By Steve Lichtenstein
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Hockey players tend to be as bland as white rice, so when Devils goaltender Cory Schneider unloaded on his teammates following a 5-2 loss to the Penguins at Prudential Center on Tuesday night, it was going to make some news.
“I just didn’t see the urgency from everyone to really want to tie that game (in the third period),” Schneider said. “The empty-netter to make it 5-2 … could we have kept that one out of the net? Probably. We’ve got to take some pride in not giving up four or five a night and bearing down and believing we can get back in these games. We just have to just change that mindset and be better going forward.
“(The Penguins) are a great team but we can play with that team,” Schneider continued. “There was no reason we couldn’t win this game. Not to disrespect them — they’re a fantastic team — but those are the teams that should bring the best out of you, in your own building, with a good crowd. We should take pride in trying to shut that team down and winning on your ice. That’s three games now they’ve beaten us in a short amount of time and that should bother some people.”
Schneider was obviously frustrated. New Jersey has won only four of its last 20 games and is now dead last in the Eastern Conference with 33 points in 35 games. He’s been bombarded on a nightly basis. A 2016 All-Star, Schneider’s numbers this season place him in the bottom quartile among goalies who have played more than 15 games. He knows he can be better as well.
Schneider was most peeved at the Devils’ lack of pushback after surrendering the go-ahead goal to Pittsburgh defenseman Justin Schultz on a four-on-four break-in (aided by blatant and uncalled interference from Evgeni Malkin on Devils center Travis Zajac) with 5.4 seconds remaining in the second period.
Such killer goals have been an ongoing issue this season, but Schneider still expected a more mature response from his teammates on Tuesday.
“Late goal in the second — 3-2 — you would have thought the game was over,” Schneider said. “You would have thought it was 5-1 at that point. We didn’t have a great start to the third. We gave them a couple of good looks, breakaway chance (from Penguins wing Carl Hagelin) goes into the net.”
Devils coach John Hynes didn’t disagree with Schneider’s assessment, though he put it in less harsh terms.
“When you play a team like Pittsburgh — or any team — our next step is to have that continued commitment through the game,” Hynes said. “We can’t waver. Whether we’re up protecting a lead, a tie game, or down by one — that’s a mindset that we have to build on and grow in our game, which is a commitment to playing a certain way and doing the things that got us the lead and doing the things that allowed us to be able to dictate the game early. We wavered from that at times and when you play a real good team that doesn’t waver, at some point they’re going to make a push that’s going to take the game away.”
In an interview last week with the Devils’ two newspaper beat writers, Devils general manager Ray Shero basically pinned his club’s slump on the collective effort.
“Play harder,” Shero said to The Record’s Andrew Gross regarding his message to his underperforming players. “Really. Play (expletive) harder. There’s a will they need. There’s a passion and emotion to our game. How many scrums have we been involved with? No one is mad at us. There’s got to be pushback in your game and pride in your game. Someone takes your lunch money, what the hell? It’s not good. That’s something we established last year. It’s a tenacity to your game. Our team last year, we never gave up. That, to me, is what you’re trying to build, and that’s pride.”
Shero would have you believe that the vast gap between the Devils and the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins goes directly to losing guys like Tuomo Ruutu, Jordin Tootoo, and Bobby Farnham, unskilled muckers who combined to score 12 goals last season.
Really, Ray? It has nothing to do with Pittsburgh having the best player on the planet in Sidney Crosby, who continued his dominance this season by posting a goal and two assists on Tuesday? Or Malkin, who registered his 800th career point by converting a gorgeous Crosby feed on a first-period power play? Or a player like Hagelin, who could beat any Devil in a goal line-to-goal line race even with a 30-foot handicap?
I would have liked to have heard some form of mea culpa from Shero, some semblance of responsibility for his configuration. After all, the Devils had a minority of their roster under contract prior to last summer’s free agency signing period. What about all the signings and re-signings of players who have contributed bupkis to the cause: Reid Boucher (since waived), Sergey Kalinin, Beau Bennett, Vern Fiddler, Devante Smith-Pelly, Jacob Josefson. I still have a few more forwards to add, but you get the picture.
And who anointed Damon Severson as a top-pair defenseman to replace the traded Adam Larsson, despite no prior body of work? I will explore this topic further in a future post, but there are some games where it looks like Severson is playing through hiccups.
The Devils responded to Shero’s harangue with a 4-0 victory over Philadelphia last Thursday, but they have since dropped a pair to the Penguins by a combined score of 9-3. A weekend home-and-home with the powerful Capitals awaits.
If the losing streak continues, yes, you can suggest that effort played a role, but maybe it’s mostly because the other team is better.
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