When Ray Shero took over as the New Jersey Devils General Manager in 2015, he inherited a slow, aging roster that was in dire need of an overhaul and some youth. However, he had a strong building block in goaltender Cory Schneider, who was supposed to be the cornerstone they could count on once they were ready to compete.
It’s now 2018, and the Devils are in a Wild Card spot with a playoff berth in their sights. However, Schneider has been anything other than a sure thing. What has happened to their franchise goaltender?
A Different Schneider Since New Year’s
The 2017-18 season got off to quite a good start for Schneider. He had a .919 SV% until about New Year’s and looked like the Schneider of old at many points in the first half of the season. Since then, he has seen a sharp decline in his stats in just a minimal number of starts.
How bad has Schneider been? He has some of the worst numbers for a goalie to play a minimum of 300 minutes since the holidays. His five-on-five SV% of .879 is second-worst in the league in front of Scott Darling’s. His SV% of .868 at all strengths also ranks second-worst, ahead of only Scott Darling again. The result is that he has not won a single game since Dec. 27 against the Detroit Red Wings.
Schneider’s decline may not be a blip on the radar either. Last season, he finished with a .908 SV% and over his last 99 games played, he has an SV% of just .908%, which is below the current league average of .913. Obviously, that isn’t going to cut it for the Devils, not only for the remainder of the season as they cling to a one-point lead in the wild-card standings but in the long-term as well.
Schneider’s Struggles Continue Against the Sharks
After not playing in a game since Mar. 8, Schneider was presented with an opportunity for a bounce-back performance against the San Jose Sharks on Mar. 20. However, he struggled mightily in a game the Devils had to win. He was pulled just halfway through the second period in favor of Keith Kinkaid after stopping only 10/14 shots. The breaking point came on this goal by Barclay Goodrow that put the Sharks up 4-1:
— Brodie Brazil (@BrodieNBCS) March 21, 2018
That’s a shot Schneider has to stop. The Devils weren’t out of the game yet and had generated some chances just prior to it. Giving up a five-hole goal at that point in the game was a back-breaker from which the team was unable to recover.
Despite the rough performance, Devils coach John Hynes stopped short of putting the blame squarely on Schneider’s shoulders. “We’ve got to be better in front of him, too,” Hynes said of Tuesday night’s performance according to northjersey.com. “It’s not about one player tonight.”
“We gave up too many opportunities from the odd-man rushes and they ended up capitalizing,” Andy Greene said. “But we can’t sit there and give them free plays, free goals and quite a few of them were…”
Both Greene and Hynes are right. The Devils didn’t play their best game in front of Schneider. They gave up a fair amount of chances and shots but no matter how you look at it, he has to perform much better than he did on against the Sharks and in his last 11 starts. The organization is paying him $6 million a year for a reason and he has to produce as such.
Related: Can Devils’ Kinkaid Stay Hot?
What Can the Devils Do in Net?
That’s one of the biggest questions facing the team in the final weeks of the season and beyond. Schneider’s downward trend is concerning and based on his performance since the start of 2016-17, it’s fair to question if he’ll return to being a .920 goaltender again. He also just turned 32-years-old and players usually don’t get better once they start approaching their mid-30s.
While an age-related decline is possible, another area of concern is Schneider’s health. He was placed on IR at the beginning of February with groin and hip injuries that kept him out of game action for over a month, and it’s possible they’re still nagging him. His injury problems date back over the last couple of seasons, as well. He hasn’t started in more than 60 games since 2014-15 and has only started in 39 this season.
If injuries continue to be an issue, the best option may be to find a goaltender who can be a 1B to Schneider this offseason. Kinkaid is a fine backup but if the Devils need someone that will have to play 40 games or more because of Schneider’s struggles, his career SV% will have to be better than Kinkaid’s .911.
Even though Schneider has posted some pretty rough numbers over the last few months, I find it hard to believe he’s as bad as people think and with a long stretch of poor performances his confidence is clearly at a low. That said, the Devils seem to have more questions than answers in net. If they miss the playoffs, a lack of goaltending will be a big reason. If that’s the case, Ray Shero will have to take a hard look at the available options to make the team’s netminding better otherwise, they’ll continue to fall short of expectations.
* * *
Advanced Stats from Natural Stat Trick
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017