By Jeff O'Connor
For the last two decades, Martin Brodeur has made jaw-dropping saves and dominated his rivals while being serenaded to chants of “Marty’s Better! Marty’s Better!”
On Tuesday night, however, another goaltender was between the pipes for the Devils.
Yet the results remained the same.
Cory Schneider stopped all 22 shots he faced in his Devils’ debut, and New Jersey went on to beat the New York Rangers, 2-1, in its preseason opener at Prudential Center.
“That was incredible,” said Schneider, 27, who played the first two periods. “I’ve heard a lot about the fans here and how passionate and how supportive they are. It was a fun atmosphere to play in.”
Devils fans fell in love with Schneider almost immediately. Chants of “Co-ry! Co-ry! Co-ry!” rang out in the first period, and continued into the second.
In the opening frame, he made all the textbook saves and made them look easy. In the second period, when asked to ad-lib and scramble on plays, he was equal to the task.
Devils fans knew they were getting a solid netminder when GM Lou Lamoriello traded for Schneider on Draft day in Newark, N.J. After all, he was pushing Roberto Luongo for playing time in Vancouver last season, while sporting a 2.11 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage
Schneider is a known commodity at this point, making him an upgrade over a potential wild card, young, unknown or a high-priced free-agent signing.
His true potential and ceiling came to light in those two periods of play. He doesn’t just have a chance to be good. He has a chance to be great.
Consider this: The Canucks played a wide-open offensive system under former coach Alain Vigneault, yet Schneider still put up stellar numbers against uptempo Western Conference foes. Vancouver had some good defensemen, but was always burned come playoff time because of its style.
That should change in New Jersey, though, given that the Devils have always been known for tightening it up in their own zone -- especially when they have the lead.
Yes, the Rangers didn’t have all of their guns on Tuesday night. But top-line forwards Rick Nash and Brad Richards were denied time and time again. Schneider’s rebound-control was excellent; only once or twice did he allow a prime second chance.
The question that will develop as the season progresses: Should Schneider get more playing time than the future Hall of Famer Brodeur? It’s quite the dilemma, but I think it’s very likely -- especially if Schneider gets on a roll.
These days, Brodeur doesn’t really get hot. At age 41, he’s not going to allow one goal in a three-game span.
Does he still give you a chance to win every night? No question. But he doesn’t shut down offenses anymore. He had a pair of shutouts in 29 games last year -- injuries or not.
Schneider? In his last 63 games, he has eight shutouts. He’s still just scratching the surface of what he can do. He has the potential to pitch a shutout every night.
“He was excellent. He looked great all night,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “I’m just glad for him. The first game is always the tough one when you go to a new team. You obviously want to win the home fans over.”
He did that with ease. Devils fans got a glimpse of what life is going to be like when Marty Brodeur hangs up his skates and Cory Schneider patrols the crease. It looked pretty good.
They also got to see what the present looks like with both of them between the pipes.
That looks pretty good, too.