BRONX, N.Y. — If he can accomplish the miracle of getting the New Jersey Devils into the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Cory Schneider ought to be considered for sainthood.
After three seasons of dealing with day after day of goaltending controversies with the Vancouver Canucks and Roberto Luongo, he was traded to the New Jersey Devils where all assumed he would take the number one gig from Martin Brodeur post haste. He's performed admirably. Only Ben Bishop, Tuukka Rask and Nick Harding have played more games than Schneider's 25 and have a better save percentage (.928), and among them only Harding has a lower goals against (1.84). He's even begun to take the reins a little bit, starting six of the last eight Devils games.
Of course, you bring a media circus to Yankee Stadium and publicly declare that Brodeur is starting over Schneider… and the talk starts up all over again.
There's nothing wrong with the Devils starting the legendary Martin Brodeur at Yankee Stadium. Perhaps no player has ever meant more to the franchise, and you could argue he's as synonymous with the Devils as the likes of Maurice Richard and the Canadiens, or Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings, if not more. Also, he's beaten Sunday's opponent — the New York Rangers — twice in two tries this season. You can justify it through tradition alone.
However, DeBoer's press quotes seem to suggest that he sees a talent level reason to do it, which is just not true. As it was noted to DeBoer in his press conference following practice, Brodeur's save percentage (.905) is significantly lower. His response: "I'm not a big stats guy. I think those numbers are misleading."
The thing is, they are and they mostly aren't. No NHL team gives up fewer shots per game (a hair under 26) than New Jersey. So, you figure mistakes or bad games are going to hurt any goaltender's numbers. 25 out of 26 per game is obviously a lot worse when you average it out than 34 out of 35. That said, Brodeur's save percentage at 5-on-5 play is 54th out of 56 in the NHL.
That's not misleading, that's the sign of a goaltender whose play has gotten worse and worse in recent years. And both goaltenders' numbers are in line with what they've done in the past three seasons.
For his part, Schneider is a good teammate, who understands the history. "It's been 20 years in the making for Marty, and obviously it's a big moment for the organization. I think for him to start it would be symbolic for what he's meant to this team."
At some point, however, the Devils are going to need to acknowledge that the notion that "Schneider stops pucks, but Brodeur wins games" isn't getting them to the playoffs. Brodeur has four more wins (13 to 9) than Schneider in two more starts. Schneider's work in January has been exemplary, giving up two or fewer goals against the likes of St. Louis, Colorado and Dallas. He's given up two or fewer in 16 of his 25 starts.
The time to pass the torch should especially be now given that there's an opening for the Devils to make a run to the playoffs. As of today, the Devils are one point behind Detroit for the second Wild Card spot in the East and Columbus for the third playoff spot in the Metropolitan Division. If they start Schneider in 20 of their last 30 or better, I think they stand a chance to make the playoffs. And then, given the lack of quality of the Eastern Conference, who's to say what goes on from there.
To give Marty Brodeur his day in the sun is fine and a fine gesture from Pete DeBoer. But all involved need to understand that this is no longer a two-goalie system, or else the Devils are likely headed for a heartbreak in early April.