Should the Devils Turn to Schneider?

Enigma. Riddle. Puzzle. Conundrum. Mystery. Secret.

Take your pick of descriptions — personally, I like conundrum — and you have an idea how perplexing the next Devils‘ goaltending decision must be.

With Game 2 of the New Jersey-Tampa Bay series slated for 3 p.m. today’s afternoon matchup, the odds — at least in The Maven’s mind — are in favor of coach John Hynes selecting Keith Kinkaid.

That’s also the majority opinion with Devils insiders. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile point of discussion since New Jersey is groping for a win and, in Game 1, Keith could not deliver despite a valiant effort.

Facing 31 shots on goal in the Thursday night opener at Amalie Arena, Kinkaid forfeited four goals and played what I consider a solid game as the host Lightning carried the play and a 5-2 decision, with the last goal an open-netter.

On to Game 2, there could be a different scenario in the New Jersey goal. No matter how you shake it, the season-long “designated” Number One stopper remains Cory Schneider, currently a sitting Number Two.

Granted that Schneider was significantly unimpressive after returning from an injury on March 1. By contrast, Kinkaid was The Man, spearheading New Jersey’s drive to the postseason with superlative play.

What inspires the Schneider-Kinkaid question is the fact that the Devils (Kinkaid) lost Game 1 despite Keith delivering a number of outstanding saves.

[Read More From Stan Fischler]

A veteran club owner put it this way when I asked his view and it was emphatically in favor of Schneider.

“For the sake of argument, let’s say Kinkaid loses Game 2, You wouldn’t want to suddenly thrust Schneider into the series for Game 3.

I’d play Schneider on Saturday. They traded for him to be Number One.”

Likewise, a longtime scout argued in favor of Schneider as well.

“Cory has been the Number One. He’s paid to be one and he’s expected back next season. They brought him from Vancouver for situations like these.”

I disagree. Generally speaking, the Devils play a tighter defense in front of Kinkaid although it wasn’t apparent in Game 1.

The Bolts’ fourth and killer goal — fired by underrated Alex Killorn — resulted from a Devils offensive breakdown, then three-on-two break with Kinkaid in a good position but screened by Tampa rookie Anthony Cirelli.

“I never saw it,” said Kinkaid. Then again, Killorn one of the better clutch scorers, is fifth all-time on the Lightning in playoff goals scored with 16.

[Watch Devils-Lightning Game 3 Monday on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]

Former Devils radio play-by-play broadcaster Larry Hirsch — now working in Tampa Bay — told me that he would stick with Kinkaid.

“He played well, moved well and kept the Devils in the game for their near-comeback,” said Hirsch. “But if Kinkaid is to succeed in the second game, that Jersey defense will have to tighten up.

“They have to force Tampa to shoot around the perimeter and do a better job in front of their goalie. Most of the Bolts goals were scored from in close. I expect the second one to be a closer, tighter game.”

Looking ahead, expect the Devils fighting spirit to carry over today. That was evident at the final buzzer when a near Pier Six brawl almost erupted only to be cooled by the four on-ice officials.

That impressed one member of the Lightning staff who opined: “It showed me that the Devils were really mad that they lost. It showed good team character and it should carry over to Game 2.”

What do the fans think?

Season ticket-holder Emma Miller offers: “Schneider has yet to make a compelling case for himself. In his last handful of starts, he was not in his usual game form. Statistically, the team plays better in front of Kinkaid.

“Keith took on a heavy workload against competitive teams and proved he could handle it. Now should be no different.”

Neutral observer Rob Taub goes with Kinkaid as well. “While many of his teammates seemed a little stunned by the new playoff spotlight,” said Taub, “Kinkaid was not one bit overwhelmed. in his first playoff go-round.”

Danny Farrell, who teaches hockey at various Met Area rinks, favors Kinkaid as well. “Once you start Cory and if he loses, you have to go back to Kinkaid and that disrupts the whole team. Keith is capable of stealing a game.”

A ray of sunshine that seeped through the Devils’ dressing room was provided by Taylor Hall who scored a goal and an assist.

“If we can move pucks effectively throughout our zone,” said Hall, “and into the neutral zone, we’d play a lot better. We seem to get pucks back on the forecheck and play a lot better and easier.”

Targeting a Bolts balance wheel such as Victor Hedman did not appear part of the Devils’ game plan, but that could change in the second clash.

In evaluating Devils strategy, it’s important to consider who they’re up against. Not only is Hedman a top D-man, but also Anton Stralman, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. That’s a lot of experience and consistency.

One of the better New Jersey units featured Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen and Travis Zajac.

“We weren’t consistent enough,” said Coleman whose line was one of the most effective against Tampa Bay.

By contrast, the Bolts succeeded as they often do by adroitly playing a North/South game combining puck control with team speed.

Perhaps the insertion of Schneider could be a more effective deterrent than Kinkaid but I don’t believe it.

The conundrum for Coach Hynes is whether he believes The Maven or the Schneider Marching and Chowder Society.

[Watch Devils-Lightning Game 3 Monday on MSG, MSG+ & MSG GO]