Cory Schneider gave up one of the worst goals of the season amid one of his very best performances of this season. A bouncing puck from center ice by Sam Reinhart eluded Schneider in the first period. It led to a big groan at the Rock and from many watching on television. That would be the only blemish in an astonishing 45-save performance by Schneider that kept the New Jersey Devils in the game against the Buffalo Sabres and secured a 3-1 win over the Sabres.
Laughable as the goal against was, no one on Buffalo was laughing when Schneider robbed Alexander Nylander and Jack Eichel on Buffalo’s first power play of the night, a five-shot effort where Schneider kept it all out. Nobody in blue and white was giggling when Schneider shut down Jeff Skinner over and over and over and over and over and over on his six shots. Nobody representing Northwest New York was guffawing when they generated 12 scoring chances in 5-on-5 play and 16 scoring chances in all situations in the third period alone and Schneider kept them all from being goals. Nobody wearing the swords were cackling when rebound opportunities, deflections, tips, weird caroms, and a myriad of shots in open space all led to the same result: save by Schneider. Cory Schneider was just about perfect tonight. It was the most unlikely shot that beat him - and that would be it.
Sure, the haters and losers, of which there are many, will point to that Reinhart goal and claim he is still problematic. I think the 45 saves more than made up for it. Especially in a game where the Devils were out-attempted 62-34, out-shot 46-21, out-chanced 31-18, and out-high-danger chanced 8-5. At least the HD chances were somewhere close in the realm of reasonable. But the other numbers support what was seen tonight: Eventually, the Sabres just put the Devils’ skaters to the sword. They just could not beat Schneider outside of a blooper. And they just could not keep the Devils’ power play from succeeding.
That is a very weird sentence to write. But now that the Devils are healthy enough at forward to ice at least eight NHL players over two power play units, it is not a surprise to see the Devils’ power play perform better. They showed signs of competency against Arizona. Tonight, they went 2-for-3 where they scored on both of their shots on net. Blake Coleman took a puck to the net and slid one in under Linus Ullmark’s legs to end a five-game streak of now power play conversions. In the third period, Pavel Zacha fired a near-perfect shot to the left post past Miles Wood and Ullmark. Off the post and in to break the deadlock. It almost seems unfair that a lackluster offensive performance would happen on the same night where they convert two power plays, much less one. But hockey, like life, is not fair. Most nights, the Devils’ special team success has been limited to just the penalty kill. Tonight, the power play took the spotlight while the PK remained perfect, largely thanks to Schneider.
Make no mistake, this was not a good game by the Devils. The Buffalo Sabres have nothing to play for and they conceded a season-high 46 shots. The third period alone was pretty much all about survival from Zacha’s PPG onward as the Sabres put up 22 shots in that period alone. NJ had five, including Miles Wood’s empty net goal. Yes, the Sabres’ third period out-shot the Devils’ entire total. It is very hard to win games that way. John Hynes made that clear in his post-game press conference and he’s right. Getting the result tonight required making the most of whatever few opportunities happened and the goaltender standing on his head. Tonight, the Devils got both of that for the win. Will that happen most nights? No. Did it happen tonight? Yes. Schneider and special teams sparkled tonight and so you take what you can get.
The Opposition Opinion: Check out Melissa Burgess’ recap at Die by the Blade for their take on tonight’s game.
The Game Highlights: From NHL.com, here are tonight’s highlights:
Chris Calabrese is Right: He noted this in the Gamethread after the win:
With that, CS’s save pct is above 900 again. I’m not even being sarcastic.
According to NHL.com, Cory Schneider’s overall save percentage is 90.4%. Who would have ever guessed this back in, say, November 2018.
Technically: Technically, Schneider was beaten two additional times tonight. However, both goals were wiped away by the officials.
First, Reinhart put home a rebound after a block by Andy Greene as Evan Rodrigues contacted Schneider. John Hynes challenged the goal for goaltender inteference. To me, it seemed like Greene boxed out Rodrigues into him. The officials on the tablet and those in Toronto saw otherwise. The challenge overturned the goal, which maintained the 2-1 lead at the time. It was a crucial decision.
Second, in the dying seconds of the game, Kenny Agostino took a hooking minor. So the Sabres ended regulation with a power play. Ullmark was pulled for an extra skater. A missed shot ricocheted off the endboards in mid air and Conor Sheary batted it down into the net. The ref immediately waved it off as Sheary’s stick was well above the crossbar. It was an easy call. Even if it was missed by the officials, it would have made the game 3-2 instead of 3-1.
