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Act One Has Been Success of New Faces. Act Two Will Be Cory Schneider.

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The Devils are in the position they are in mostly because of offense. While the spark from new faces got us here, eventually, our success will depend on Cory Schneider.

Florida Panthers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Devils are scoring 3.5 goals per game, which lands them 5th in the NHL. This has undoubtedly been the driving force behind their early season success. Specifically, the new faces have generated a lot of the buzz. Now, many of these players do offer strong overall games that may make them season-long contributors or longer. But there are some troubling stats as well. Brian Gibbons, Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, and Drew Stafford are 4 of our top 5 scorers and all are surprising. That group of 4 players have scored 24 goals on 118 shots. That registers as a shooting percentage of over 20%. That is unsustainable for even one player, let alone 4/5 top scorers.

This is bound to come down, and when it does, something will need to offset that regression. Something that, in poetic symmetry, is one of the most tenured positions on the team — Cory Schneider.

In the offseason, I wrote a rather contentious article postulating that Schneider would eventually be a liability to the Devils due to his age, contract, and performance. While I hold the points of that article in the long-term, I clearly underestimated his ability to spite me by immediately returning to his previous level. Whether he’s healthier, or the hiring of Melanson has fixed him, or something else has happened, he’s undeniably a different goalie. Ignoring last year, his Sv%s with the Devils, in order, are 0.921, 0.925, 0.924, and, this year, 0.922. And that last number may actually be the most impressive one because this is likely the worst defensive team he’s experienced in that set of 4 years. To put it into context, here is his performance relative to the league. All stats are from Corsica, except for Adj. Sv% which is from FirstLineStats.

As I tweeted earlier this week, Schneider has the highest even strength dSv% in the league. That stat is the difference between his expected Sv% based on Manny’s xG model, and his actual Sv%. The higher the number, the more he is outperforming the expectation of his circumstances. Adj Sv% measures a similar thing, except it is, more simply, a weighted average of performance relative to the average performance in the different danger zones. Schneider is elite no matter how you slice it.

To quantify the impact of this, we can look at his GSAA (goals saved above average) which tells us how many goals the Sv% differential has been worth. Cory’s all-situation GSAA is 12.61. Taking away those 12 goals would drop us from 7th in the league in goal differential, to 25th. The only goalie with a greater impact so far is Johnathan Quick who has an absolutely bananas 18.18 GSAA so far this season, buoyed by a disgustingly good 10.72 dSv% on the PK.

The Devils’ fancy stat struggles have been pretty well-documented this year. Alex touched on it here. Sean Tierney does hockey Tableau viz and he’s had a few really troubling images of the Devils production. We are among the worst in shot ratio, we’re the luckiest team with regards to PDO, and we’re overperforming our expected goals as well. Regression is coming. It is inevitable. No one finishes with the shooting percentage we have, but this tug of war between our imminent Sh% plummet and Schneider’s excellent performance — should it continue -- is going to make for a gripping narrative. I described it earlier this week while contemplating the topic for this weeks article

Shooting percentage is a product of 20+ players. It will very seldom be attributable to talent. However, Sv% is frequently composed predominantly of a one or two players. If Schneider is playing the way he is, and Kinkaid can bring his numbers up from the sub-0.900 spot he’s at now the Devils can stay ahead of the looming PDO tidal wave and weather the storm to contention.

In our preview for the 2017-18 season I labeled Schneider the “X-Factor.” The impact he is capable of having on the team is unparalleled on this roster. I actually believe that our offensive improvements and defensive decline aren’t that far off from one another. The biggest difference in watching the Devils is obviously the speedy style, but for any change in the Devils spot in the standings to manifest, it’s going to need to be on the back of Cory before long.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Schneider’s performance so far? Is it sustainable? Has he corrected problems from last year? Will he be able to buoy us to a playoff spot? Do you expect Kinkaid to improve as well? Leave your thoughts below, and thanks for reading!