NEW YORK — There was never really a chance that Cory Schneider would be starting in net at Yankee Stadium on Sunday afternoon. This would be Martin Brodeur’s afternoon, a chance for the game’s greatest goaltender to be rewarded for 20 years of service to the New Jersey Devils franchise for which he helped win three Stanley Cups.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Brodeur making this one start against the New York Rangers, although in a fair and just world, one free from sentimentality, it would be Schneider starting this key game between two teams vying for playoff position in the East. Schneider is not just the future of the Devils, but he has proven throughout this season that he is the present despite a workload that contradicts that notion.
Brodeur has made 27 starts this season; Schneider has made 25. Brodeur is 13-10-4 while Schneider is 9-9-7. It’s a bottom-line league and the bottom line is Brodeur has earned more wins and points than Schneider. But ignoring how those goaltenders arrived at those records ignores the fact that Schneider has been the superior goaltender this season and throughout the past three seasons.
Schneider owns a .928 save percentage, the fourth-best mark in the league. Brodeur sits at .905, the 34th-best number in the league. The only reason Brodeur’s season looks like an above-average one is because he has received far more goal support than Schneider.
|Player||Shots against||Saves||Save pct.|
|1. Cory Schneider||3,147||2,928||.930|
|2. Tim Thomas||4,400||4,078||.927|
|3. Tuukka Rask||3,548||3,286||.926|
|33. Martin Brodeur||4,110||3.718||.905|
|34. Steve Mason||4,549||4,113||.904|
|35. Mathieu Garon||2,505||2,255||.900|
This isn’t a new thing, either. Since 2011-12, Schneider owns the best save percentage (.930) in the NHL among goaltenders with at least 100 games. Brodeur ranks 33rd in save percentage (.905) over that time, a mark that only betters that of Steve Mason, Mathieu Garon and Nikolai Khabibulin.
Yet coach Peter DeBoer continues to mix Brodeur into the regular rotation.
“I’m not a big statistics guy,” DeBoer said. “Those are a little misleading.”
This isn’t to say statistics are the end-all, be-all of hockey or any sport. There’s much more to the game than numbers, no matter how in depth or thorough they may be. Save percentage isn’t an advanced statistic or a fancy statistic—it’s an accurate indicator of how many pucks a goaltender is stopping and is no way misleading with this large of a sample size.
Given we have a three-season sample size between the 27-year-old Schneider, who is right in the middle of his prime, and the 41-year-old Brodeur, who has been in decline for several years, it’s not breaking news that one is better than the other. Sometimes statistics defy what one sees with their eyes, but the eyes and numbers are in agreement in this case.
If you were to conduct a blind taste test with Schneider’s and Brodeur’s numbers this year or in recent years, take away the names and just look at the statistics, you’d think Schneider was the guy playing 60 games and Brodeur was the guy playing 20.
Instead, it’s a time share in which Brodeur will have played three more games after this season.
“Despite the fact that Marty’s save percentage is a little lower, Marty has played some excellent hockey for us,” DeBoer said. “At the same time, I think we have ridden the guy who has been hotter for us. When Marty was hotter than Cory earlier in the year, we rode Marty for a while and he got the majority of the games. I think we’re doing the opposite now.
“I think we’d be foolish to toss one of them to the side. The schedule is too condensed. You got the Olympics. You got back to backs. I think we’re at a huge advantage having two guys who are capable of playing.”
Schneider has started six of the Devils’ past eight games and has gone 4-0-2 with a 0.98/.966 split. If this were any other situation, he’d be in net for this pivotal game against the Rangers, who are two points ahead of the Devils in the standings.
DeBoer spoke of Schneider struggling early, but his inability to win had a lot to do with the Devils’ failure to score goals. He went 1-3-2 in October with a respectable .915 save percentage, but the team scored seven goals in those six games.
Brodeur went 2-2-2 in October, but had a woeful .879 save percentage. The Devils, however, scored 17 goals in those games.
Brodeur caught fire for a six-game stretch that bridged October and November, going 5-1-0 with a 0.84/.964 split and two shutouts. But that has proven to be more of an anomaly, a death rattle for a once great goaltender, than something that he can consistently repeat.
To Schneider’s credit, he has gone above and beyond to avoid becoming a distraction. DeBoer praised Schneider on Saturday for his professionalism throughout this season and for how he handled the news he’d be riding a cold bench in one of the Devils’ biggest games of the season.
“I didn’t go to him. He just pulled me aside and sort of said, 'It’s kind of been 20 years in the making for Marty,’ ” Schneider said. “Obviously this is a big moment for the organization and to have Marty start it would be symbolic of what he’s meant to this team. Again, he’s played well all season long. So to get him into the game and we have all the faith in the world that he’s going to play well and get the job done.”
Does the fact that his merits aren’t enough to earn him more playing time bother the goalie?
Who should start Sunday's outdoor game between the Devils and Rangers?
“I’m not too concerned,” Schneider said. “I’m more concerned about how I’m playing and make sure I continue to do what I’m doing. Whether it’s this game or the next game or however many going forward, it’s not like I thought I was going to play every single game here. It’s an important kind of game and Marty has been looking forward to it all season long. It’ll be fun to watch him and see him do his thing.”
Brodeur is an icon with the Devils. There’s no questioning what he has meant to the franchise and he deserves all the spoils that come with it. Allowing him to start this outdoor game against the Rangers with the way Schneider has been playing is questionable, but understandable.
It's a move, however, that is indicative of the mindset that has existed all season; Brodeur needs to get his playing time because of who he is, not for what he is currently accomplishing.
"I mean, I've done what I've done," Brodeur said. "I want to deserve to play because of the way I play now, not what I did in the past."
For years, the Devils have lacked a successor to Brodeur, and now they have one. As special as this game will be, it still counts for the same two points as the 81 indoor games they will play. It's contradictory in a way to hear DeBoer talk about the importance of this game in the standings and then start the inferior goaltender.
The Devils need to turn away from the past and look to the present and future before all this standing on ceremony leaves them standing out in the cold come playoff time. Brodeur is a symbol of hockey greatness, but the only symbols the Devils should care about in 2014 are the 'W's' and 'L's' in the standings.