Last season, Cory Schneider wasn’t just good — he was phenomenal. He finished second in the NHL in save percentage, third in goals against average, and second in winning percentage. Combine that with his previous season, when he finished third in save percentage, fourth in goals against average, and first in winning percentage, along with his solid performance coming into a difficult situation in last year’s playoffs, and it becomes pretty easy to see why everyone thought he was ready to take over the number one job from Roberto Luongo.
So far this season, Schneider has certainly proven that he’s ready to be a starting goaltender, but he’s fallen short of proving that he’s one of the best goaltenders in the league. As we reach the halfway point of the season, it’s clear that Luongo has outplayed Schneider, raising the question of who will get the bulk of the starts over the second half.
Let me start by saying that I am by no means advocating trading Schneider. We’ll leave that for other, less rational blogs. He still looks like he will be an elite goaltender at the NHL level and he has youth and a less-onerous contract on his side in a direct comparison with Luongo. For this season, however, Luongo is still on the Canucks roster and it looks like he won’t be traded until the summer.
With that in mind, the Canucks need to be pragmatic about which goaltender they use, particularly at this point in the season, when they’ve gone 3-5-4 in their last 12 games and losing four straight. It’s certainly not the Canucks’ only problem or even their most significant one, but it’s a piece of the puzzle.
The Canucks haven’t been great defensively in front of either goaltender. Oddly enough, the Canucks are allowing fewer shots-per-game than last season, but the number of breakdowns, odd-man rushes, and high-quality scoring chances given up by the normally well-structured defence has been startling. Because of this, it’s been fairly easy to give the goaltenders a pass when it comes to the team’s struggles.
And yet, at even-strength, Luongo’s save percentage is .932 and Schneider’s is .917. As a result, Schneider has given up 11 more goals at even-strength than Luongo, while playing in just 3 more games. If the fault lay entirely with the skaters in front of Luongo and Schneider, then why are their respective performances at even-strength so completely different?
The only reason the two have similar overall save percentages is Schneider’s .877 save percentage while shorthanded, whereas Luongo’s is .826. So why pay more attention to even-strength save percentage? Simply put, a goaltender’s penalty killing save percentage is not repeatable or sustainable over time. Penalty killing save percentage isn’t a reliable indicator of how a goaltender will perform in the future.
Even-strength save percentage, on the other hand, is reliable. This season, Luongo’s even-strength save percentage is right in line with how he’s performed in the past. His even-strength save percentage over the last six seasons has hovered around .930, placing him among the league’s elite year-after-year.
His penalty-killing save percentage, however, has jumped all over the place, from .906 in 2006-07 down to .858 in 2008-09, back up to .897 in 2010-11. It has never, however, been as low as it is this season. That can be interpreted in a number of different ways, but it seems clear to me that it can’t last. If his save percentage improves on the penalty kill and he continues his consistent performance at even-strength, Luongo will once again be among the league’s best in save percentage by the end of the season.
Part of the reason I thought Schneider was ready to take over Luongo’s job was how he matched Luongo’s performance at even-strength over the last two seasons. Schneider’s even-strength save percentage was .933 in 2010-11, just below Luongo, and .931 in 2011-12, just above Luongo. Those are elite-level numbers, but this season, as his starts have increased, his even-strength save percentage has dropped to .917, placing him in the bottom half of the league.
Last season, Schneider’s overall save percentage was boosted by his performance on the penalty kill, where he put up an unreal .959 save percentage, easily the best in the league. The year prior, he managed a .911 save percentage on the penalty kill, good for fourth in the NHL among goaltenders who faced at least 100 shots short-handed.
Schneider’s penalty kill save percentage made him a clear outlier among NHL goaltenders. When Left Wing Lock looked at career performance of active goaltenders on the penalty kill, Schneider’s career .925 stood out:
So, if you’re Vancouver management or a fantasy hockey manager who owns Cory Schneider, there are two ways to interpret the data:
- There is a measurable and distinguishable talent-level for goalies in non-EV situations AND Cory Schneider is the best goalie in the league in these situations.
- Cory Schneider has benefitted from small sample sizes and his PKSV% (and overall SV%) are headed downward.
Schneider’s current save percentage on the penalty kill is right around league average. The correct interpretation seems clear. At this point, his performance at even-strength becomes an issue.
Schneider has given up more than 2 goals in seven of his fourteen starts. Luongo has given up more than 2 goals in three of his ten starts. All three of those came in his last four starts, which is likely why Schneider was given a chance to take the reins recently, starting five of the Canucks’ last six games. In that time, the Canucks as a whole have not performed well, but Schneider has been part of the problem.
He has gone 1-2-2 in his last five starts while posting a save percentage of .898. Still, in three of those games, Schneider performed well, allowing just 2 goals and earning at least a point. With a powerplay that can actually convert, the Canucks would likely have a better record, but an .898 save percentage is simply not good enough.
One argument that has been made in Schneider’s defence is that he isn’t performing well because he isn’t being given the chance to get into a rhythm. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, however. Schneider has had excellent back-to-back seasons while playing as Luongo’s backup, starting just 22 and 28 games. If he didn’t need to establish a rhythm with consecutive starts in the past, why is that a requirement now?
Roberto Luongo will be starting the Canucks’ game on Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, which, surprisingly, will be a good test. The Blue Jackets are on a hot streak, winning five straight and picking up points in seven straight, meaning a solid performance from Luongo could lead to several more starts.
As for Schneider, I fully believe he can turn things around this season, but I believe that Luongo gives the Canucks their best chance to win now and now is when the Canucks need to start winning again.Tags: Cory Schneider, Roberto Luongo, Statistics