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The New Jersey Devils Have Shot Below Average at 5-on-5 from 2007-08 to Now

There's no real way to make the headline cute or make it inviting to grab your eye.  The New Jersey Devils simply have not been all that good at shooting at 5-on-5 in this season and the past three seasons.   This is a big deal because most hockey games are played at 5-on-5, and especially for the Devils, who generally are among the least penalized teams in the league as well as not drawing so many.

I discovered this fact by taking a look at the team stat spreadsheets that Gabe put up at the Behind the Net blog. I really appreciate what he did as by putting it in a spreadsheet makes it easier to organize and sort.  Given that the Devils have been poor shooters this season - despite some recent improvement overall - I wanted to see how they did in each season since 2007-08.   I was shocked to find the following, which you can see after the jump:

Season NJ 5-on-5 GF NJ 5-on-5 S% NHL Rank NHL Avg 5-on-5 S% Devils Record
2007-08 130 7.5% 26 8.28% 46-29-7
2008-09 160 8.1% 20 8.36% 51-27-4
2009-10 156 8.1% 21 8.37% 48-27-7
2010-11 84 6.8% 29 8.23% 19-30-4


To be fair, this season is still on-going. The Devils are no longer dead last and just behind Montreal in this stat. There's time for this to improve. Though I doubt it's going to get up to the NHL average.  The Devils haven't done that in the previous 3 seasons.

In this perspective, I can understand the decision to re-sign Ilya Kovalchuk.  Gabe identified him as the best shooter in the NHL in these two posts back in 2010.  If the team has been shooting below the league average at 5-on-5 for three straight seasons, adding someone who has had a very high shooting percentage would make sense. 

Unfortunately, shooting percentage at 5-on-5 for a player involved a lot of transient ability, as shown in this post and this one by Gabe at Behind the Net back in May 2010.  Even the best succumb to transience not going their way for some period of time.  We usually call it a slump, though.  In any case, that's what we have seen for Kovalchuk among several other Devils back in the first half of the season for overall shooting percentage.

Given that the Devils were shooting at such a low percentage earlier this season, it has led him (among others, myself included) to surmise the team was so terribly unlucky then.  That said, even if they weren't, the prior three seasons gives me pause.  I can't confidently say they would surpass the current NHL average based on recent history, even with the addition of Kovalchuk.  The Devils could stand to add a few more shooters or hope things break their way much sooner in the season and more often.

One final point, a poor shooting percentage at 5-on-5 hurts but it's not deadly to a team's hopes. As you can see by the records of the last three full seasons, the Devils did pretty well in spite of it.   That's because the Devils (namely, Martin Brodeur) was so good at stopping pucks at 5-on-5; putting up save percentages at 5-on-5 of over 92%.  This season, it's now up to an even 90%.   It's obvious but I have to say it: when you can't score many and you let too many in, you're going to lose.

Anyway, big thanks to Gabe for putting those spreadsheets together at Behind the Net.  I invite you all to check them out and peruse the numbers. Maybe you'll find something interesting. If so, please share it with us. Thanks for reading.