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A Quick Look at the New Jersey Devils at 5-on-5 in Recent Seasons

Inspired by today's post at Behind the Net by Gabe, I decided to take a look at the team stats at Behind the Net for New Jersey. Gabe's scripts on the old version of the site compile team data by situation, which piqued my curiosity.   Since 5-on-5 situations have seemingly been the bane of the New Jersey Devils this season, I wanted to see how it stacked up to the 5-on-5 team stats of the three seasons before this one.  

Season GP ES GF % ES GF ES GA % ES GA SF/60 SPCT Aga SA/60 SPCT For Goal Diff.
2007-08 82 130 0.526 130 0.602 27.5 0.925 25.9 0.921 0
2008-09 82 160 0.656 131 0.627 31.3 0.919 28.8 0.928 29
2009-10 82 156 0.703 136 0.712 28.7 0.919 26.8 0.924 20
2010-11 39 47 0.681 97 0.782 30.1 0.950 27.1 0.885 -50


Yeah, the Devils were a force of sorts under Brent Sutter's second season and Jacques Lemaire last season at even strength.  That this season's numbers - still largely from John MacLean's short-lived tenure - look terrible at 5-on-5 shouldn't surprise anyone.  What should be surprising are the shooting rates among other numbers. 



The Devils aren't shooting at terribly low rate or allowing a ton of shots on net regularly.  While they aren't among league leaders in shots for per 60, 30.1 is a pretty good rate considering past seasons. The no-name Devils defense of this season actually has put together the third-best shots against per 60 rate this season, and it's not a huge jump from last season's rate. 

The two shooting rates are quite good, yet the team is so very miserable at 5-on-5.  If I can state the obvious, the Devils' shots aren't going in making the opposition goaltenders look fantastic; and the other team has been lighting up the Devils' goaltenders on the regular.  In fact, this season is a 4-season high in terms of percentage of total goals allowed.  If nothing else, this serves to further highlight that 5-on-5 play is the big issue with this team.  Not the power play, not the penalty kill, but even strength.

Considering the past four seasons, it's especially jarring that this season opposition goaltenders are 3.1% better at 5-on-5 save percentage and the Devils' own goaltenders (yeah, goaltenders) drop by 3.9% in save percentage.   The team's own save percentage has been notably consistent for 3 straight seasons, that this season's is unbelievably  low. 

Sure, I guess it's possible Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are now Toskala-esque for no discernible reason.  It's also entirely possible they're being hung out to dry early enough in the games, and so they get beat on a low number of shots, which kills their numbers despite how the shots were put upon them.   After all, the Devils get their goals at 5-on-5 at a percentage similar to past seasons, but give them up as a larger percentage despite having one of the best SA/60 rates of the season.  To me, it's evidence that the defensive effort has been wanting; but perhaps I have it wrong or there is some other reason for how the numbers are what they are.

I do want to raise one additional guess why the 5-on-5 scoring has been so particularly awful despite the shooting rates looking good: score effect.   While these aren't updated numbers, the Devils haven't been great in the first period (especially in recent games) and have been primed for destruction in the second period (except in recent games).  If the other team puts up a few goals early at 5-on-5, then they're not going to attack.  The Devils will get more desperate, attempt to make it a game, and rarely do anything since their shooting is historically bad and the other team's goalie has a nice cushion to work with, instilling confidence in their keeper.  By the end of the game, New Jersey gets more shots than the other team, the opposition doesn't attack as much which better reflects the SA/60, the Devils don't get the goals to make up the difference, and so the numbers turn in such an askance way.

Though, that's how I'm interpreting these stats.  I'd like to know what you think about these numbers.  Surprised at how this season stacks up to prior ones?  Now that you have seen a number associated with the poor play, do you have a better appreciation of how poor it's been?  Do you think the Devils have any hope of getting close to the figures of past seasons?  Or at least to put up 100 even strength goals?  Please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks to Gabe for the inspiration, and thanks to you for reading.