For the better part of the last 13 months, fans have criticized, jeered, mocked, and lamented the play of New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. Over and over, it would all go back to how he has not won a game in months. Then he was the goaltender in the Devils’ first (and only) playoff win since 2012, so it became how Schneider has not won a regular season game in months. That became a full calendar year. And, to be fair, a lot of the frustration was justified. He was not good when he returned from injury late last season and he was absolutely terrible in the first half of 2018-19 when he was healthy. His numbers were ghastly and he would just bleed goals from soft ones to ones that weren’t soft but were perceived to be. Keith Kinkaid not only took his job but, by performance alone, Mackenzie Blackwood jumped up to being the best goaltender this season. Many have written off Schneider and I don’t blame him. He wasn’t playing anything like a $600,000 goaltender, much less a $6 million/season goaltender.
But tonight was different. Tonight was so, so, so different. Schneider basically dragged the New Jersey Devils to a point against the Islanders. His first stop was from a wide-open Johnny Boychuk from the left circle. His second was a point-blank denial of Mathew Barzal after a hideous turnover by Travis Zajac in front of the net. While the Devils would somewhat sharpen up, the Islanders gave all kinds of challenges to Schneider and he passed all but one of them. Jam plays in close? Schneider kept them out. A makeshift two-on-one during a penalty kill? Sorry, Anders Lee, Schneider said no. A long shot with a double screen? Schneider saw around it and gloved it down. A heads-up shot in overtime? Watch the glove, Josh Bailey. Even the final shot of regulation, a sharp angled shot from Barzal was kept out thanks to Schneider holding the post. The only goal in the run of play that beat him was a breakaway goal by Barzal. Hardly a bad goal to allow and, oh yeah, the only goal allowed outside of a shootout.
Put it this way: Schneider did not get a lot of love when word got out that Schneider would start this game. Near the end of the third period, chants of “Co-ry” were made at The Rock. So to see Bailey score in the fourth round of the shootout was somewhat heartbreaking. Schneider has had two performances that were arguably winnable, both marred with bad events: that Carolina game where two goals were allowed within the first 30 seconds; that Anaheim game with three own-goals against. Make it three, with this being the first with very little controversy. Schneider was great.
If heartbreaking is too strong of a word, then I will tell you it was definitely frustrating to watch. After some really bad performances, Schneider finally put up one of his best games in a long, long time - and it was not enough. The New Jersey Devils scored first - a great shot by Kevin Rooney off a counter-attack - and that would be all against Thomas Greiss. Greiss played well, but there was at least something left to be desired from the Devils tonight. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Devils took 31 shots but only 15 were counted to be in a scoring chance area and only five were counted as high-danger. There were some shots that you hoped would have ended better like Drew Stafford’s best 15 seconds with two shots on net or Pavel Zacha getting stuffed on a rebound try prior to Barzal’s goal or Jesper Bratt’s overtime shot hitting off two posts. (Aside: Bratt had a good game other than the double-post shot.) But with six minutes of power play time, the Devils generated all of five shots and only one-high danger attempt. There were considerable stretches where the game was largely played in the Devils’ half of the rink. There were a couple of defensive-zone turnovers by the Isles that did not end with the lamp being lit. Not even all four shootout attempts were on target; Kyle Palmieri and Nico Hischier missed. Again, Greiss played well and the Islanders defense did a good job trying to keep the Devils from second-chance opportunities. Their PK was on-point as well, but the larger point remains: The Devils’ offense faltering was huge tonight.
Schneider is great for this one night, Kevin Rooney of all players provides a goal, the Devils survived four penalties to kill, the Devils really only struggled against Barzal, and the Devils failed to just get another one. All things being equal, even just one more goal would have done it.
Tonight’s game is a great reason why I was never comfortable with the whole “Schneider hasn’t won a game.” (Or “Kinkaid has only won two games in 2019” or somesuch.) Goalies do not score goals. They can only prevent them. They can only make saves. They are rarely involved in the creation of goals. Schneider excelled tonight - and it was not enough because the eighteen men in front of him could not score more than one goal. Schneider deserved better than this 1-2 SO loss. Life and hockey ain’t about deserves.
The Opposition Opinion: Over at Lighthouse Hockey, Steven E. Smith even agreed that Schneider deserved the ‘W’ tonight. Even a fan of an opponent feels this way!
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com:
So Is He Back?: Schneider? No. This was one great game but just one game. I can appreciate optimism and hope, but I would be really, really, really cautious about it. The Devils have a back-to-back set coming up this weekend. Both goalies should get one start.
A Poor Decision in a Not-So-Hot Performance: Blake Coleman did not play particularly well tonight. When he was on the ice in five-on-five, the Devils were out-attempted 12-14 and out-shot 7-9. He had some beefs with Mathew Barzal, one that led to matching minors and one that led to being called (somewhat harshly) for holding.
