Cory Schneider was back in the New Jersey Devils' net for the past two games and back to looking like his old self.
Schneider made 22 saves for his second shutout of the season in a 3-0 win against the Boston Bruins at Prudential Center on Monday and followed up with 29 saves in a 3-1 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Tuesday.
Before shutting out Boston, Schneider was 1-6-1 in his previous eight starts and allowed four goals or more in nine of his previous 13 starts. But sitting for two games and working with goalie coach Chris Terreri for a few days in practice helped Schneider reset mentally and clean up some parts of his game.
"It's just maybe getting set a split second sooner or maybe not overthinking it or worrying about a back door or tip option, just focusing on the shooter," Schneider said last week. "Maybe just small readjustments in your game, moving your feet too much. So we've been looking at all of that. It was good to get some work in … and just get back to tracking pucks and keeping your head on them and finishing out plays and all that kind of stuff."
Schneider, 30, acknowledged he'd been having a difficult year so far, but with 43 games remaining there is time to turn things around. At 16-16-7, the Devils are six points out of the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
Schneider and the Devils looked like a playoff team when they went 9-3-3 in their first 15 games. At that point, Schneider was 7-3-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.
But things started to unravel when they blew a two-goal lead in a 3-2 road loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 17. That began a 5-13-4 slide when they had two regulation wins. Schneider went 3-9-3 with a 3.51 GAA and a .883 save percentage in 15 starts during that stretch.
"My job is to make the tough saves and I just feel like I haven't been making enough tough saves to deny a good scoring chance or keep us in the game or whatever," Schneider said.
Schneider's frustration boiled over following a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 27. The game was tied 2-2 until Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz scored with 5.4 seconds remaining in the second period.
But it was an empty-net goal by forward Bryan Rust with 1:18 remaining that seemed to bother Schneider most. That prompted him to speak out to the media and question the Devils' urgency.
"For whatever reason, I was maybe particularly frustrated after that empty-net goal went in," he said. "Maybe it doesn't mean anything but just finishing the game out and having pride. Maybe we're not going to score or win the game but let's not let them get another one. I think that's just the mentality we have to have just permeating through our room. I can't give up any pucks, I can't get beat and these guys can't get beat either in one-on-ones or whatever."
The outburst was uncharacteristic for Schneider, who usually reserves his harshest criticism for himself. But his message was welcomed by general manager Ray Shero, who had called out the players for not working hard enough a week earlier, and coach John Hynes.
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"That's one of the things we worked with our players on is having a leadership voice, a leadership group that takes control and it's a passionate statement by a passionate player," Hynes said.
Because Schneider usually blames himself first, his words got his teammates' attention.
"It wasn't like everything he said was not true," captain Andy Greene said. "He was spot on."
Schneider didn't hide from his share of responsibility, acknowledging that "I'm just as big a part of our struggles."
Entering this season, his .926 save percentage since 2011-12 ranked first in the NHL and his 2.12 GAA was second behind Brian Elliott's 2.01 among goaltenders who played in at least 50 games. But this season it seemed the harder he tried, the more he struggled.
"If anything, I put most of it on me just to be better and get us out of it," Schneider said.
In working with Schneider, Hynes said Terreri targeted certain areas of his game that needed sharpening.
"Just some of his rebound things and battling on pucks," Hynes said. "And we got in that stretch where we were traveling all the time and we had no practice time. We talked to him about certain things and we feel his game is really now coming back around to the level that I think he expects and we expect him to be at."
Schneider never felt that he or the Devils were that far off. But with the teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference seemingly winning every night, it only magnified their mistakes.
With two consecutive wins and three in their past four since Schneider spoke up, he and the Devils might finally be turning the corner.
"We do have half a season left but, as everyone knows in the standings, there's never enough time unless you go on a run here," Schneider said. "So that's what we need to do."