Cory Schneider: All-Star, Vezina Candidate

Cory Schneider heads to the NHL All-Star Game in Nashville as the lone representative from the New Jersey Devils, and deservedly so. With a record of 22-15-5 (his win total is tied for sixth in the NHL) in 42 appearances (first), a .929 save % (seventh) , four shutouts (tied for third) & a GAA of 2.03 (fifth) the redheaded netminder has kept the Devils in contention for a playoff spot following an offseason where none of the prognosticators and not one person reading this thought that it was a remote possibility. If he can somehow manage to steer the New Jersey ship into the postseason, one would think he would have to earn a few votes for not only the Vezina Trophy, but also the Hart Trophy. If you disagree ask yourself this: try to recall what you thought of the Devils’ playoff chances back in September — and don’t lie, be honest.

“You look at goalies in this league, guys that carry such a heavy workload, and obviously Schneids is one of those guys — his competitive nature and how he competes as a pro is something that is unrivaled by any goalie I’ve played with,” Kyle Palmieri (who also could have been an All-Star) told The Hockey Writers. “I’m happy for him that he got rewarded with this All-Star Game; he could use the rest, but that (weekend) is all about having fun and hopefully he has a great time in Nashville.”

“It’s almost become white noise,” defenseman John Moore said to THW following a recent win spearheaded by Schneider in New Jersey. “He’s brought that (stability to us) since game one; that’s a huge deal when you get that kind of performance day-in, day-out from your goaltender. It definitely makes our job a lot easier.” Moore has been teammates with some world-class goalies throughout his young career so far, but he went on to explain why the Devils’ goalie is golden.

“His professionalism; every single day whether it’s practice or games — he brings 110%,” said Moore. “It’s really refreshing too, he’s a superstar in this league and you’d never know it just from talking to him; he’s very humble and treats all of his teammates with respect, he’s an easy guy to play for.” When THW asked Moore if he felt Schneider gets the props he deserves outside of New Jersey he said it’s starting to happen, with his selection to the All-Star team. “I think he’s slowly gaining that (respect around the league) and he definitely deserves that recognition. He’s one of the premier goalies in this league. He’s been huge for us this year so far.”

ALONG CAME A SCHNEIDER

The Devils don’t have a game-breaker up front that can take over a game like an Alexander Ovechkin or a Tyler Seguin, but they do have a somewhat solid collection of fringe first liners – in addition to a stable of second and third liners, therefore a goalie of a lesser caliber would likely not have as much success as Schneider has had through the first four months of the NHL season. “He makes those saves when we need them. I think we play strong team defense around him,” coach John Hynes said of his rock in net at the Rock, “but we need to have a guy in net like him for us to have an opportunity to play like we did against Dallas, against really strong offensive teams. Just the confidence that he gives our team to find a way to win.”

Highlights of a 38-save shutout in Arizona by Cory Schneider:

YouTube player

“For whatever reason the best teams are bringing the best out of us,” Schneider told THW. “We just have to make sure we keep that level of play for every single game. It’s fun, it’s fun to play this kind of hockey and it’s fun to win games like that.” So far this season Schneider has led the Devils to wins over the NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Chicago (2), Pittsburgh, Dallas, Detroit (2), Florida, Arizona (2) — all teams that currently hold down a playoff spot; by the way those add up to half of his wins for the season. New Jersey will need more of that as they have 17 of their final 32 games against teams in or contending for a playoff position.

A key part to that success has also been the play of the defense corps, which was a question mark prior to the season starting. The Devils have mainly used a group of seven blue liners, and only one of those seven is over the age of 30 — the younger players have matured and a pair of under-the-radar additions have solidified the unit in front of Schneider.

http://gty.im/464077486

“We watched a lot of these young guys come along for the last few years, some of them are in and out at certain times – but we’re going to need everybody at some point this year. Young guys, obviously Andy (Greene) back there as kind of the elder statesman has really helped,” the Devils goalie explained, “and having Johnny Moore and David Schlemko — younger veterans I would say, guys that have been in the league — I think has a calming influence on the younger guys. We’ve just thrown them out there in all situations and I they’ve seemed to respond well so, like I said we’re going to need them down the stretch here. Some of them have never played in the playoffs. We’re going to have to have them elevate their games, just like everyone else, and get in that mentality.”

Damon Severson has just 100 NHL games of experience, all in front of the same goalie, and he knows how important of a player he is to keeping New Jersey in any game against any opponent. “He’s one of the leaders on this team. Just because he’s a goalie, obviously he doesn’t get to wear a letter (on his jersey) or anything like that; but he’s huge for our team,” the 21-year-old said. “He stops so many pucks every night and we know he’s going to be back there saving us.”

WE TALKIN’ BOUT PRACTICE?

Like any player, Schneider has his flaws (though they are very few) that he works on just about every day. The main point of emphasis being his puck-handling, which has gotten better since he first joined the Devils. “Every day pretty much I try to handle pucks and (goaltending coach) Chris Terreri has helped a lot with that. I feel I’ve settled in here, the last little stretch has been more comfortable playing the puck and making better decisions. I have to make sure I continue to do that and just make our zone exits as easy as possible.”

These are things that can also be practiced or reviewed off the ice as well, as Moore, Severson and Schneider explained how crucial the communication is between goalie and defense. “That’s something not just in games, but in practice and video — we’re always picking his brain, trying to make it easy for him,” explained Moore, “because ultimately that is our job, to get it out of our end so he doesn’t have to defend. It’s something we’ve really tried to work on, the communication and the language that we’re using when handing off pucks.”

http://gty.im/497193622

“We have to (be on the same page),” Schneider told us. “The game is so fast that if you don’t think you have time to make a play, you’re just going to get rid of the puck and turn it over and that’s not what we want. So we want to make sure that guys know they have time to make plays and I think our defense is doing a great job when they do have time to get their heads up and not just throw it away. I’m part of that. I’m part of letting them know what’s around them when their back is turned; I can see the whole ice. When I’m playing the puck it helps a great deal when they are coming back and yelling for it or to let me know what is going on. It’s crucial. You have to communicate at this level and I think we are doing a better and better job with it.”

Severson admitted it has been a point of emphasis more this year than last. “That’s a key thing that we’ve worked on this year with Schneids; him playing the puck, us getting it from him and there’s lots of communication there. That’s a big key in today’s game – talking and figuring out where each other are.”

HEY NOW, YOU’RE AN ALL-STAR

“It’s great and it’s really exciting. It’s a privilege to play in that game and to be recognized like that amongst your peers, I’m proud of that,” the 29-year-old netminder said with a smile when asked about being selected to his first NHL All-Star Game. “I’m going to have a lot of people down there and will try to enjoy it because you may never get that opportunity again.” He also acknowledged that he is looking forward to hanging out with his ex-teammate/tandem partner in Vancouver — Florida’s Roberto Luongo. “It’s a little ironic I guess,” he said with a chuckle, “and a little funny. Obviously we stay in touch and keep tabs on each other; it’ll be good to see him there and catch up.”

Some of his teammates, that were opponents at one point in time, are extremely glad that they are wearing the same colors these days; and that they have some bragging rights too. “I played a couple of games against him when he was in Vancouver and a couple of times here in Jersey. I have a picture of a goal I scored on Schneids,” Palmieri said with a childish grin, “I have to get him to sign that.” After his appearance in Nashville, he can sign it as: Cory Schneider, NHL All-Star.

Dan Rice can be reached via Twitter: @DRdiabloTHW or via Email: drdiablo321@yahoo.com.