There can be no denying that the New Jersey Devils of 2017-18 had a significantly better December than did the 2016-17 version. Heading into this weekend’s back-to-back set, the Devils were 8-3-1 in the month, and went 6-0-1 between December 12th and 27th. A season ago, the team went 4-9-2 in the same month as they were on a rapid slide down to join the dregs of the NHL in fighting for a top draft position. Of course, despite their dominance on the ice in December 2017, the team has not generated any real separation in the Metropolitan, still just keeping their head above water at the top.
There can be no doubt that there are many reasons as to why the team is performing so well. They are still scoring at a very high clip, especially considering the history of this organization. In 8 of the first 11 games of the month, the Devils scored at least three goals. That is a great sign. Also, the team is really starting to gel, and we are seeing some great chemistry at the top of the forward group, with Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt playing a style of hockey that is both incredibly fun to watch and also incredibly successful.
However, the one major catalyst this month that has really propelled this team has been none other than Cory Schneider, who has clearly regained his all-star form of late, shrugging off last year’s woes. When you look at his numbers for the entire season, you can see just how well he has bounced back: through 28 starts, he had a .923 save percentage and a 2.49 GAA. That save percentage mark is back to normal for his career average, which right now sits at .922. And remember, these numbers are for a Devils team that is not the defensive juggernaut that it once was. Before last night’s games, New Jersey had the 4th worst CA/60 in the NHL at 5v5 play, allowing an average of 61.41 attempts against per 60 mins. And this has obviously translated directly into shots per game as well. If you look at all strengths, the Devils are 5th worst in the NHL in shot attempts against per 60 mins, sitting at 32.46. So, Schneider has been getting peppered this season, but despite that, he has responded with some excellent, all-star worthy numbers.
While Schneider’s season has been a real good one, his December has been nothing short of excellent. Again, before this weekend’s back-to-back set, the Devils played 11 games. In those, Schneider started 10 of them, with Keith Kinkaid starting only the Arizona game back on December the 2nd. In those ten games he started, in 7 of them he posted a save percentage over .930. In 6 of them, that save percentage was over .940. In 4 of them, his save percentage was over .955. In 3 of them, his save percentage was over .965. That is absolutely incredible. Here is a quick chart of his games with traditional stats, with info coming from NHL.com:
So of course, this stretch has not been entirely perfect. There were three games there were he played at replacement level or worse. However, as I mentioned above, the sole reason for the Devils’ dominance this month has thankfully not been Cory. The offense picked Cory up in two of those three games, scoring 5 against Anaheim and 4 against New York en route to wins in both games. So, another reason to be thankful would be that even on Cory’s off nights, the offense has generally been good enough to pick him up.
However, those nights were the outliers this month, not the norm. The norm for Schneider was much, much, much better. Even with those three subpar nights, his average save percentage in those 10 games was .928, higher than his season and career averages. If you remove those three sub-.900 games, however, his average in the other seven games was a remarkable .956! That means that in those seven games, he was near perfect. The skaters in front of him barely had to score a goal or two to at least get a point, never mind two. He stood on his head for the majority of the month, and was a key catalyst in the amazing record they have had.
Also, just to note, most of those games weren’t against the basement dwellers of the league either. Yes Colorado is once again in last place in the Central and Detroit will get a top 10 pick this year. The others, however, were all quality opponents (say what you want about Chicago struggling to maintain pace in the Central, but you know they are not an easy team to beat).
In my opinion, given those numbers and the amazing performances he has had despite playing in front of a porous defense, the NHL should absolutely make Schneider one of its three starts of December. Without him backstopping those games, there is zero chance that New Jersey would be on top in the tightest, toughest division in hockey just one year removed from being in dead last in the same tough Metro. He took over many of those games thanks to his amazing abilities in preventing the puck from entering the Devils’ net. Yes the story this year has been the amazing turnaround of this team’s offense, and rightly so, but for this month I hope that the NHL does the right thing and recognizes that the Devils’ newfound scoring abilities would all be for naught if it wasn’t for the all-star play of Cory Schneider.
Put it this way: if he can keep up this excellent play of his throughout the rest of the regular season, there is a very high likelihood of New Jersey playing hockey beyond game #82.
What do you think on this matter? Do you think Schneider is worthy to be one of the NHL’s three starts of December? If so, what other arguments are there? If not, why does he not deserve the award? Who would you give it to instead of him? When AATJ does its monthly review, should Schneider be the Devil of the Month, or should someone else get that distinction? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.