Who is the best goaltender in the New York metropolitan area?
The simple answer for the last five seasons has been Henrik Lundqvist, but with the New Jersey Devils’ acquisition of Cory Schneider two seasons ago, the answer isn’t as cut-and-dried as it used to be.
The elite goaltenders union in the NHL rarely consists of more than three or four goaltenders at any given time. Carey Price and Lundqvist are card-carrying members, and Schneider has pushed his way into the conversation with his consistent brilliance now that he no longer has to share the crease with future Hall-of-Famers like Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur.
He showed signs of this brilliance while pushing Luongo in Vancouver and Brodeur during his first season in New Jersey. The Devils’ loyalty to Brodeur overshadowed a phenomenal debut season for Schneider as a Devil.
When Schneider finally emerged as the No. 1 starter, he was used a lot by then-head coach Peter DeBoer and it resulted in one of the worst stretches of his career. During a period where Schneider started the first 20 games of the season, he managed a slightly below league average save percentage of .914 and gave up 10 of the 14 red goals he would surrender all of last season. The Devils would be wise to use Keith Kinkaid more often to avoid the exhaustion that can negatively affect his game and, in turn, his statistics.
Schneider has remained consistently above average during the 2,000-shot sample I have from the 2012-13 season through early last season. We can see the dip above in his expected save percentage (SV%) during that 20-game stretch toward the end of the graph. Schneider faced higher quality opportunities than an average goaltender and still maintained a greater than expected SV%.
One of Schneider’s greatest strengths is his ability to hold his edges. The goal of opposing forwards is to limit the amount of information a goaltender can accumulate before a shot. This is why quick releases and pre-shot movement are so integral to offensive success. If a forward can disguise his intentions long enough, he can force a goaltender into making the first decision. This allows the forward to use the information he gains to his advantage.
Schneider’s ability to hold his feet allows him, instead of the shooter, to gain this valuable information and it continually provides him with more options in which to choose his save selections. He rarely limits his options with early commitments. This shows up in his lack of red goals as well as a high clean save percentage. When you add in his athleticism down low, as well as his ability to recover on passes and rebound opportunities, it becomes clear how Schneider manages to continually perform above league averages and why I consider him among the elite goaltenders in the NHL.
A well-rested Schneider has improved on this dominant play through the early part of the 2015-16 season.
While the sample is small, Schneider has been continually exposed to high-quality opportunities and continues to dominate. Looking above at his shot chart, one can see that Schneider is being pummeled in the high danger zone. Yet through six games, despite me having Schneider’s expected save percentage at .897, he maintains a .920+ save percentage. His clean save percentage is not where his career average is, but he is creating fewer rebounds and is dominating on high percentage green opportunities.
Schneider, like Price and Lundqvist, has the ability to push his team past its own limits on his own, and with any type of sustained goal support he can make the Devils a legitimate playoff team.
While I am not ready to push his name above Lundqvist as the “King of New York,” he has pushed himself into my Top-Three and is a definite Vezina contender.