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Schneider thriving with heavy workload for Devils

by Mike G. Morreale / New Jersey Devils

NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Devils goaltender Cory Schneider would gladly trade his eye-catching statistics if it meant having an opportunity to participate in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring.

Schneider's numbers in his first season as a No. 1 goalie appear good enough to have the Devils heading to the postseason. But even a 2.16 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage aren't good enough to overcome New Jersey's 2.21 goals-for average.

There are five goalies with a save percentage of .927 or higher at this point in the season, and four are playing for teams in the postseason hunt: Carey Price (.938) of the Montreal Canadiens, Cam Talbot (.929) of the New York Rangers, Devan Dubnyk (.927) of the Minnesota Wild and Pekka Rinne (.927) of the Nashville Predators.

Schneider, meanwhile, is on the outside looking in. He'll likely start his 62nd game Monday when the Devils play the Los Angeles Kings at Prudential Center (7 p.m. ET; NHLN-US).

Schneider likely won't be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie because he's 26-26-7, but he certainly is having an outstanding season.

I want to be the best. I want to work hard and be among the best goalies in the LeagueCory Schneider

His adjusted save percentage (.943), an advanced statistic from war-on-ice.com that weighs save percentage based on the quality of chances against, was third in the NHL entering Sunday among goalies who had played at least 25 games. Schneider's 325 high-danger saves (slot/low slot) led the League, and his 368 medium-danger saves (perimeter of slot/low slot) was second to the Boston Bruins' Tuukka Rask (392).

"I want to be the best. I want to work hard and be among the best goalies in the League, and that's my goal, but I'd much rather it be in a playoff chase," Schneider said. "If you don't make the playoffs, all that [Vezina Trophy] talk is nice, but it doesn't feel very good. I'd rather play worse and get our team in the playoffs, if that makes any sense."

Perhaps it bothers Schneider that in 10 career playoff appearances, all with the Vancouver Canucks, he is 1-4 with a 2.59 GAA and .929 save percentage. He completely understands that professional athletes are judged on playoff performance, not their regular-season statistics and accomplishments.

But it's hard to ignore something the 29-year-old might do in his second season with the Devils.

Schneider could play in at least 70 games and have a save percentage of .924 or higher, a feat achieved by two other goalies in NHL history. Dominik Hasek played 72 games and had a .932 save percentage with the Buffalo Sabres in 1997-98, and Roberto Luongo played 72 games and had a .931 save percentage for the Florida Panthers in 2003-04.

Martin Brodeur played at least 70 games 12 times in his two decades with the Devils, but the one time he finished with a save percentage of .924 or higher, in 1996-97 (.927), he played in 67 games.

"If I get [70-plus games and minimum .924 save percentage] it's cool, but I think in general goaltending is trending upward," Schneider said. "You look around the League now, there's more guys over .920, I think, than there's been in a long time. There's six or seven guys who are up for being best goalie of the year; maybe it's a sign of the times or the trend. More so than me individually."

Ask any player or coach in the Devils locker room, and he will unequivocally name Schneider as New Jersey's most valuable player.

"If he's not considered top three in the League, there's something wrong," forward Scott Gomez said. "When you have a goalie like that, we take it for granted how good he really is. You know he's going to take you to the end; he's done it all year."

"He's kept us in a lot of games and won us a lot of games," center Travis Zajac said. "The work ethic he puts in and the competitiveness he has in practice reminds me of Marty [Brodeur] back there. He has that same mentality."

Schneider was 9-8-2 with a 2.58 GAA and .914 save percentage in his record-breaking 20 straight starts to begin the season; he was pulled four times over that stretch. Since interim co-coaches Lou Lamoriello, Adam Oates and Scott Stevens replaced Peter DeBoer behind the Devils bench on Dec. 27, Schneider is 15-10-3 with a 1.26 GAA and .944 save percentage.

Schneider doesn't believe there's a correlation between his improved play and the coaching change.

"I felt pretty good even before [the coaching change]," Schneider said. "In early November there was a game against the Boston Bruins that didn't go very well. I think ever since then I've been playing more like I felt I can, and since the New Year it's been even better."

The game Schneider was referring to was a 4-2 loss against the Bruins on Nov. 10 when he made 19 saves.

"Early in the year it was tough; it was a lot of hockey and there are points in the year where you may not feel your best," Schneider said. "I just had to learn that regardless of how I felt, I had to go out there every single night and play. You've got to fight through some nights because some nights you feel great and the game seems easy, and there are nights you don't feel very good and the game seems real difficult."

Schneider, who was signed to a seven-year contract worth a reported $42 million in July, has established career highs in wins, games played (62), shots faced (1,797) and saves (1,669), and has equaled the personal-best five shutouts he had with the Canucks in 2012-13.

Has the workload taken its toll on the native of Marblehead, Mass.?

"I feel like I'm in pretty good shape, physically," Schneider said. "I've taken pride in the fact that I've -- knock on wood -- been able to dress for every game whether it's backing up or playing, and that kind of consistency is what I need going forward so my teammates, my coaches, they can count on me. They can't go, 'Well is he going to get hurt again this week or next week?' It's often not your fault, but I think just to have that durability is a big thing."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL

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