Cory Schneider Making Most of Backup Role With Canucks
The Vancouver Canucks backup goaltender holds the best record (7-0-2) among non-starting NHL netminders after saving 32 of 35 shots in a 4-3 victory over the Sharks in San Jose on Monday night.
"It's great. As a backup, I'm just trying to give the team a chance to win and spell Lou at the same time," said Schneider. "If I can get points and give Lou breaks and he can play his game, I'd take that over stats or whatever. I'll take the wins."
Lou is starter Roberto Luongo, one of the league's best and most consistent goaltenders, who rarely gets a night off. But Schneider spelled him recently as he made two trips to Florida in a week to be with wife Gina before and during the birth of their second child.
After spending most of December on the bench, Schneider has posted four straight victories while playing in four of the past five games. He is expected to see more action in the next month as the Canucks continue to contend for first overall in the NHL. Monday's game marked the conclusion of the first of three back-to-back encounters in January. At most, the Canucks will get two days between games -- on just one occasion. The rest of the time, when they aren't playing back-to-back games, they'll be suiting up every second night.
As a result, Schneider, playing his first full season in the NHL after three outstanding campaigns in the minors, is expected to play more regularly than he has at any point this season.
"I'm hoping to get some games and be ready, if that's what the schedule calls for, and be ready and answer the bell and get points," said Schneider. "We have a tough stretch coming up against some good teams and a lot of road games. Where I fit in there, we'll see. But, like I said, I just want to help get the team wins and move up the standings."
After watching Luongo struggle down the stretch the past two seasons, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault and general manager Mike Gillis have made it their mission to manage his minutes better. Luongo has welcomed the plan, although he noted the first day of training camp, the club had the same goal in previous seasons -- and it did not play out.
In 2008-09, Luongo was limited to 54 games due to injuries, but he has played at least 68 games in his other three seasons with the Canucks and exceeded the 70-games mark twice. While part of his extended play is based on his high fitness level and strong desire to compete, it can also be attributed to Vigneault's lack of confidence in his backups.
Until this season, Vancouver has been a backup-goalie graveyard. Dany Sabourin, Curtis Sanford, Jason LaBarbera, and Andrew Raycroft, have all come and gone, along with the long-forgotten Drew MacIntyre, who appeared in two games during a brief call-up from the minors. Only LaBarbera (Phoenix) and Raycroft (Dallas) remain in the NHL.
Sanford played the most of the lot, but reached his maximum at 19 games, due to Luongo being sidelined in 2008-09. Schneider could surpass that total this season, if he meets the target of 20-25 set by Vigneault and Gillis at the outset of the season.
Meanwhile, Schneider is adjusting to life as a backup. Until this season, the Marblehead, Mass., native, who was Vancouver's first-round choice (26th overall) in the 2004 NHL Draft, has been used to playing Luongo-like minutes. Wherever he went, from minor hockey in his hometown to Boston College to Manitoba of the AHL, Schneider has been the No. 1 goaltender.
"I better be adjusted," said Schneider, noting his game total and the time he has been with the Canucks this season. "But if I play more and more frequently coming up there, (the adjustment) will, hopefully, become easier."
By working harder.
"I'm spending a lot of time in practice competing and working hard with Rollie (Melanson, the Canucks goaltending coach) and getting my minutes that way," said Schneider. "When I do get a chance to start, it's automatic and I don't think too much about it."
In addition to adjusting to a new role, Schneider is also adopting a new style introduced by Melanson, who is in his first season with the Canucks. Melanson is tutoring Schneider as well as Luongo on the merits of playing deeper in the net. It's a contrast for Schneider, who often came out well beyond his crease to play the angles.
"It's worked so far," said Schneider. "I'm more comfortable with every game and I think it just seems natural. I'm not chasing the puck or getting outside my crease too much. I'm staying in the paint and trying to get big (in the eyes of the shooter) and let pucks hit me. So far, it's been a success."
Melanson has also spent considerable time with Schneider on puck-handling situations. They are not easy tasks, because Schneider is right-handed but must shoot and pass left-handed.
"I'm doing a lot of work just trying to face up ice so I have more options," said Schneider. "That's been one of the biggest improvements to my game, my puck-handling. It was pretty scary a couple of years ago, but now I feel real confident and I think the guys feel comfortable with me back there."
But it remains to be seen how long Schneider will stay with the Canucks. While his career upside shows more promise than that of the journeymen who came to Vancouver before him, it's a given that Schneider has a limited future with the Canucks.
With Luongo in the first of a 12-year contract, he will be the starter for many years to come. In a strategy that was questionable but appears to be paying off, the Canucks have chosen to develop Schneider as a backup as a means of increasing his market value -- rather than ship him out sooner.
Schneider has acknowledged that a trade is inevitable. In the relatively near future, he will have to find a new spotlight.