Yesterday, Mike wrote quite a bit about how the Stadium Series game was essentially the end of Martin Brodeur as a legitimate starting goaltender. The writing has been on the wall for a few seasons now. That game, to me at least, was a metaphorical nail in the coffin. I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment, judging from the comments there and elsewhere after the 7-3 loss to Our Hated Rivals.
A logical step has been taken by some fans to conclude because the Devils started Brodeur in 28 games so far this season, the team has only hurt themselves. Given that Brodeur has one of the league's worst overall save percentages at 88.9%, this isn't that controversial of a statement. A goalie who has played as much as he has and faces as relatively few shots as he does (remember the Devils are one of the stingiest teams in the league) stopping fewer than 90% of the shots he faces simply isn't getting the job done. The difference is even starker when the other guy has one of the best save percentages in the league at 92.7% right now. I have no issue with any of that.
In fact, allow me to make that argument stronger. Let's do a quick "What if" analysis. What if Brodeur, who faced 692 shots so far this season, was replaced by someone who put up better save percentages?
|Brodeur||Quant Avg||92% Sv|
QuantHockey has league average save percentage at 91.3% as of this writing. I took it a step further and added what would happen if 92% save percentage goalie faced the same number of shots. As of today, 92% is just outside of the top-ten in save percentage among goalies who've played a significant number of games. The difference between both and Brodeur's actual save percentage is stark.
Rounding issues aside, the Devils would have conceded nine to ten fewer goals with QuantHockey's league average goalie and fourteen to fifteen with a very good goalie. Presuming that it takes an improvement of six in goal differential to guarantee a win (Aside: I saw this explained by JLikens years ago, I'll happily point to something more definitive, though), Brodeur playing the way he has been has cost somewhere from one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half wins. Given where the Devils are in the standings right now, that's a big cost. And it could be larger presuming how some of the games actually went.
So those concluders are right. Brodeur playing 28 games has hurt the team. And the damage will continue. Assuming I counted correctly, the Devils have nine back-to-back sets left on the schedule. Brodeur will likely feature in most of them. If Schneider gets hurt or he slumps, then Brodeur will likely play more. While it's possible that Brodeur can improve, he's not likely getting to league average save percentage unless he finds a time machine to find his former self to wear #30.
Of course, long time readers probably picked up my usage of the phrase "I don't have an issue with this." It usually means I have an issue with something else. And I do. Namely, with the insistence that this and this alone could/will cost the team the playoffs.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying it doesn't play a role. My problem with blaming it all on the goaltending usage ignores other serious concerns with this team. To pin it all on goaltending absolves the sins of the skaters, coaching, and general manager in these other areas. Namely, offense. Namely, the lack of production. In case you haven't noticed, the Devils struggle to score goals. They're dead last in shots per game average at 26.2 per game. They're entrenched in the bottom third in goals per game with 2.35. They've not only lost all eight shootouts - hey, here's another real possibility that could send the Devils golfing in mid-April and it's pretty much luck - but they've only scored one measly goal in them. The sad thing is that, unlike last season, the Devils aren't being crushed by a horrible shooting percentage.
Here's another quick "What if?" analysis based on the team's all situations shooting percentage of 8.975%. What if the Devils shot as many pucks as the average team in the NHL? What if they shot as many pucks as the highest shooting team in the league?
|Actual||Avg SF/G||#1 SF/G|
The current league average rate at shooting pucks per game is 30.0033 prior to tonight's games. The #1 team in the league is San Jose at 34.8. The Devils aren't going to shoot as prolifically the Sharks; but I included this to highlight how big of a difference this is. Granted, it's likely the Devils wouldn't shoot as well as close to 9% if they shot more pucks. But since this is a "What if?" chart, we're talking roughly eighteen more goals if the Devils were shooting a league average amount of shots per game. Or three guaranteed wins. More rubber equals even more goals and potentially even more points.
