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Goaltending backstopped Devils in 2014-15

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils

Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid had reasons to smile during their first season as the Devils' goaltending tandem. (Photo: Getty Images)

Year One of the Cory Schneider era should have Devils fans very excited.

Schneider’s time as the club’s No. 1 netminder began in earnest this season, and he used it to establish himself among the NHL’s best. Though the Devils found themselves out of playoff contention for a third straight season, their foundation between the pipes is set.

Playing in a career-high 69 games that ranked fourth overall, Schneider posted the League’s fifth-best save percentage (.925) and ninth-best goals-against average (2.26). His five shutouts matched a career best and tied him for eighth overall.

In a campaign that ended without a postseason berth, Schneider’s performance was undoubtedly a silver lining.

That’s the most important position and I think that that’s pretty solid.Lou Lamoriello on the Devils' goaltending

"It’s been a good experience, I think, just playing a lot of games and getting the experience,” Schneider said of 2014-15. "But overall it’s a disappointment for everybody, not making the playoffs.

"Anybody can play 70 games and not make the playoffs. I’m not being that hard on myself, but at the same time, I’ve played 65, 70, and we don’t have anything to show for it as a group this year. Next year I’d like to change that."

Schneider set a franchise mark with 20 consecutive starts to open the season and learned along the way how to manage the increased workload.

"How to battle, how to push through on nights you’re not feeling your best, nights when you might feel tired,” he said. "Just learning how to get into the rhythms of the season as opposed to taking three, four games days off a week, two weeks between starts. Just being able to carry the load."

The Devils finished 28th in goals scored (181), averaging 2.15 per game on an average of 24.5 shots (29th). That left New Jersey goaltenders with little margin for error. The trio of Schneider, Keith Kinkaid and Scott Clemmensen faced the seventh-most shots against (30.7 per game) and surrendered an average of just 2.55 goals (14th).

Schneider embraced the challenge.

"It’s my job to keep the opposition at zero or one or give us a chance to win or keep us in it, and trust my teammates that they’re going to come through and do their job just like they trust me to do my job,” he said. "You can’t let that kind of mentality seep into your game. For me, I’m just doing my best for them so that they can rely on me."

Kinkaid, meanwhile, blossomed in his first season as the Devils’ backup.

The Farmingville, N.Y., product went 6-5-4 – including 5-1-2 at home – in 19 appearances (13 starts), and excelled at The Rock with a 1.91 goals-against average and .934 save percentage.

"He’s proven he can play at this level, play in a backup role, play no matter how many games he had to sit out,” Lou Lamoriello said of Kinkaid, who notched his first career win on Dec. 19. "He’s under contract now for two more years, and he knows he has to grow a little and accepts that. He’s a tremendous complement, in my opinion, to Cory."

Lamoriello sees bright days ahead for his new tandem.

"That’s the most important position and I think that that’s pretty solid,” said the Devils’ President and General Manager. "That’s where we’ve felt good, but we felt good about that coming into the year, also."

As good as he was, Schneider will use the summer to get better. The Massachusetts native will spend part of the upcoming offseason in Boston.

“You’re always trying to improve,” he said. "I think my puck handling has gotten better; it’s not great. I think I’m more consistent in that area. There’s always some areas where I feel I can be better. That’s kind of what the end of the year is for, and the offseason, to sort of reflect and think back to, well, what could I have done.

"There’s times where you can’t spend a week or two working on one thing if you’re playing every other night. For me, I think the summer’s going to be important to maybe fix a few areas."

A veteran forward group including Patrik Elias, Adam Henrique and Mike Cammalleri, plus the ongoing development of a young defense has Schneider optimistic for the future.

“Right now for us, we have some pieces, we have some good players in here, and I think we believe in one another,” he said. "I think in terms of big picture, that’s management’s job. We all have to just look in the mirror individually and say, hey what can I do next year, and what can I bring that’s better. Hopefully if we all do that as a group, then the results will turn around."

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