After those matching minor penalties ended, Coleman made a critical error that would lead to the Islanders’ lone goal in regulation. He went to the bench. The problem is that Barzal left the box at the same time. While Coleman may have been signaled to come in or been told to go in, he did it despite what was happening on the rink. As the four-on-four situation ended, Will Butcher, Pavel Zacha, and Jesper Bratt all went to the net. Zacha seemingly had a goal off a rebound but he was blocked by a defender. The fourth man was Eric Gryba (really), who was on the blueline. So as Barzal left the box, he saw four Devils all in the Islander zone and Ryan Pulock coming around the corner with the puck. The young ace forward put himself in a spot to receive a long pass while Coleman had his blinders on as he headed to the bench. The result: a clear-cut breakaway for Barzal, who scored.
Coleman’s play in January was very good overall but this was not a good night from him and this one error ended up being costly. I’m not saying Schneider would have had a shutout tonight or Coleman cost the team this game, but these are the sorts of on-ice errors that have just hurt the Devils all season long.
A Positive Fourth Line: A missed pass in a 4-on-3 rush by the Islanders led to Jesper Bratt getting the puck away, Kurtis Gabriel tossing it to Kevin Rooney, and Rooney rushing into the zone and torching Greiss on the shot. It was a great looking goal and the high point for a line that was actually not that bad. Sure, Gabriel is one of the slowest Devils I’ve seen in a while and Brett Seney was just a guy on the ice tonight. But this line was not wrecked in the run of play. They maybe had only one or two bad shifts. They contributed a goal. That’s a good night.
A Lot of Gryba: Eric Gryba played over 17 minutes tonight including just over two on the penalty kill and a four-on-four shift. For someone who has been a part of a really struggling blueline in Binghamton, I was surprised he played as much as he did. Was he good? He was not awful but he had some moments that made me realize he is an AHL player. The best example I can recall was in the third period. Marcus Johansson had the puck in the Devils’ zone and had a forechecker. To ease the pressure, he passed it to Gryba. Gryba immediately passed the puck back to Johansson. The puck got away from him, the Isles recovered and quickly regained the zone. The Isles proceeded to spend a good 30 seconds in the Devils’ end, threatening to score. The bad decision by Gryba was nearly costly. But I will say he did not have a lot of those bad decisions.
The Return of Lovejoy: Ben Lovejoy returned to action tonight and played 15:49 tonight. Yes, Eric Gryba received more ice time than Lovejoy in case you were wondering whether the Devils were sort-of, kind-of tanking. They even took some shifts together. Lovejoy received some favorable matchups and he did reasonably well. His work on the PK was good. He took one penalty when he tripped up Leo Komarov from behind, who was off on a breakaway coming out of the penalty box. But the Devils killed that one and allowing a potential second goal from a player coming right out of the box would have been terrible, so in hindsight, it was not the worst foul to take. I thought Lovejoy had an OK game in his return.
Struggling Devils: The Devils that particularly struggled, briefly:
- Mirco Mueller and the Devils with him were steamrolled when they saw Lee, Michael Dal Colle, and Barzal. Mueller took a delay of game call. Mueller struggled on the puck throughout the night. When Mueller was on the ice, the Devils were out-attempted 10-19, the worst among all defensemen. It was a rough night for him.
- Nico Hischier did not have a good game in regulation and missed the net in the shootout. He came close to scoring early on in overtime and I thought he did well in the fourth period. Alas. That was a lot more than Kyle Palmieri, whose biggest contribution tonight was firing a hard shot off Greiss’ helmet. He dented the helmet. That was it from #21 in terms of notable contributions; that was his only official shot of the game.
- Miles Wood left the game early due to injury. After the game, John Hynes stated in the post-game press conference on TV that it was an upper body injury. Prior to the injury, Wood was a total non-factor.
Yeah, He’s Real Good: Mathew Barzal continues to make me wish the Devils drafted him in 2015. He was a constant threat on the ice. In addition to scoring, he was excellent at handling the puck. He was more than patient enough to make a constructive decision with the puck while handling the puck with strength and control to make defenders respect him. I was nervous whenever he had the puck because I knew he could make something happen, whether it was scoring himself or finding an Isle open to score. I was pleased that Schneider and the Devils held him to the one goal. I was especially pleased he didn’t end it in the shootout. Still, he remains the ace of an Islanders squad that continues to improbably lead the division.
One Last Thought: One goal. Come on. Seriously, Schneider deserved way more than what he got from his teammates tonight.
Your Take: The Devils lost 1-2 due to a shootout against the Islanders tonight. Schneider was great but his teammates only scored one goal and could not score in the shootout. So it goes. What’s your take on tonight’s loss? Who impressed you the most? Who impressed you the most other than Schneider? What should have the Devils done differently that could have led to more than one goal being scored tonight? What should the Devils change for their next game on Saturday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about tonight’s loss in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for the preview, thanks to Mike for running the @AAtJerseyBlog account during the game, thanks to those who commented during the game in the Gamethread, and thank you for reading.