Team USA named Jonathan Quick as their starter for the World Cup of Hockey on Thursday, placing Ben Bishop and Cory Schneider behind the 2014 Olympic starter. While many bemoan the fact that Schneider, arguably one of the best goaltenders in the league is a healthy scratch, New Jersey Devils fans should be thrilled.
Of the three netminders, it’s Schneider that will likely have the biggest impact on his team’s success. New Jersey will need him more than ever, and his lack of playing time in the World Cup of Hockey will give the Massachusetts native more time to rest and allow him to be less fatigued throughout New Jersey’s season.
Schneider is immensely valuable to the Devils in the same sense that Henrik Lundqvist is to the New York Rangers and Carey Price is to the Montreal Canadiens. Both Lundqvist and Price will be starting for their respective nations, meaning in addition to the Pre-Tournament games they’ve already played, each of the goalies will play in at least three more games, likely more, considering the talent level of their countries.
While Lundqvist and Price are playing intense, post-season style hockey over the next few weeks, Schneider will have the best seat in the house without playing at all. He won’t go through the grueling routines Lundqvist and Price must, he’ll be able to practice but not be fatigued, and he will be able to come to the Devils as fresh as ever.
Other than the trio all being starters for their respective teams, each of the three plays behind below-average defenses. Lundqvist, Price, and Schneider are all counted on to carry their defenses and often their teams in general, as they receive little to no help.
While the Rangers made the postseason and the Canadiens started off as the Eastern Conference elite before Price was hurt, the Devils quietly floated along as a fringe-playoff team with Schneider leading the way.
Schneider posted a 0.924 save percentage before getting hurt in March, leading New Jersey to having only two fewer wins than the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. New Jersey was consistently in the race until Schneider went down, finishing with a 27-25-6 record with Schneider in net, and a 11-11-2 record without their lead backstopper.
Worryingly, New Jersey’s defense was among the worst in the NHL last season. New Jersey rode Schneider for good reason, as their leading “offensive” defenseman, Damon Severson, tallied just 21 points. There was a tremendous lack of puck movement in addition to a horrifying inability to keep the puck out of the team’s own zone.
Severson led the Devils defense in the possession game, posting 48.5 Corsi For percentage. No Devils defenseman finished with an even or better even strength Corsi For percentage, and two of the regular defensemen — Adam Larsson and John Moore — finished with below 45 percent clips. Schneider was under constant barrage from the opposition. New Jersey finished with the third worst Shots For percentage of all NHL teams, and their defense has only worsened this offseason.
While Adam Larsson wasn’t a key piece of the possession game, he did have one significant upside. Larsson’s 56 percent Goals For percentage led the Devils defense, but New Jersey dealt him to the Edmonton Oilers this offseason. He has been replaced by Ben Lovejoy, a career bottom pairing defenseman who is best known for his penalty killing ability.
Eric Gelinas, another productive defenseman during Schneider’s time, was dealt to the Colorado Avalanche at the trade deadline. Since New Jersey hasn’t been a playoff team during his tenure yet, Schneider has been forced to adapt to weaker and weaker defense throughout the year as the Devils “sell” their assets.
Starting in the World Cup of Hockey likely would have been a tremendous experience for Cory Schneider. Unfortunately for him, Quick and Bishop seem to be favored by the coaching staff, and fortunately for the Devils, the player they rely on the most will not be taking extra reps this September.
Instead, New Jersey will have their leader rested and relaxed come October, giving them the advantage over other teams with similar defensive woes.
Stats via Hockey Analysis