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The New Jersey Devils Are Still Better than the New York Rangers at Puck Possession

The New Jersey Devils are not going to make the playoffs.  Their opponents on Saturday afternoon, Our Hated Rivals, still have a shot to make it - though it's no longer under their control (scenarios to cheer for provided here by Puck Daddy).  While the records and situations are different, one thing is clear: the New Jersey Devils are a better puck possession team than the New York Rangers this season.

I argued as such back in February, a few days after the Devils' dominating 1-0 win over the Rangers.  Using the data compiled by JLikens of Objective NHL, I found that the Devils had a superior shot percentage, Corsi percentage, and Fenwick percentage for even strength situations compared to the Rangers.  When the score was close or tied at evens, the Devils were still superior to the Rangers, not to mention among the better teams in the league. 

In preparing for a preview of tomorrow's game, I became curious as to what happened since then.  The original post was over a month ago.  With the season just about ending, perhaps there have been changes.  Maybe the Devils regressed?  Maybe the Rangers got better in terms of controlling play? Fortunately, through this Oilers-Canucks preview by Scott Reynolds at Copper & Blue, I learned that Time on Ice had scripts would go through a range of games this season and calculate the team stats for even strength situations - including when the score was tied and close. 

I also learned that, no, the Devils are still better than the Rangers at puck possession.   Find out how after the jump.

The Scripts

For the sake of completion, I'm including the links to generate the following tables here.  Keep in mind they do take a while to load as they are compiling data from the various games from this season.  20001 is the first game of the season, while 21201 is the last Rangers' game (the 3-0 loss to Atlanta). If you want to see other teams or a different range of games, you'll have to modify the URL accordingly (team is three-letter initials; first is beginning, last is end of range). Big thanks to Vic Ferrari of Time on Ice for having these scripts available at all, they are valuable tool.

Even Strength Situations: Devils data - Rangers data

Even Strength w/ Score Tied: Devils data - Rangers data

Even Strength w/ Score Close: Devils data - Rangers data


Legend: Shot% = shot percentage; SH% = shooting percentage; SV% = save percentage; FF = Fenwick For; FA = Fenwick Against; F% = Fenwick percentage; CF = Corsi For; CA = Corsi Against; C% = Corsi percentage

Score tied situations are just as they sound - even strength play when the score is tied.  Score close situations were defined by JLikens as the following:

...using Corsi with the "score close" – defined as whenever the score is within one goal in the first or second period, or tied in the third period or overtime – is to be preferred.

I am assuming the Time on Ice scripts follow the same convention for those situations.

Even Strength Situations


The Devils fell a little bit in their percentages, the Rangers got a little better, but the Devils remain ahead of Our Hated Rivals in shot, Corsi, and Fenwick percentages.  The Rangers did claw their way past 50% in Fenwick at even strength, though.  That's a positive step forward and something they would do well to encourage in the long-term future.  

The Rangers can at least feel good about having a superior shooting and save percentage.  While the Rangers may slightly be on defense a little less than half the time, they've been boosted by their goaltending and their good fortunate at shooting.   It would be a shame for them if either dropped off next season.  Henrik Lundqvist and his 67 appearances have driven the Rangers' save percentage; and I think well enough of his talent that he should be able to sustain most of it.  That shooting percentage, on the other hand, well, who knows.

As for the Devils, the big take away is for them to keep up the good work next season.  I have faith in the Devils shooting better than 6.3% at evens next season since a good chunk of shooting percentage is luck, as found here and here by Gabe Desjardens at Behind the Net.  I don't see how they can be this unlucky for a second straight season.  Should they be able to drive most of the game's events their way, then more goals - and wins - will come.

Of course, more specialized situations must be taken to account.  Scoring effects would certainly come into play at even strength, which is something I noted in the last post on this subject.  Therefore, to minimize them, I took a look at score tied and score close situations.

Even Strength Situations when Score is Tied


The Devils have actually done better at even strength when the score is tied as opposed to all even strength situations.   A better shooting percentage, a better save percentage, and improvement in shot, Corsi, and Fenwick percentages.  When the game's tied, the Devils have had more control throughout this season.  That's not only great, it's exactly what a team should strive for.  If you're out-shooting and out-attempting them by over 50%, then you're just bossing the opposition around  Even with a low shooting percentage, that will lead to goals.   As with before, better luck  will lead to more goals in that case.  In short: keep this up for 2011-12, Devils.

