Devils Riding Schneider To Failure?
Cory Schneider started his sixteenth straight game for the New Jersey Devils against Minnesota last night.
The Devils came away with a 3-1 win to keep them in the play-off hunt, but their over reliance on the 28-year old is, at best, concerning – and at worst incompetent.
This season is Schneider’s first as a team’s clear cut #1. Previously he’s had chances to take the reigns in both Vancouver and New Jersey, but was unable to truly take hold of the job.
With veteran Martin Brodeur gone, the Marblehead native is the Devils guy – no question, no hesitation. And he has to be really, with the Devils having signed him through to 2022.
Schneider may now be tied to the Devils for the rest of his career; but it’s easy to understand why New Jersey wanted to hitch their wagon to the former Canuck’s stopper in the first place.
With a career save percentage of .923 and a 2.20 GAA, Schneider gave up less than 2 goals per game in 45 appearances for the club last season and finally gave the organisation confidence there is ‘life after Brodeur’.
But the 2013/14 campaign was also the first time Schneider played more than 35 games in a season (his previous best was 33, last year he played 45). It represented the beginning of a new phase of his career, moving out of the shadows and looking to cement himself as a legitimate NHL starter.
It seems like a particularly long ascendancy for Schneider, who was pegged as the Canucks future #1 before being traded, but his rise is far from complete.
It may not be unrealistic to expect Schneider to move from 30 games in 2012/13 to 45 last year and now on to the 60+ expected of an NHL starter – but to ride him so hard so early raises serious concerns.
Even the best can only play for so long without a break, and most of those normally have the fortune to play with much stronger defences than the one Schneider has in front of him right now.
You only need to look at how Eddie Lack struggled in Vancouver at the end of last season to see what happens when a netminder is ridden hard with a ropey defence around him…
While parting with Brodeur may have removed some of the distractions his presence, coupled with his decline in play, brought; the franchise has also removed some form of safety net between the pipes.
Schneider is now 6-7-2 to start the season, with 2.86 GAA and .904 save percentage, and penalty kill numbers which are truly horrifying (.798 save percentage). On a team who could be justly described as a bubble team, they need Schneider to be at his best as often as possible – which makes running him in to the ground at this stage of the season even more confusing.
So what is the Devils plan here? Play him until he physically can’t stand any more? If so, to what end?
If the plan for New Jersey is simply to make the play-offs, with any concerns of late season burn out secondary to this aim, then that does perhaps half explain things. This is a team that was badly burnt by a poor start before, with John MacLean’s ill fated stint as coach leading them to a 9-22-2 record at the start of the 2010/11 campaign.
But playing Schneider in sixteen straight games?!
During that span New Jersey have played Florida, Winnipeg and a slumping Columbus side – could veteran Scott Clemmensen or 25-year old Keith Kinkaid not have started at least one of those games?
Whilst Clemmensen was far from impressive in two relief appearances, Kinkaid was at least ‘ok’ in late cameos against Detroit and St Louis and the question has to be asked; if New Jersey has such little faith in the pair, why didn’t they address it in the summer?
Naturally Brodeur’s name has begun to crop up as Schneider visible begins to buckle under the strain, but Tim Thomas, Ilya Bryzgalov and Thomas Vokoun are all available as well.
Schneider’s play will only come under increasing scrutiny as things progress, especially with his numbers among the worst of any starter in the league. Even if the ultimate goal is just to get back in the post season, the workload New Jersey have heaped on him is only compounding matters.
If the franchise is serious about Schneider as their go to, they also need to recognise when ‘not to’ (play him).
Because the current road is going to lead to ruin, for the player and the team.