All the same, Schneider was really on-point against nearly all of the Sabres. From Rasmus Dahlin to Rodrigues to Skinner to Eichel to Reinhart (fluke from the neutral zone aside) to Kyle Okposo to Lawrence Pilut, Schneider just kept getting in front of everything. From quick pads off rebounds, glove saves through traffic, to even holding onto his left arm to trap a puck for dear life off a one-timer from Tage Thompson, Schneider was doing it all. All he needed was some goal support. I would have appreciated anything resembling defense, especially in the second half of the game; or even some more offense to keep Buffalo more honest. But it was what it was and Schneider made it happen - even with a little help from the review crew and a ref.
Uh, So Corsi?: It was nearly bad across the board. One Devil finished above 50% CF% in 5-on-5, where the Devils were 37.2% (29 to 49) as a team: Nico Hischier at 9-8. The Devils were still out-shot when he was on the ice, but it was only by one shot at 6-7. Kyle Palmieri and Kenny Agostino were solidly in the 40s and a couple of attempts away from breakeven. Still, 16 skaters had an attempt differential of -3 or worse with a CF% of 43% or less. In other words, the Devils were rolled in 5-on-5 play. That the only damage done was a total surprise from the neutral zone speaks highly of Schneider just denying everything else.
Figures: Earlier today, I published a post noting that Blake Coleman has taken an excessive amount of penalties this season. In a funny coincidence, Coleman took no penalties tonight, he drew a holding call from Dahlin within 90 seconds of the game, and Coleman scored in-close on the resulting power play. While that was the peak of Coleman’s performance tonight, it was a peak and Coleman did not take a penalty out of frustration or necessity. Something I thought would happen given that the Devils were out-shot big time (2-12) when he was on the ice.
Hot #37: Pavel Zacha’s power play goal is his first since February 12. His goal and secondary assist on Wood’s empty net goal were also his third and fourth points in the three games he has played in since returning from a concussion. In fact, he had an assist in his last game prior to being out with the concussion on February 15. All the same, Zacha has a point streak going. And that does not include his game winning shootout goal against Arizona. While the 5-on-5 play when Zacha was on the ice tonight was a nightmare, it is great to see him produce. Keep that up, Zacha, but, uh, do better on and off the puck.
Power Play Success!: I’m still smiling that the Devils generated a power play goal from each unit. After weeks of miserable units featuring Kevin Rooney or Blake Pietila or Michael McLeod, it was invigorating to see two conversions. Ullmark should have stopped Coleman’s try; I’m glad he did not. Zacha’s shot was a great one with a good screen by Wood. The former was a heads-up play by Coleman. The second was from the 1-3-1 formation; a simple pass from Will Butcher paying dividends. I’m sure there are further improvements to be made, but it was refreshing to not see the Devils waste their time with an extra man.
The Blocking Leader or Here’s that Rat Quote: Andy Greene set a Devils single-season record for shot blocks. He now has 200 as per NHL.com, beating Colin White for the franchise mark. Keep in mind that this is a stat that is prone to scorer bias from rink to rink. Also keep in mind the following from Kent Wilson.
Blocking shots is like killing rats. Doing it is preferable to not, but if you’re doing it all the time it suggests you have bigger problems— Kent Wilson (@Kent_Wilson) March 18, 2015
The Devils were out-attempted 11-18 and out-shot 6-15 in 5-on-5 play when Greene was on the ice tonight. Given that the Devils allowed 46 shots in total, I’m going to believe the Devils have bigger problems than just one rat - even if Greene had only two blocks tonight.
The Defensive Performance in a Word Tonight: Abysmal.
One Last Thought: For those who prefer the Devils should lose as much as possible, then I’m afraid I have some bad news. Including tonight’s opponent, who has been terrible on the road in 2019, the Devils’ opponents mostly have nothing to play for. Detroit certainly does not. Our Hated Rivals does not. Florida does not. By the time it is April 4, Carolina may already be set for the playoffs so they may have nothing to play for either. Only Saturday’s opponent, St. Louis, may have a reason to want to beat the Devils beyond simply wanting to do so. They’re battling for playoff seeding in a tight Central Division; but that’s a game where both teams would have played the night before so who knows where the energy levels may be. This is all to say that the Devils may actually prevail over some of the bad teams they will play against, like they did tonight despite their performance.
Your Take: The Devils beat Buffalo 3-1 largely on the strength of Cory Schneider being sensational and both special teams being successful. What do you make of the win? How amazing was Schneider? How did you react at each power play goal by the Devils? What do you think the Devils will try to improve their defense before their last back-to-back set of the season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this win in the comments.
Thanks to Devin for putting up this game’s preview this morning. Thanks to CJ for taking care of @AAtJerseyBlog on Twitter during the game. Thanks to those who commented during the game in the Gamethread. Thank you for reading.