In a season full of bad goaltending, ironically enough two of the best stories surrounding this season’s Devils revolve around positives in net. First, it was Mackenzie Blackwood’s debut – which to this point has been nothing short of a success with a 2.37 GAA and .926 save percentage in 13 games played. When Blackwood was sent back down to Binghamton to get more experience (and perhaps stay away from the dumpster fire here), it was to make room for the returning Cory Schneider, who at that point was persona non grata with Devil fans after going more than a calendar year without a single regular season win.
However, since Cory finally got off the schneid in the win column in Minnesota last Friday the tide’s finally turned back in a positive direction for the embattled goalie. A strong game in a victory against the Sabres on Sunday was followed by a shutout yesterday against a hapless Senators team (Cory’s first since 2017), who continued their tank that’ll only benefit Colorado in terms of draft position in the first round. After having seen Cory’s career low point against Vegas in December and another checkered game against the Wild just before the losing streak ended, I would have liked to have been there last night for the latest chapter of Cory’s Magical Redemption Tour.
For whatever criticisms I’ve had of Cory as a goalie in the last year or so, you couldn’t have seen what happened against Vegas in December and not feel good for him finally getting back in the good graces of the fans and earning confidence back from his team. Especially with the high class Cory’s shown in the face of all that’s been thrown at him in this last year or so, from his surgery to the losing streak and the criticism it’s engendered. He’s never finger-pointed or lashed out at the media.
Really Cory’s tenure has been checkered here from the outset, which was to be expected to a degree when replacing an all-time legend. Despite good play he was the goalie that couldn’t win games in Martin Brodeur’s last season here, then won just enough while playing well to damage the Devils’ draft position during the dark years transitioning from Lou Lamoriello to Ray Shero. Of course last year when the team finally was good for a minute and a half it was backup Keith Kinkaid and not Cory that was getting all the big wins down the stretch to get the team in the playoffs.
It’s too early to say that this recent stretch is a harbinger of things to come but in the back of my mind I’ve thought all along it would be nice to see what happened when Cory finally got the gorilla off his back of the losing streak. So far the returns have been splendid. Of course last night it helped facing one of the few (if not the only) teams worse than the Devils right now. Especially when coach John Hynes scratched Marcus Johansson and Ben Lovejoy for ‘precautionary reasons’ – re: the impending trade deadline. Of course the Senators did the same thing with Mark Stone and the now-traded Matt Duchene.
With essentially Belleville playing Binghamton last night, it was some of the lesser-name Devils that helped put the game on ice early on. After Travis Zajac opened the scoring at 11:45 of the first with his 14th goal, unlikely first goals of the season from stay-at-home defenseman Steven Santini and enforcer Kurtis Gabriel turned the game into an early laugher after twenty-four minutes. Especially after a first period where the Devils dominated, outshooting Guy Boucher’s troubled unit 14-4. Miles Wood padded the lead to four later in the second period giving the team further insurance, although Wood himself would later have to leave the contest due to injury. For the rest of the night Ottawa did give Cory some work, registering twenty-six shots in the last two periods – but the goaltender already had all the offense he needed to relax and play another outstanding game.
With one more game before the deadline it’s likely we’ve already seen the last game of Johansson and Lovejoy as Devils. That’ll provide more of an opportunity for guys like Santini – who’s trended downward since early last season but should finally get some extended run in the lineup to grow. Ironically they play the Rangers tomorrow afternoon, a game that’s normally highly anticipated but with both teams out of contention and more concerned with working the phones before Monday’s deadline, there couldn’t be more of a meh feeling for a Devil-Ranger game. Assuming Cory plays it’ll be nice if the team (whoever draws into the lineup) actually shows up tomorrow and maybe he can somehow keep this roll going.