The Devils are slated to start Cory Schneider a 19th straight time, and his numbers have been subpar this season. Coincidence? (Getty Images)
Cory Schneider will tie Martin Brodeur's Devils record by starting 19 games to open a season. But why are the Devils playing him so much when his game seems to be suffering?
If I told a Devils fan before the 2014-15 season started, "I'm psychic, and I know for a fact Cory Schneider will match one of Martin Brodeur's records this season," that Devils fan would've jumped for joy, right?
Well, turns out Schneider and the Devils have found the one, twisted way to make the milestone dubious. Tuesday night marks New Jersey's 19th game of the season. It will also mark Schneider's 19th consecutive start to open the season, which will equal Brodeur's franchise record set in 2001-02.
As I said last week, Schneider entered the season with a .925 career save percentage, which would be No. 1 in NHL history if he had enough games to qualify. General manager Lou Lamoriello and the Devils may have been unsentimental parting ways with Martin Brodeur, but it was a smart hockey decision. Schneider was one of the league's most underrated stoppers, long overdue for an extended crack at a bellcow goalie gig.
But the early returns have been mildly unsettling: 8-7-2 with a 2.71 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, putting him 29th in the NHL in the latter two categories. Some of Schneider's struggles aren't really his fault. For instance, the Devils' penalty kill has been so poor early in the season, allowing so many quality scoring chances, that Schneider's shorthanded save percentage drags down his otherwise solid even-strength numbers.
Some of the problems, however, tie directly to Schneider. For one, he's been maddeningly inconsistent. He won his first three starts, allowing two goals per game, then lost his next three, allowing four goals per game. He stopped 53 of 54 shots for two outstanding victories over Minnesota and Washington last Tuesday and Friday, then allowed three goals, including this softy, in a loss to Colorado:
It came on the second leg of a back-to-back. Schneider admitted to Star-Ledger reporter and THN Devils correspondent Rich Chere that the weak goals "are happening too much." Plays like that are often a product of poor focus, which is a product of fatigue. Why not give Schneider a rest?
It's hard to see what Lamoriello, coach Pete DeBoer and Schneider believe they gain in the current arrangement. They don't get their best Schneider every night. They also didn't give themselves a chance to look at No. 2 goalie Keith Kinkaid at all. In fact, they returned Kinkaid to the American League to get more work and brought up Scott Clemmensen to spell Schneider. Well, spell in theory. It hasn't happened yet.
Schneider has proven himself a proud individual during various interviews over his career. He has that admirable bulldog mentality. He wants to play every game. That's a great quality to have in your No. 1, but it doesn't mean Schneider has to start all the games. He's never topped 45 appearances in an NHL season – or even 60 at the minor-pro level – so how about he and the Devils settle for 70? He can pat himself on the back and the Devils can get a fresher, better version of him from game to game.
Until then, their use of Schneider is a head scratcher. What exactly are the Devils trying to prove? It's like they're rubbing salt in the wound of Martin Brodeur, who, as recently as yesterday, said he's still ready and waiting for an NHL gig.
We get it. You don't need Marty anymore. Now give Schneider a night off.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin