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The Accuracy is Fine, the New Jersey Devils Need to Attempt More Shots

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In terms of getting their shooting attempts on net, the New Jersey Devils have been pretty good. However, the Devils are well behind the league in terms of generating shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play. This post looks at where the issue lies and offers some suggestions for improvement.

Damon Severson: Your team leader in shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play.
Damon Severson: Your team leader in shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Friday night's game in Edmonton featured an Oilers team that heavily out-attempted the New Jersey Devils but didn't really out-shoot them.  They kept missing the net and having their attempts blocked by Devils and occasionally other Oilers players.   Saturday night's game in Calgary featured the Devils playing a better game overall with respect to generating attempts; but they still are well behind the rest of the league.   The Devils being a low-event hockey team isn't really news.  However, both games have given me inspiration to look at how the individual players have done so far this season at taking shooting attempts and whether they have gone on net.

Answering both issues was fairly easy thanks to Puckalytics. It's the future site of the Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com and it has an entire section devoted to individual player stats.  The key stats to look at are iShots and iCorsi.  These represent the number of shots and shooting attempts (Corsi) that player has actually taken themselves.  One of the advantages of Puckalytics are the easy-to-use filters.  For this look at the Devils, I filtered it to 5-on-5 play (most common situation in hockey), a minimum of fifty minutes played, and a minimum of ten games played.  This makes it so I'm looking at players who have played a significant portion of the season so far.  I also used those filters for all NHL defensemen and forwards to determine averages for comparison purposes.  This way I know how the Devils are stacking up against the league average defenseman or forward.  The stats themselves were pulled from Puckalytics' individual stats prior to Sunday's games.

Let's begin with the defensemen.

Devil Defenseman GP 5-on-5 TOI iShots iCorsi iShot / iCorsi iShPct iShots / 60 iCorsi / 60
DAMON SEVERSON 21 354:45 39 70 55.71% 10.3 6.60 11.84
ERIC GELINAS 18 260:48 31 55 56.36% 6.5 7.13 12.65
MAREK ZIDLICKY 21 351:28 23 54 42.59% 4.3 3.93 9.22
ANDY GREENE 21 354:19 22 54 40.74% 0.0 3.73 9.14
BRYCE SALVADOR 15 213:14 12 26 46.15% 0.0 3.38 7.32
ADAM LARSSON 13 172:09 14 25 56.00% 7.1 4.88 8.71
JON MERRILL 11 165:45 5 12 41.67% 0.0 1.81 4.34

The Devils defensemen are closer to the top of the team list in individual attempts. Four of their top five attempters are defensemen.  Damon Severson leads the way by far, followed by Eric Gelinas, Marek Zidlicky, and Andy Greene.  This positional edge at the top is not exclusive to New Jersey.    For example, three of Calgary's top five attempters are defenders.  In any case, there's plenty to be pleased with the output from the blueline at evens.  Severson and Gelinas have put the majority of their attempts on net and they have very good iCorsi per 60 minutes values.  Zidlicky and Greene have not been as accurate but they're generating attempts a good clip.  Adam Larsson has been accurate and he's starting to catch up.

The bolded and italicized numbers in the chart. mean that stat is better than the league average.  With the filters I chose, 187 defensemen had their numbers pulled. The average of those 187 were 19.19 shots on net, 42.5 shooting attempts by the defenseman (iCorsi), 44.08% of those attempts getting on net (iShots/iCorsi), and a rate of 8.78 attempts per sixty minutes (iCorsi/60).   The four Devils defensemen who lead in attempts are better than the current league average in iShots, iCorsi, and iCorsi/60.   Adam Larsson and Bryce Salvador made it four for accuracy.  Larsson could get his rate up if he keeps throwing pucks on target.  As a group, the Devils defensemen are averaging 48.46% of shots over attempts, 20.86 shots, 42.29 attempts, and 9.03 attempts per sixty minutes.  That's quite good and it can better if Jon Merrill returns and attacks more along with Larsson with Severson, Gelinas, Zidlicky, and Greene keeping pace.  It's still pleasing to see that the blueline is contributing on offense.  The Devils do use the players at the points regularly when they get the puck in deep, as they like to do at even strength.  Knowing that there are guys who can get the puck on target helps make that strategy work to a degree.

The forwards, though, that's where the issues really lie:

Devil Forward GP 5-on-5 TOI iShots iCorsi iShot / iCorsi iShPct iShots / 60 iCorsi / 60
MICHAEL RYDER 21 250:20 35 56 62.50% 8.6 8.39 13.42
JAROMIR JAGR 21 303:09 26 48 54.17% 3.8 5.15 9.50
MIKE CAMMALLERI 15 207:59 32 47 68.09% 15.6 9.23 13.56
TUOMO RUUTU 20 179:28 20 35 57.14% 25.0 6.69 11.70
ADAM HENRIQUE 15 189:00 21 35 60.00% 19.0 6.67 11.11
STEPHEN GIONTA 21 182:21 30 35 85.71% 0.0 9.87 11.52
TRAVIS ZAJAC 21 308:07 23 34 67.65% 8.7 4.48 6.62
PATRIK ELIAS 21 258:37 15 32 46.88% 6.7 3.48 7.42
DAMIEN BRUNNER 14 161:07 14 31 45.16% 7.1 5.21 11.54
DAINIUS ZUBRUS 21 252:09 18 27 66.67% 11.1 4.28 6.42
JACOB JOSEFSON 14 127:33 12 25 48.00% 0.0 5.64 11.76
RYANE CLOWE 13 165:15 13 22 59.09% 7.7 4.72 7.99
STEVE BERNIER 10 92:42 10 16 62.50% 10.0 6.47 10.36
MARTIN HAVLAT 11 122:19 7 14 50.00% 14.3 3.43 6.87

