Over the last two games for the New Jersey Devils, we have seen a lot of a former mainstay in the crease, Cory Schneider. Once an all-star, then injured, then demoted after poor play, Schneider has been back with the team after his strong play down in Binghamton coupled with injuries and problems in net for New Jersey.
At 33 years old, and given the trajectory of his career, this realistically could be the last real chance Cory has to gain consistent, regular starts at the NHL level. Granted, others have played at a high level past their mid-30s, so he is not at the absolute end given his age, but 33 is not an age where players usually are improving and getting better, but rather are trying to maintain what they have.
Schneider, however, has not been able to reproduce what he had in his all-star capacity for several years. From 2010 through 2016, either as a backup in Vancouver, splitting time in New Jersey, or having the #1 job here, Schneider consistently produced top of the line numbers. In none of those seasons did he have a save percentage below .921, a very difficult feat to achieve. In those few seasons starting for the Devils, he was a main reason why they were in so many games despite really not icing a good team in front of him. Had the Devils put forth a good squad in front of him then during his prime, he could have done some real damage.
Alas, it has not been the same since his age 30 season. The last three seasons, one as a full time starter and the other two splitting starts, he has not been able to top a .908 save percentage, way down from his .920s from the years prior. When he was sent down to Binghamton this season, it was a logical move, one we had all seen coming for some time. Mackenzie Blackwood was the rising goalie on this team and we all needed to see if he could become the guy; Schneider, on the other hand, was in clear decline.
However, when called up earlier in the week, he performed admirably in his first showing back with New Jersey. Against an offensively-dominant Toronto squad, he gave up only one goal on fourteen shots after Louis Domingue got absolutely rocked. It stabilized the game and gave the Devils at least a small chance to come back and grab victory out of the jaws of defeat. Of course, that did not come to pass, but it was a throwback effort from Schneider, and confirmed that his strong showing in Binghamton was not a fluke.
On Thursday against Washington, his final stat line was not impressive after coming in for Domingue once again, giving up 3 goals on 23 shots, but it was a fairly solid performance for much of his time in, only really coming off the rails part way into the third. How he performed in the second was quality overall, more indicative of what he did on Tuesday.
Given the injuries to Blackwood and now Domingue, it seems Schneider could have a more secure spot on New Jersey’s roster for at least a little bit of time. In reality, this could be his last chance to show that he can still be a productive goalie at the NHL, even if just as a backup or spot starter. I’m not sure any team would trust him to be a long term #1 answer at this point, there would be no reason to do so, but given his experience, if he can perform well over the next week or few weeks, however long of a time he has, it might convince the Devils to keep him up backing up Blackwood instead of Domingue.
If he starts to struggle and is forced back down to Binghamton, however, I think this could be the last we see of Schneider in an NHL uniform. Getting sent down and called back up can happen more than once for young players still improving and getting used to the pro game. For someone like Schneider, however, it carries much more of something like a death sentence attached to it. That is not to say that it would never happen, perhaps injuries necessitate a call up for him again sometime in the future. But if he does not continue to play well during his time up right now, the odds of him coming back are much less.
Either way, it has been good to see him playing at least fairly well these last couple of games, especially against Toronto. He was a staple of this team for several years, and was clearly the best player on the team around the time our now ex-GM Ray Shero took over. Filling the shoes of Martin Brodeur was going to be brutally difficult for anyone, but he kept goaltending for the Devils an area of strength for a while longer. That in and of itself was very commendable. I hope he keeps playing at least fairly well here and does what he can to stay up here. Seeing a good Schneider in net every now and then is a good sight indeed.