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How the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils Compare with Past Devils Teams in Possession

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I've had Fenwick on the mind recently. No, not Matt Fenwick of Battle of Alberta; I'm been thinking about the statistic called Fenwick. One of the main advanced stats I tend to focus on in previews and other analyses is a team's Fenwick percentage. Fenwick counts up the difference in shooting attempts for and against a team except for blocks in 5-on-5, non-empty net situations. A team with a high percentage suggests that they have done better at controlling the game. Fenwick, like Corsi (which includes blocks) approximates possession; hence, the title and my description of using . The idea is that shots are almost always attempted in the other team's end of the rink and when a player has the opportunity to attempt a shot. That means the puck is in the opponent's end, and getting there more often than the other team consistently speaks to the team's quality.

It's a little more complicated than just counting up goals, shots on goal, and missed shots. The score of a game will normally affect how a team attempts to shoot. Losing teams will be more aggressive whereas leading teams will hang back or be forced to defend more. In order to reduce the effect of score effects, it's common to use the percentage for close score situations: when the score is within a goal in the first two periods or tied in the third and overtime. Over time, the teams who have higher Fenwick percentages in these situations tend to be the truly elite teams in a season, like Detroit. Those who are out-attempted regularly but still have a strong record usually are succeeding elsewhere - such as a really effective power play, a hot goaltender, and/or a high shooting percentage.

The Devils aren't either of those teams. Their record certainly isn't elite. They're not riding a hot power play, goaltender, or shooting to a lot of success. They are around average - particularly in Fenwick. I've noted in the January Month in Review post that the New Jersey Devils are about average as a team when it comes to close-score Fenwick percentage. They are above average relative to the rest of the league, but the actual count is closer to the 50% mark.

While looking that up before the Montreal game on February 2nd, I decided to see how this team compares with past Devils teams in Fenwick percentage. By the end of last season, I was lauding the Devils' excellent percentages in shooting attempts both in Corsi and Fenwick percentages. It was evidence that showed the team truly played better under Jacques Lemaire compared to John MacLean. With a new coach and some new players in the lineup, I was curious as to how the 2011-12 Devils compares with their predecessors so far. Thanks to the terrifyingly brilliant Gabe Desjardens' Behind the Net, it's easy to go as far back as 2007-08 and see how the Devils performed in Fenwick percentage and see how they did relative to the rest of the league. Please continue on after the jump to see the results.

I'll be brief (for a change), this season's team has not been as good as in recent seasons in close score situations and especially not when the Devils are up a goal. But that largely speaks to how good past teams were in Fenwick percentages.


I included the other scoring situations available at Behind the Net to see how the teams have done in various situations. The good news is that the Devils have consistently been above 50% in close and tied situations. The bad news is that this year's team usually gets pinned back when up a goal. Even this season's squad is on the right side of the attempts game. I should be a bit kinder, there is 32 games left in this season and the team can certainly get better. They're not that far off from past teams in a few situations. For example, they're just below 2008-09 when the score was tied or the Devils are down two goals; and they're better than 2007-08 and 2009-10 when down a goal. Still, this year's team does pale in comparison to last season's team or the past four in close-score situations.

What's interesting across all situations is that there is a similarity across all seasons as to how the Devils perform in 5-on-5, non-empty net situations. When the score is close or tied, the Devils are usually the better team in possession. They're better when they're losing, and they're worse when they are winning. This is the result of score effects. Teams that are leading tend to either sit on the lead or are forced by the other team to defend. There is truth to the notion and complaint that the Devils do not attack enough with a small lead. What makes this season stand out is that the Devils are much worse when up a goal. If there's one area the Devils could improve upon, this is the one.

While the Devils aren't as good as past teams in terms of Fenwick percentage, they do stack up relatively well against the rest of the league. So did past teams in many situations.


The 2011-12 Devils are above average across the board except when the score is tied or if the Devils are up a goal. They're pretty good when the game's tied; and the Devils have been in the top ten in the league in this category in every season. That's good. Again, when the team's up a goal, the Devils have been beaten on. Very few teams get to 50% Fenwick when up a goal, but being around 41-43% is still pretty heinous. What's surprising is that the team was relatively much better with a lead in the three seasons prior. I wonder what changed for 2010-11 and how it got worse this season. At least this season's team is relatively better when up by two goals.

In viewing how each percentage in each situation ranked among the league, I come away feeling a little better about this season's team. Yes, they're not as good as Devils teams in the last four seasons in terms of possession, but that's because those teams were very good in the past. The only downside of those 07-08, 08-09, and 09-10 teams was that they weren't so good when down a goal or two; but even those teams were well above 50% in those situations. Elsewhere, they were a top team in the league. Given the amount of roster and coaching flux in these seasons, that the Devils haven't been a relatively bad possession team over the years is rather impressive. The 2011-12 Devils aren't as good, but they haven't been that much worse except when they're up a goal.

This all begs the question: Why have the Devils experienced a dip in this measurement? That will require deeper analysis; but it's worth coming up with some possible theories. It's possible that Peter DeBoer's tactics and tendencies aren't as effective as we may think. This could be a result of the bottom two lines being quite negative in possession for most of the season. The lack of play-driving defensemen may play a role. It could be that the Devils just don't have enough players that drive possession, so the team as a whole has suffered. It could very well be it's too soon to make any serious conclusions. I'm leaning towards that last idea as the Devils do have 32 more games to play (remember: these numbers came before the Montreal game on February 2). While the Devils aren't likely to soar up the ranks to be up there with Detroit or play so poorly they'll get as low as Minnesota, there's room to maneuver both in terms of percentage and rank. The Devils can improve (and I hope they do!) or regress in the final two months or so in the season.

In the meantime, I'd like to know what you make of these stats. What conclusions did you make from these numbers? Does this make you feel better or worse about this season's team? What do you think has caused the 2011-12 Devils to get worse in possession compared with past seasons? How did the Devils get more passive with a one-goal lead in the last two seasons? What do you think the Devils need to do to improve their Fenwick percentages? Do you think the Devils will improve over the rest of the season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts and findings about the Devils and their possession in 5-on-5 situations in the comments. Thanks to Behind the Net for all of the numbers and thank you for reading.