You'll notice that there are fewer bolded and italicized values in this chart.   The accuracy isn't the issue.  Several Devils forwards have been better than league average at putting attempts on net.   It's the other stats of interest where the title really rings true.  Only four forwards have been better than league average in individual shots taken, three forwards have better than league average in terms of shooting attempts and only two are better in the per-sixty rate of those attempts.    For the record, I filtered out 380 forwards.   The average of those forwards are 25.65 individual shots, 44.36 individual attempts, 57.82% of those attempts being shots on net, and a per-sixty rate of attempts generate of 12.09.   Many Devils forwards aren't too far from the rate, but they're quite a distance away from the average number of individual shots and attempts.  The Devils forwards, as a group, average 19.71 shots, 32.64 attempts (!), and 9.99 attempts per-sixty minutes.  Again, that's the issue.  Not whether they're getting them on net, which has been rather good with the forwards averaging 59.54% of their attempts getting on net.

Let's focus on the precious few who are above NHL average.  Michael Ryder is head and shoulders above the rest of the forwards in terms of generating attempts.  This should not be a surprise.  His shot is his best asset.  If he's not trying to get shots off, then he's not much use to the team.  So he should be firing them away and at 5-on-5, he has been.  Jaromir Jagr and Mike Cammalleri are behind Ryder in attempts.  Jagr's accuracy could be a bit better; Cammalleri, on the other hand, has been very good with respect to accuracy and generating attempts and shots.  Those two are a reason why Travis Zajac has a low attempts-per-sixty rate. They're the ones getting the puck to fire it away.  At their best, those three drive the play, so it's not a surprise to see Jagr and Cammalleri .  Lastly, Stephen Gionta is only beating the average in terms of individual shots.  That's very impressive because he only has 35 attempts.  He may be hitting the goalie's logo on plenty of those 30 shots, but at least he's putting his attempts on frame.   As CJ noted on Friday, eventually, some of those are going to get in.

Now let's get back to the problem at hand.  It's one thing to have a bunch of players just below the league average.  After all, it's still early enough in the season that one or two really productive shooting games may bump up these numbers significantly.  There are several players with decent rates of shooting attempts.  But they're still well behind league average in actual attempts and shots.  They're still well behind four Devils defensemen in terms of shooting attempts.  Context can explain Zajac being lower than Cammalleri and Jagr.  Ryder's shooting, at least partially, explains Patrik Elias not attempting so many shots.  Though, I think Elias' low rate also explains his production slump to start the season and Martin Havlat doesn't appear to be helping.  Yet, the context of the lines having been set up as they were doesn't fully explain the relatively low number of attempts from the forwards.   Why?

I believe this is a function of the problems the Devils have been having in recent weeks with respect to puck movement and control.  Forwards typically lead the offense with respect to gaining the offensive zone.  If they're dumping it away or turning the puck over, that offensive attack quickly ends and no one gets to attempt a shot.   But it goes further than just entering the zone.  The team also typically gets the puck in deep to cycle and try and generate offense.  When they do get the puck in deep, it's common to see two Devils forwards to play behind the goal line in trying to win the puck and move it around. Sometimes, it's three Devils.  That keeps the pressure on the opposition , but it means fewer opportunities for forwards to get shooting attempts.  It also has led to more attempts for the defensemen.   They'll be open at the points as the Devils battle in the corners.  Intuitively, it makes sense: the forwards aren't attempting so many shots and are therefore well below the league average, while the defensemen are right by average and most of them have taken more shooting attempts than the forwards.

If we assume that's the cause, then what's the solution?   A change in tactics can certainly help, but I think other adjustments should be made first.   For starters, the team needs to be better going through the neutral zone and what they do once they cross the opponent's blueline.  The Calgary game may have been a bitter result, but the Devils actually did well in keeping up with the Flames in attempts even with the opposition just throwing everything and the kitchen sink forward in the final minutes.   It was not a coincidence it was in that game the Devils didn't just chip pucks away or lose pucks in the middle third of the rink for extended lengths of times.  With more entries, there can be more offense, and more attempts.   Additionally, when the Devils do get an odd-man rush like a 2-on-1 or a 3-on-2, the puck carrier should be encouraged to shoot more.  If the passing lane is there, fine; but a little selfishness would mean a few more shots - and maybe some more goals either from the initial shot or off a second-chance from a rebound.   Lastly, the coaches may do well to encourage the forwards to dump it in less and keep someone on the right side of the goal line instead of just dishing it off to the point from the deep end of the zone.   The Devils do have players well suited for board play; but players like Ryder, Cammalleri, Damien Brunner, and so forth should be hanging back more often.  It would give them a closer option.  It does happen at times, but I think they should go towards that direction more.

Regardless, there's still plenty of season left for a lot of this to change.  And the Devils using their defensemen so much isn't such a bad thing since they've been getting those attempts on net.  But if the Devils want to get more offense and get better in the possession game, then they need to find ways to get more attempts.  I do think playing better through neutral zone is the best way to do so.  There may be other adjustments that can be made without making wholesale changes like getting new players or a new coaching staff.    What do you think of the team's shooting so far?  What do you think the team should do to get more attempts - and by extension, shots - from the forwards?    Thanks to Puckalytics.com as the source of the data used in this post. Thank you for reading.