Poor Rangers, they are worse across the board except for a largely Lundqvist-driven save percentage jumping up to 93%.   If nothing else, I believe this further justifies that goaltending is far from the main problem for the Rangers this season.  Should the Rangers not make it to the postseason again, the fans would be wise to remember that.  Lament the fact that the team tends to get out-shot or other aspects of the skaters' play. 

While it's the end of the season for both teams, the main problem with score tied situations remains: a considerbly smaller population size.  To account for that, let's look at close score situations at even strength.

Even Strength Situations when Score is Close


Just about more of the same. Devils out-shoot and out-attempt their opposition; the Rangers' do not.  This is more evidence that the Devils are still the superior puck possession team between the two.   Interestingly, the Rangers remain to have better Fenwick percentages than Corsi percentages.  Blocks really do hurt them in this regard.

Believe it or not, the Devils are actually better shooters than the Rangers in this situation.  Yes, that's not a typo; New Jersey has been shooting above 7% when the score's close.  It's not great, but given how bad it's been for New Jersey, it's certainly surprising to see this bear out.

Caveats and Conclusions

I'm sure at this point you may have noticed that the Rangers not only have worse Corsi and Fenwick percentages than the Devils, but also have way more events for and against them.  Some may wonder whether it's because of how each team plays.  The narrative of the Devils "trapping" the other team to do little with the puck at the cost of their own offense would hold. As would the idea of the Rangers being too free-flowing and playing "never scared" hockey.

I think the reason is much simpler, though.  It's a major caveat of any statistical analysis: recording bias. It's a serious problem for all stats in hockey, as discussed here at Behind the Net.  For example, there's reason to believe the Devils' scorer undercounts shots, misses, and blocks; as noted here by Tom Awad for shots, JLikens for shots, and myself for blocks (and other super stats).  Since shot, Corsi, and Fenwick percentages comprise of goals, shots, blocks, and misses; that teams play half of their seasons at home can skew these numbers.  If the source is faulty, then so will anything utilizing it.  Yet, all we can do is be aware of said bias and accept it until A) someone provides an adjustment for bias, B) someone undergoes the arduous task of independently counting events in games, or C) recording games are standardized.

More importantly to realize, these are season-wide numbers.  Just like other team stats (e.g. power play success rate, average shots per game, etc.), it's not really going to have a direct effect on tomorrow's game.  It just gives a reason to believe that the Devils may enjoy more shots and attempts than the Rangers.  They've done it to their opponents all season, whereas the Rangers are usually on the other end.   That doesn't mean it's impossible to think that the Rangers will dominate the puck or that the game will be even.  Again, this looks at the 79 games the Devils played and the 81 the Rangers have played.  It's not going to guarantee the

Caveats aside, the main conclusion remains: the evidence points to the Devils being a superior possession team than the Rangers.  There's at least a 1.85% difference in either category (shot, Corsi, and Fenwick percentage) for any of the three even strength situations presented here.   What has kept the Rangers competitive and winning has been their goaltending, which has been above 92.7% at evens in all situations.  Say what you want about Lundqvist, but he's been carrying the roster. They have also enjoyed enough good fortune at shooting the puck at even strength, which strangely sinks below New Jersey for close score even strength situations. 

Still, the Rangers aren't as good as their record indicates, while the Devils are better than where they are currently located in the standings. That conclusion from February has not changed in the last month or so of games (and the same caveats apply then too).

For next season, the Rangers are the ones who need to improve.  Playoffs or no playoffs, the Rangers would be wise to get better possession players or change their strategies to emphasize puck control. If they can do that and still get high quality shot stopping, then they probably won't have to worry about making the playoffs on the last day of the season.  As for the good guys, the Devils just have to maintain what they did this season somehow. That's easier said than done, though a healthy Zach Parise would help a lot in making that happen.  They can't possibly shoot as bad as they did this season again, so they would really benefit from more goals and more wins next season if they can do it.


Please feel free to correct me if there's something I'm missing in the comments. After all, I'm focusing on puck possession and even strength play, largely driven to see if anything changed from the last post on this subject.  There are certainly other reasons to explain why each team is where they are. All the same, thanks for reading.