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What If Schneider Were Playing At His Usual?

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There can be no doubt about it: all-star netminder Cory Schneider has been slumping this season. He has gone from being great to maybe being mediocre. What could have been if he were still playing like a Vezina candidate?

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

There can be no doubt that up to now, Cory Schneider has been slumping so far in the 2016-17 season. As it currently stands, over the course of 22 starts, he has posted a miserable .905 save percentage, a 2.88 GAA, and has had 0 shutouts. Those numbers are compared to a career .923 save percentage, a career 2.22 GAA, and 21 shutouts over 277 starts. To put that into some perspective, of all goaltenders so far this season with at least 10 games played, Schneider ranks 34th in save percentage, just behind Jaroslav Halak, Peter Budaj, and Jake Allen amongst others. Even the so-called king, who was benched over in Rangerstown for a few games, has a .916 save percentage over 21 starts, good for 20th on that same list. This is compared to last season, where Schneider ranked 6th in save percentage amongst goalies with at least 30 games played. That is a monster difference.

The question, of course, is how much improved would the New Jersey Devils be if he were playing at his career norm and not at his current slumping pace. There is no denying that Schneider is an elite goaltender, as he has shown that over the course of several seasons. He did not all of a sudden become a bad goalie, so this is certainly something that he can and eventually will break out of. I would not say that we should all of a sudden expect .905 save percentage seasons from him now instead of .923 seasons. Yes, Martin Brodeur eventually slid to the point where in his final years in NJ he was only producing just over a .900 save percentage, but that was when he was around 40 years old, a decade older than where Schneider is now. Cory is still in his prime, and I have no doubt that he will begin to play like it again at some point.

Therefore, I believe it pertinent to wonder how well this team would be doing if he were playing like we would normally expect him to play. In the purest form of the question, it is of course impossible to answer, as it would all come down to when he was making the extra saves that he did not make this year. If he made some extra saves so that the game on Sunday ended 3-0 instead of 5-0, it would still have ended up as a loss. But if he made some extra saves in a one goal game that the team lost, that would have a direct impact on the standings. Then you can get even deeper, and say that well if he made more saves against New York then the game would have been closer and perhaps the Devils would have scored at some point because they would have been more motivated. It is impossible to get that far into it, because who knows what would have been.

Despite that, the exercising of looking into it and seeing the differences in numbers is not without merit. It shows us what we could have reasonably expected this team to do with the all-star version of Schneider. It can show us how good the team may actually have been, instead of how good they are. Yes goals against can be pinned on the skaters sometimes as much as the goalie, but if Schneider was playing better, no doubt the skaters would look better too. It helps us get a clearer picture of what we are seeing with this current iteration of the Devils.

So, this season Cory has faced 677 shots over 22 games played, saving 613 of them, which equates to his current .905 mediocrity. What if his current save percentage was at .923, however? Facing the same number of shots, he would currently have 625 saves instead of 613. So over 22 starts, he would have saved an extra 12 shots that currently have gone in. That may not sound like a particularly large number, but we need to put it in different perspectives to showcase the true meaning of those 12 goals against. For starters, that would be an extra 0.55 goals per game (12 goals divided by 22 games). Next, with 12 less goals against, Cory would be at 52 goals given up instead of 64. Using that to calculate goals against average (GA/minutes *60), his GAA would fall all the way from 2.88 to 2.34, essentially indicative of that 0.55 goals per game increase. A .923 save percentage this season would put him 15th in the league for goalies with at least 10 games played (instead of 34th), and a 2.34 GAA would put him 14th in that same list, instead of 34th where he currently is. So you’re looking at him jumping over half of the goalies in front of him in both of those lists had he saved an extra 12 shots that went in. He would go from being a subpar goaltender this year to an above average one.

For the Devils as a whole, again it is impossible to say where the team’s record would currently be at. There is no question that it would be better than where it is now, but by how much is impossible to say. What we can determine is that if the team’s Goals For remained the same regardless of this difference in Goals Against, the Devils would currently own a -4 goal differential instead of the quite poor -16 they currently claim. That is still a negative number for sure, but for some perspective, right now -16 is good for dead last in the Eastern Conference while -4 would put them 9th out of the 16 Eastern teams (this was calculated before last night’s games). That is a jump over 7 teams.

Ironically enough, Keith Kinkaid has done the opposite of Schneider, and has played above his career numbers. In 7 starts this year so far, Keith has posted a .921 save percentage, which is a good deal higher than his .911 career average. If we do the same calculations for him real quick, had he been playing at career norms, instead of 233 saves in 253 shots, he would have saved only 230 or 231 shots (.911 falls in the middle). Kinkaid has saved around 2.5 more shots than he would have if he was at his career average. So if you want to subtract that from Cory’s numbers, the Devils overall have allowed an extra 9.5 goals over what would be expected if both Schneider and Kinkaid were playing at their career averages. If you want to remove Kinkaid because he is a backup with not a whole lot of NHL experience, so growth is possible at his age, then just keep Schiender’s numbers and go with 12 extra goals allowed. Either way, it is not an insignificant number.

So, what would 12 extra goals do for the Devils this year? Again, we can only guess, but considering that the Devils have lost 10 games by only 1 goal, I would have to say that it would not have made a negligible difference. Say 4 of those extra goals against were actually saved during those 1 goal games. That would be at minimum four extra points in the standings, eight if the Devils won all of them in overtime or the shootout. The team sits 9 points out of a wild card (heading into last night’s games). It would potentially be the difference between being an afterthought to being a contender still.

In the end, we may never know what could have been, but we know what can happen moving forward. If Schneider can return to his better self sooner rather than later, bumping up his save percentage closer to his career average, the Devils can start winning more. They will not have to score 4+ goals a night to win, as Cory can really limit the damage against. While the Devils may never get back into true contention, being 9 out already, it could help make them competitive once again, which would be great for us fans and great for the atmosphere and attitude within that locker room.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on the Schneider slump? How much better do you think the Devils could have been if Cory were playing at his usual pace? Would the Devils still be in contention? Or, have the skaters been so bad that there’s almost nothing Schneider could have done? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.