In this series, I’ll show you how many there were, from where on the ice they were created, and who was involved in each of the offensive chances created from the passing of the New Jersey Devils and their opponents. If unfamiliar with passing statistics, please refer to my primer. This week, we focus on the recent games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, and the home opener against the San Jose Sharks. Recaps for said matchups are here, here, and here.
A few notes on how to read the charts: The "Close" columns indicate which events a player was involved in while the game was within a goal in the 1st or 2nd periods, and a tie game in the 3rd period. The columns that do not have the "Close" designation represent a player’s stats during non-close situations. Obviously.
You’ll see a sortable excel table for each team’s stats. You can filter by individual player, position, position grouping, and team totals if you wish. You can also download or open up the full gamesheet I use when tracking in another window. One note on the charts: the totals may appear to be incorrect at first glance, but the formulas built into the spreadsheet account for each shot to also include a shot attempt in the total so that the efficiency columns are correct. I did it this way rather than have everyone recording double the work. Let’s get to it.
Devils and Lightning
As you can see in the table, the Devils were quite poor. They finished with a SAGE in close situations at under 30%. The Lightning, on the other hand, finished with a SAGE close of over 60%. The Devils generated a higher number of scoring chance attempts (8 compared to the Lightning's 6) as well as A2 attempts (11 to the Lightning's 10). However, the Lightning were just that much better at getting their shots on net. Thanks goodness for Cory Schneider in this one.
Devils vs Lighting
As I track new stats, I want to highlight how they translate onto the ice. The line of Patrik Elias, Martin Havlat, and Dainius Zubrus has been quite productive in terms of A2 (Secondary Assist) Passing. What does this mean? It means this line, more than any other, is generating offense from at least two passes: sustained possession. It’s early in the season, but it appears to generate more effective chances when used properly. What does "properly" mean? Here’s some clips to illustrate what I mean.
The first is what we typically see from the Devils: cycling, passing, and a harmless shot from the point. How often have seen the Devils do this? Too many. Occasionally, they’ll get a forward open around the face-off circle for a good chance, but the bulk of the chances are of the harmless, seventy feet variety.
Notice that when Eric Gelinas gets the puck he really only has one option to shoot. It’s a shot that we’d expect Ben Bishop to save since Jon Merrill didn’t pass it from far away—Bishop was able to track the pass and get set, anticipating the shot from Gelinas. Jagr is flashing towards the net so he could be an option, but he’s marked quite closely. The Devils do too much of this, and even though this would go down as an A2 generated pass play (Jagr to Merrill to Gelinas), notice the difference between this opportunity and the one below.
This is what effective A2 passing looks like. As Zubrus gains entry into the zone, he, Elias, and Havlat form almost a triangle. They maintain their positioning until Zubrus goes wide to the boards and Elias circles behind the net. Zubrus feeds him and Havlat who has been trailing, immediately goes to the front of the net. Elias throws it out front and Havlat gets a great chance, nearly deflecting it past Bishop. Elias could have passed to the point, but Havlat offered a better option. A dangerous passing play doesn’t necessarily mean it was the result of a great pass alone, but the off-the-puck movement of the recipient matters a great deal. This is not only an A2 passing play, but also one that generates a scoring chance. Look at Tampa with this next example.
Anton Stralman keeps the puck in and passes it Tyler Johnson, who then feeds Alex Killorn at the top of the circle. Watching Killorn for the duration of this play, you’ll see his movement in losing Stephen Gionta to get open for the rather simple pass.
So, when I say A2 passing or sustained passing plays generating offense, you’ll know this is what I’m thinking of. All of these are A2 passing plays, but there are different forms of each and tell us far more about how chances are created rather than primary passing plays.
Devils vs Capitals and Sharks
I don't want to slow down the page with more gifs, but each week, I'll take one or two passing sequences from each game and break it down, attempting to give a visual aid to passing stats. Below are the Devils and opposition stats from each game.
Devils vs Caps
Against the Caps, the Devils generated more sustained passing offense (17 A2 SAG compared to just 6 A2 SAG for the Caps) as Ryane Clowe led the team with three attempts generated. Clowe, along with Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder, generated eleven of the team's thirty-five shots attempts. Clowe led the team with three shots generated, as this line did a good amount of damage. The aforementioned Elias and Zubrus generated four shots, a quarter of the team's output.
The team finished with a better efficiency rating (51%) than against the Lightning, yet the Caps were nearly flawless in the opportunities generated from their passing, even though there were fewer chances compared to the Devils.
I tweeted after the game that only one Capital generated multiple shots and that was Alex Ovechkin. The Caps didn't do much in terms of volume, but they were efficient: both of their scoring chance attempts generated resulted in shots on goal. Compare that to the Devils generating two shots on seven attempts. If you're not efficient in front of net, those are wasted opportunities.
Devils vs Sharks
The Devils should have won this game. They were efficient (55.6% in close situations), deadly (5 shots on 6 attempts in the scoring chance area), and beat back the Sharks in overall attempts generated from their passing. Damn the PK!
Travis Zajac and Jaromir Jagr were especially active, generating a combined seven shots, three of which were scoring chances. Clowe had another big game generating attempts (5), but only generated a single shot. Keep 'em coming, Clowe. They'll find the net eventually.
On the blue line, Marek Zidlicky and Damon Severson each generated three attempts. Zidlicky added two shots, including one scoring chance, and Severson added one. Jon Merrill also added one shot generated. Bryce Salvador added one shot generated on two attempts via secondary passing.
Tommy Wingels and Chris Tierney generated a combined four shots on five attempts for the Sharks. That's solid depth production. Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau each added two shots generated on four attempts, but we'd expect that from them. The Sharks did a lot of their damage on the PP, but at even strength there wasn't much that bested the Devils.
What did you think? Would you rather I focus on specific passing sequences each week? I think offering the stats in easily sortable tables and spending time looking at how the play developed makes for a more intriguing article and helps get across the important point that not all shot attempts generated from passes are the same. Thoughts?