Cruelly and coincidentally, the Devils have had better puck luck with Brodeur in net as opposed to Schneider. The team shoots roughly 11.1% with #30 and roughly 6.7% with #35. With more games for Schneider, the gap should close a little bit. What's worse is that under both goalies, the Devils are shooting well below league average. Under Brodeur, they're shooting at 26.07 shots per game and under Schneider, it's 25.37. So Brodeur has enjoyed better luck, but the repeatable production isn't that much different. And both shooting rates would be at the bottom of the league. When the Devils have surpassed the 30-shot plateau, which happened only nineteen times out of 54 games this season, there hasn't much of a difference in goalies. It's happened ten times in front of Schneider as opposed to nine in front of Brodeur. In the short term of a game, piling up over 30 shots isn't a guarantee of success. Anyone watching this team for most of January knows that. But in the longer term of a season, being able to do so regularly will likely yield results. The sort of results that can make up for sub-par goaltending. If you want #GoalsForCory, then I'd start with #ShotsForCory.
Replacing Brodeur with Schneider is an easier call than trying to improve the offense. I think that is why there's more outcry for the former than the latter. Yet, the team is already doing this. Schneider has played nine games in January compared to five for Brodeur. After two months where both goalies were up (November) and down (December), Schneider totally out-performed Brodeur. As such, he's been given more minutes and more starts. Again, short of injury or playing really bad, this will likely continue. Schneider has been sensational this month. Short of a total horror in his next start, he's got the January Devil of the Month sewn up. He's got a 95.2% save percentage in January alone. You can't ask for better performances.
Which is why it's imperative the Devils do something about their attack because that can't be expected to last. Goalies cannot sustain a save percentage that high for long. Moreover, Schneider has a crazy high shorthanded save percentage. As great as the Devils' penalty kill has been, he's bound to give up a few PPGs. I don't think he's going to crash with a sickening thud. I just think it's more reasonable to expect him to be around 92% than 93%. And that difference could very well mean the difference in several games. It's a difference that can be accounted for if the Devils can improve their offensive capability.
I understand it's not so simple to improve the offense. But we're not talking about shooting percentage here. We're talking about creating shots. That's entirely workable. (Besides, saying "It is what it is" is a cop-out answer to a legitimate problem. I don't have time for that and neither should the team.) The strategies and tactics Peter DeBoer and the coaching staff (and maybe the home scorer) may have the team out-shooting their opponents, but their low-event tendencies are hamstringing them on some nights. Their power play has been pitiful at putting pucks on frame even with a good conversion rate. The team badly needs help at winger, yet we haven't seen a move for one. Sure, there may not be a great trade option. I know it's not feasible to throw away one system for another in the middle of a season. But some adjustments and tweaks to their current ways could provide relief. Such as asking for more carries instead of dump-ins, encouraging players to shoot in odd-man rushes, and less reliance on firing pucks from distance. I'd start with the power play since it's been so heinous at times at just getting the puck in the zone. Once they get in and set up, they can threaten; it's getting there that's been their main issue. It's probably too late for the Devils to average 30 shots per game, but it's not too late to try to have it happen in more than just 35% of their remaining games. Or at least not average just over 25 per game.
Ultimately, these are two of the serious problems with the Devils this season. The damage that came from playing Brodeur 28 games has been done. The damage of a relatively pop-gun offense has been done in the past. Combined with other issues, such as a woefully unlucky shootout, they all can account for the Devils not making the playoffs this season. Of course, the Devils can still make it in at this point. There's a lot of hockey left to be played. But the time for action is now. It's been happening in net. Schneider has been starting more games as of late than Brodeur and that will likely continue. That's the right call. But I think that alone is not enough. Will the offense actually be addressed? Can it be done before Schneider's hotness cools off? If not, then that concern from the before a single preseason game was played will remain looming large. It's not as easy as blaming it all on one man, but I think it's better to be honest than simple.