentage was 22nd in the NHL (of 60 goalies, 600-plus minutes played). This is on par with his .920 in 2018-19 and .928 in 2019-20.

So what kneecapped Blackwood in 2020-21? His .820 Penalty Kill Save Percentage was fourth-worst in the NHL (of 42 goalies, 100-plus minutes).

The Devils’ PK was dead-last in the NHL that season (71.0 percent) – and it wasn’t just the goaltending. Per Natural Stat Trick, their penalty kill allowed the second-most rate of High-Danger chances in the league.

Judging a netminder by his PK stats is tough: It’s such a small sample size and very volatile. Generally speaking, even strength data is more reliable, in part because there’s much more of it.

So from that vantage point, Blackwood’s 2020-21 was better than it looks on the back of a hockey card.

It changes the narrative about Blackwood slightly -- instead of a goalie who’s been on a downward trend for three years, it’s perhaps more accurate to say he’s in a two-year swoon.

From 2018 to 2021, Evolving Hockey has Blackwood’s .921 ES Save Percentage as 22nd in the league (of 50 goalies, 2,500-plus minutes).

Safe to say, the Sharks would take that above-average performance.

James Reimer’s ES Save Percentage was third-worst in the NHL last year, while Kaapo Kahkonen’s was second-worst.

Where is Blackwood getting beat?

Also encouraging?

Per SPORTLOGiQ, Blackwood’s Save Percentage in All Situations has been fairly stable on his glove side and five-hole.

There has been some drop high glove, a consistent low glove, and a tight-enough five-hole.

But on the blocker side, Blackwood looks to be a shadow of what he was in his best all-around campaign in 2019-20.

What does this mean? There are no definitive answers here.

"I haven’t heard anything specifically about blocker side being a particular weakness of his,” Gregory Balloch of Elite Prospects offered, "but something may have changed recently."

It could be as simple as Blackwood has been on the shelf for most of the last two seasons. Or?

"It could even have been a weakness already, teams just weren’t keying in on it yet," Balloch mused. "I’d have to review the tape to see if it's anything physical."

What we know for sure?

Blackwood is excited for a fresh start with the Sharks.

"Last couple of years didn’t go the way I wanted with injuries and getting my game back on track, but there were some good moments," Blackwood said after signing a two-year, $4.7 million contract with the Sharks on July 1. "It just kept getting derailed by some injuries or some unfortunate situations. But I'm healthy now."

He's even trying some new things this summer, like yoga and Pilates.

"I’ve been doing it for months now into this offseason, and I feel good, I feel great. I think it's going to go a long way long-term for me," Blackwood shared. "I’m just excited to try and switch things up a little bit here and trying to help with the longevity and the flexibility and stuff like that."

It remains to be seen if these changes will help keep Blackwood healthier -- or if they’ll help him protect his blocker side.

But for just a sixth-round draft pick? A chance at Blackwood circa 2018 to 2021 is well worth the gamble.

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