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Devils Again Elite at Suppressing Shots and Attempts, but Not Goals

The Devils are a team which continues to prevent teams from shooting the puck, but still cannot seem to keep the puck out of the net. Is it still the goalies' fault, or could the defense actually be the ones to blame?

Paul Bereswill

For a number of years now, the Devils have been among the best teams in the league when it comes to preventing shots and shot attempts. As John touched on Monday, they don’t exactly bombard the other side with pucks either, but they have been so good at keeping other pucks out of their end that their possession stat ratios are generally quite strong. Last year, the Devils became the only team to record a greater than 55% close-score Fenwick (SOG + missed shots with the score within one in the first two periods or tied in the third) and still miss the playoffs. The Devils continue to be an elite-level team when it comes to stifling shots, but they haven’t seen those benefits show up on the scoreboard, where they have a middling amount of goals against.

First, let’s take a look at some of the stats from the past two seasons.

5-on-5 Play

Season SA/60 SA Rank FA/60 FA Rank CA/60 CA Rank GA/60 GA Rank
2012-13 22.4 1 30.1 1 39.9 1 1.97 7
2013-14 24.0 3 31.6 1 40.2 1 2.41 18

All Situations

Season SA/60 SA Rank FA/60 FA Rank CA/60 CA Rank GA/60 GA Rank
2012-13 22.7 1 30.4 1 40.9 1 2.49 13
2013-14 24.2 2 32.3 1 41.5 1 2.73 16

Stats via Extra Skater

So last year, the Devils were dominant in shots against as well as Fenwick (shots+misses) and Corsi (shots+misses+ blocks) against. They led over the second best team (Los Angeles/Chicago/Los Angeles, respectively) by a fairly decent margin in each category. Simply put, opponents weren’t directing a ton of pucks in New Jersey’s direction last season.

The problem, though, is that the Devils were decidedly less elite at not allowing goals against. They dropped to 7th at 5-v-5 and all the way down to 13th in all situations. This shows two things right off the bat: (1) the Devils probably weren’t getting great goaltending and (2) the penalty kill was having some issues as well. The Devils’ save percentage as a team last year was 23rd at 5-v-5 and 28th in all situations. Now it’s not necessarily news to anyone that the Devils had their struggles in net last year, but that was supposed to change when the team traded for Cory Schneider at the 2013 draft.

So let’s take a look at this season’s stats. The Devils are again near the top of the league in shots, Fenwick, and Corsi allowed. Only Minnesota outpaces them in SA in all situations with the Devils being tops in FA and CA. Once again, though, the Devils have been middling when you look at goals against. Their save percentage is currently 28th at 5-v-5 and 29th in all situations. How is this still happening?

When Brodeur and Johan Hedberg were between the pipes last season, I think many people felt it was a substandard tandem. Marty was a mediocre number one and Hedberg was a disastrous number two, and that didn’t necessarily surprise people given their ages. Enter Cory Schneider, a goaltender with an elite-level save percentage who is firmly in his prime, and much of that problem projected to fix itself. Schneider was a decidedly above-average goaltender and Marty was at least a capable backup.

Now that the goaltending has had a similarly tough start to this season, I find myself scratching my head a bit. Cory Schneider, of the career .929 even-strength save percentage, is sporting a lousy .906 in his brief tenure in New Jersey thus far. Martin Brodeur, who at least had a decent .918 at even strength last season, currently has an abysmal .893 so far this year. Now it’s a small sample, and I certainly expect both goalies to rebound from those levels, but there is at least a kernel of doubt forming at this point.

Could the Devils just be making more catastrophic mistakes than other teams? John did his annual goal reviews for Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg this past summer and found that somewhere in the neighborhood of 65% of Devils goals against were attributable to some sort of skater error. That number seems high, but with no league-wide measuring stick to compare to, it’s hard to say if that’s any more or less than any other team. It was higher than John’s reviews from the previous year, where skater error was involved in closer to 50% of the goals allowed. But it is pretty much all of the same defenders as well as the same coach so it’s hard to say how much is attributable to luck, the defenders, and the goaltender being unable to bail the team out.

So, the Devils are again very stingy with how many shots they allow but cannot keep pucks out of the net at near the same level. Even if they could get average goaltending, they would probably be among the NHL’s best in terms of goals against. Most data shows that we should count on a rebound in save percentage from the netminders, but if the Devils’ woes continue, questions may need to be asked regarding their defensive strategy. The Devils are basically going to be a case study that mirrors the Toronto Maple Leafs this year, except instead of asking if they can continue to succeed in spite of their awful possession numbers like the Leafs, we’ll be asking if the Devils can continue to fail in spite of their good ones.