Cory Schneider was pissed off; and he didn’t try to hide that fact following the New Jersey Devils 5-2 home-ice loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.
After the Devils’ 16th loss in the last 20 games (4-12-4), Schneider ripped into his teammates for how he perceived they folded against the Penguins and how there was not enough “urgency” nor “pride” in how the club played Tuesday when they let a 2-1 lead midway through the game turn into a three-goal defeat.
“I don’t know what happened, but late goal in second, 3-2, and you would have thought the game was over, would have thought it was 5-1 at that point,” said Schneider through gritted teeth. “Just didn’t see the urgency from everyone to really want to tie that game.”
Reading between the lines, Schneider clearly believes his team quit after Justin Schultz scored with 5.4 seconds to play in the second period to put the Devils in a 3-2 hole. That was punctuated by their slow start to the third period which featured a Carl Hagelin breakaway goal that put Pittsburgh up 4-2.
“We had a great start and then, I don’t know, it’s been an issue all year, playing a full 60 minutes, competing for a full 60 minutes, not giving the other team easy offense,” explained Schneider. “(The Penguins) are a great team, but there’s no reason we couldn’t beat them. We should take pride in trying to shut that team down. That’s three times we’ve lost to that team (since Nov. 26), and that should bother some people.”
So what’s wrong with the New Jersey Devils?
They have plummeted to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings with just 33 points in 35 games, due in large part to the current 1-8-1 funk New Jersey is in. This after an impressive 9-3-3 overall start to the season and a league-best 8-0-2 unbeaten run on home ice through Dec. 6.
First off, the Devils do not generate nearly enough offense. New Jersey’s 82 goals are fourth-fewest in the league. Neither Kyle Palmieri (6 goals) nor Adam Henrique (9 goals) is replicating his 30-goal form of a year ago. After a strong start, Taylor Hall has tailed off and has just eight goals, none in his last nine games. And now Hall is out of the lineup again, this time with a lower body injury suffered on Tuesday. Veteran Michael Cammalleri has nine goals in 28 games, but, like a year ago, his production is off set by the fact he gets hurt and misses a lot of games. Highly skilled rookie Pavel Zacha has just two goals on the season, none in ten games. Travis Zajac (8 goals) has not scored since notching a hat trick against the Blackhawks 12 games ago on Dec. 1.
You get the idea.
However, lack of offense is nothing new to the Devils. Last season, New Jersey was the lowest scoring team in the NHL, yet finished 12th in the conference, just nine points out of the final playoff spot.
Why was that the case?
A year ago the Devils finished eighth in the league in goals allowed. First-year coach John Hynes had his team playing tight defense in front of Schneider, and Cory had himself a terrific All Star season, ultimately finishing sixth in the Vezina Trophy voting.
This year New Jersey has been a mess in its own zone, from defending the front of its net to breaking out of its own end of the rink to plain just stopping shots. The Devils have given up four goals or more in seven of their last ten games and in 14 of their last 19.
Not scoring AND not keeping the puck of their own net? That’s not a winning formula.
“We’ve got to take some pride in not giving up four or five (goals) a night,” stated Schneider. “We have to change that mindset and be better going forward.”
Then there is the case of Cory Schneider himself.
While he was more than justified in calling out his teammates Tuesday night, and likely long overdue in doing so, Schneider is the single most important New Jersey Devil, and, quite simply, his play this season has not been nearly good enough.
In his first three season with the Devils, after being acquired from the Vancouver Canucks, Schneider has posted goals against averages of 1.97, 2.26 and 2.15, a mark that was fourth-best in the NHL a year ago. In 270 career NHL games entering this season, Schneider owned a 2.16 GAA and 21 shutouts.
So far in 2016-17, Schneider has a 2.90 GAA and a .904 save percentage. In the month of December his goals against is a whopping 3.48, his save percentage a dismal .887.
Yes, those ugly numbers are due in part to his team’s play in front of him, but Schneider needs to shoulder the blame here, too. Quite simply, Cory Schneider needs to be the Devils best player or else they will continue to plummet in the standings.
Such is the burden Schneider must carry.
“It starts with me, I understand that.”
Jim Cerny has covered the National Hockey League for more than two decades. He has handled play by play duties for the New York Islanders, hosted the NHL Live talk show, been a hockey writer for The New York Times, and spent the previous nine years as the Digital Content Producer for the New York Rangers offical team web sites and social media accounts.