Schneider Still Searching For a Win As Devils Season Slips Away

In a game where he looked as ‘back to normal’ as he could be, Cory Schneider was still left without a regular season win wearing a New Jersey Devils uniform in over 400 days. The Devils and their soon-to-be 33-year-old goaltender lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders, where the only goals he surrendered were to Mathew Barzal on a breakaway in the first period and then to Josh Bailey in the tiebreaker. “They’re the top team in the division and a team that doesn’t give you a whole lot,” Schneider said of New York. “I thought we stayed with them and competed, and had our chances to win the game.”

But, it was a step in the right direction. It was a moment where he could feel like he could play at the highest level again. “I’m really happy for him and proud of him,” said coach John Hynes. “He’s come through some adversity here this year for sure. The way he’s worked through it and the commitment that he’s made to try to get his game back, and get himself physically and mentally ready to play; it’s been a long road for him. So he certainly put the work in and it’s nice to see the player get rewarded for that type of effort and commitment to our team.” 

His 27 saves weren’t enough on that particular night against the Isles for a full reward and the 32-year-old netminder saw his record drop to 0-5-2 this season. Numbers-wise, it was easily his best performance of this season (Schneider’s previous best came in Carolina when he surrendered two early goals and then shut the door the rest of the way in a 2-1 loss), but more importantly he looked smooth and fluid in the crease, rather than rigid, stiff, and skittish like he did in bombs against Anaheim, Winnipeg, Tampa, and Vegas. “I felt ready, I felt focused,” said Schneider following the shootout loss. “They definitely had some good looks throughout the game. It was good to make some tough saves.”

Return of the Schneider-Man?

“For sure, yeah. Absolutely,” Schneider replied when asked if this was the best he was feeling in a long time. “I said all week I felt really good in practice and was looking forward to playing.” He hadn’t played in an NHL game in almost two months (Dec. 14 vs. Vegas). “I made a couple of saves early. I felt like I was moving better, more athletic, more competitive; all of those things that were probably lacking for the last little while. I’m hoping that this is repeatable going forward and I’m confident. I felt pretty good about things (tonight).”

Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov
New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider makes a save on Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov. (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s now been 22 straight starts without a regular season NHL win for Schneider (Dec. 27, 2017). In between, he did pick up a win in last year’s first round of the playoffs against Tampa, and on rehab stints in the AHL with the Binghamton Devils this season he picked up two wins in eight starts (2-4-2). To say it’s been a battle for him as he tries to come back from hip and abdominal injuries would be the understatement of the season. 

But that hasn’t shattered his belief that he can come all the way back. “It’s nice to feel good and play well, to feel like you think you should. It’s just one game, and it’s all about moving forward now. This week I’m just trying to stay in the moment and you can’t just sit on ‘well I had one good game.’ It’s not going to happen automatically. You have to keep at it and keep digging, working. Hopefully, I can get on a roll here and get into a rhythm, which I’ve done before in my career and just re-establish my game,” Schneider said when asked if he heard the voices in the hockey world wondering if he would ever make it back to his former level of play.

Got Your Back

According to his coach, everyone in that locker room still believes in him and that hasn’t wavered. “All of those questions came from outside the locker room,” Hynes defiantly said when asked if the performance by Schneider silences any questions about his ability to return to form. “They didn’t come from inside the locker room, they didn’t come from our management, they didn’t come from our ownership, (didn’t come from) the teammates, didn’t come from the coaches – they came from everybody else that has outside opinions outside of the room. No one in that locker room or in our organization is surprised by that (performance).”

John Hynes
New Jersey Devils Head Coach John Hynes meets the media after a game at Prudential Center. (Photo Credit: Dan Rice/THW)

One of his teammates lamented the fact that the Devils were unable to get more than one goal on the night against the Islanders and unable to help get their buddy that elusive win. “I thought he was unbelievable. I thought he deserved better than the outcome and he was the reason we got a point out of the game,” a sullen Blake Coleman said. “I thought he deserved that win. He was seeing everything and stopping everything. Obviously, we have to put more than one in the net for him.”

Lost Season

With 29 games left in the season and the Devils sitting 15 points out of a playoff spot (six teams between them and the final wild-card spot), the chances of back-to-back postseason appearances were shot to hell when Taylor Hall was injured in December during a practice. The reigning Hart Trophy winner has missed 18 straight games and 20 overall and the team sits at 20-25-8 through 53 games. But until they are officially eliminated they aren’t going to publicly admit that the season is slipping away.

Andy Greene
This season went sideways for Andy Greene and the New Jersey Devils quickly. (Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

“I don’t know,” said captain Andy Greene when asked why New Jersey hasn’t been able to gain any momentum this season. “It seems like we put together a good game here and there. Then all of a sudden there are mental mistakes, opportunities and when that happens we’re getting busted for it. We compound one mistake into two or three.”

He refuses to accept that the season is lost, even if it seems like they have to climb Mt. Everest without any climbing gear. “No. I mean we know where we are in the standings but you have to keep fighting,” Greene said. “ We’re not happy there, or where we thought we’d be, where we want to be. But you never know what could happen. You have to go on a run here and start getting into the (postseason) conversation.” 

Cory Schneider Anthony Cirelli Sami Vatanen
New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider, Tampa Bay Lightning center Anthony Cirelli and defenseman Sami Vatanen (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Let’s keep it real, it would take a miracle run to make the playoffs at this point and honestly if they did somehow make it, what are the odds they don’t get sandblasted again like they did last season at the hands of the Lightning? Wouldn’t the franchise be better served to finish in the lottery with a chance to get a game-changing player like Jack Hughes? Wouldn’t they be better off trading pending UFAs like Keith Kinkaid, Ben Lovejoy, and Marcus Johansson for younger assets? Trimming some more payroll so they can sign UFAs this summer like Matt Duchene, or Jordan Eberle, or both?

The answers to those four questions are simply: low, yes, yes, and yes.