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New Jersey Devils and their Passes through 21 Games

This is a look at the passing metrics and how the Devils fare through the first quarter of the season. Read on for the details.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Roughly a quarter of the way into the season, I wanted to take a quick look at how the New Jersey Devils are faring in the passing game. Below are Excel tables you can download and sort to see the totals for each player in a variety of categories: How efficient they are, how often they create and/or are involved in an event, and how much they contribute to the team’s on-ice Corsi totals. If unfamiliar with passing stats, please visit my primer for the basics.

A quick word on the charts: in order to make the recording process easier on my volunteers, we recorded an event once (whether it ended in a shot attempt or a shot). The total columns take into account several other columns to do the math for us. It may look strange at first, but it was easier to do this way. Let me know if you have any questions.

Also, all Time on Ice, Team CF, iCF, and 5v5 Shot data was pulled from Puckalytics for the Devils’ first twenty-one games (through the debacle in Calgary). Let’s get to it.

As always, starting with the blue line, last season, it was Marek Zidlicky and everyone else. This season, we’re seeing more involvement from the blue line. Zidlicky still leads the group with forty-seven attempts generated from primary passes, but Damon Severson is only thirteen behind him. Andy Greene (26) and Eric Gelinas (23) are your third and fourth-leading blue liners in SAG.

When it comes to Shot Attempt Generation Efficiency (Percentage of Shot Attempts Generated that result in Shots, SAGE), Zidlicky leads the group in all 5v5 situations (53.2%). Greene, Jon Merrill, and Seth Helgeson are all 50%. In Close Situations, everyone actually remains the same or gets a slight boost.

Gelinas (39.6%) and Zidlicky (39.4%) continue to dominate the Corsi Contributions from the blue line. Gelinas is rounding out his game a bit more this season, passing and generating offense at a higher frequency than last season, so it’s nice to see him become more than just a one-shot pony. Severson is third on the team in Corsi Contribution Percentage at 36.6%. In Close Situations, Gelinas is involved in close to half of the team’s shot attempts (44.9%). Zidlicky is second with 40.9%.

This season I introduced some new metrics: Potential Secondary Assists and Scoring Chances. While I’m waiting to publish any findings as to how these relate to winning games until I get a large enough sample size, early signs are that both these metrics are of importance. So, for the Devils blue liners, Greene leads the team with fifteen attempts created from a secondary pass, nine of which resulted in a shot on goal. While Severson may be more involved directly, Greene is still generating offense, though slightly removed from the event.

Bryce Salvador has also generated nine shots on fourteen attempts. Zidlicky has created six on eleven attempts, and Adam Larsson adds five on ten attempts. As you can see, the secondary attempts are fewer than the primary attempts, so these metrics will be of smaller sample sizes.

On to Scoring Chances. Zidlicky leads the group with nine shots generated from in close on only fifteen attempts. Gelinas (3) and Severson (2) are the only other defensemen to create multiple shots in the scoring chance area. Zidlicky accounts for half of the shot production of the Devils defensemen from this area of the ice. Say what you will about his turnovers, suspect defending, and obligatory penalties, but then keep in mind that Zidlicky is more than likely to make up for it and cause an exciting play at the other end of the ice.

Now, let’s look at this same group and include time on ice into the analysis. The above spreadsheet will take you through each metric and tell you how many minutes at 5v5 will occur each time that player either creates or is involved in an event. Unsurprisingly, we see Zidlicky generated a shot attempt every 7:29 he’s on the ice in 5v5 situations. Severson follows at every 10:26. Gelinas is third at 11:20, but we see Jon Merrill, when he was healthy, actually getting involved more frequently than Greene (11:50 to 13:38).

If you scroll all the way to the right, you’ll see frequency of Corsi, Shot, and Goal involvement. These take into account not just passing events, but also a player’s shooting events. Gelinas, Zidlicky, and Severson are the quickest defensemen to be involved with attempts (all under 1:56) and shots (all under 4:17). Gelinas is actually the quickest to be involved with both, illustrating his all around play has improved rather than just being the big shot. To steal John’s "Truth" theme, he’s become the Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth.

Moving to the forward’s totals, we see Jaromir Jagr has generated sixty shot attempts in the first twenty-one games, roughly three per game. At this pace, Jagr would generate forty fewer attempts than last season, but he’s been far more efficient this year (56.7% in all 5v5 situations), perhaps in part that Mike Cammalleri is a better shooter than Dainius Zubrus. Cammalleri (30 SAG) is just as efficient in all situations as Jagr, while their center, Travis Zajac (50 SAG), is operating at 60% efficiency.

With Cammalleri on the first line, we see more of an even distribution of Corsi Contributions than last season. Cammalleri (55.6%), Jagr (51.4%), and Zajac (42.7%) are better than Zajac and Jagr running a two-man show last season. The trio has made most of their bones in the scoring chance area, combining to generate twenty-nine shots on fifty attempts from in close, or just under 25% of what the team has done as a whole. Not just forwards, but the entire team. This is a good line.

Where’s the second line? I admit, I was excited for the idea of Patrik Elias and Adam Henrique reuniting this season after some promising games last season. Adding Martin Havlat to the group seemed, at least on paper, to be an attractive idea. It has not gone well. Only Stephen Gionta (10:44) and Damien Brunner (8:57) are generating a shot attempt slower than Elias’ 8:05. That is abysmal compared to where he was last season. He’s still efficient as half of the attempts he generates are registering as a shot on goal, but where he does well, Henrique (40.5%) and Havlat (28.6%) are poor. They clearly have not meshed well together.

Jacob Josefson passes (pardon the pun) more than just the eye test this season. He is currently the most efficient forward at generating shots from passes as 66.7% of them reach the net in all 5v5 situations. In Close Situations, it ticks up just slightly. He’s been particularly effective in transition, as six of the seven attempts he’s generated have reached the net. He has yet to generate a scoring chance on net, but he’s doing just fine elsewhere in the offensive zone.

Stephen Gionta—scourge of the fan base. While not a talented or multi-dimensional player, I think that if he’s used in a limited role, he can be effective. He starts so many shifts in the defensive zone, yet still manages to be involved in a shot every 2:48, only 0:12 behind Cammalleri. Where Gionta gets in trouble is when DeBoer bumps him up or gives him more minutes. This fourth line of Zubrus, Gionta, and Steve Bernier is not so bad if they can eat a lot of defensive zone starts.

When we look at some of the A2 data, Jagr (21) and Elias (20) are creating the most sustained passing plays. In fact, the top line of Jagr, Zajac (18), and Cammalleri (17) has three of the team’s top five A2 generators on it. When that line generates offense, it’s through sustained possession. Zubrus has created the third-most secondary passing plays (19) playing on all four lines at some point this season. Jagr leads all forwards in generating scoring chance attempts (one every 13:11). Next is Martin Havlat (15:17) followed by Ryane Clowe (18:22) and Cammalleri (18:54). Not surprisingly, Jagr and Cammalleri are up there among the team leaders in Corsi Contribution involvement: how frequently a player generates a shot attempt or attempts a shot of their own. They don’t lead the team, however, as Adam Henrique holds that distinction, involved in a Corsi event every 1:21 (Reid Boucher technically leads the team with 1:05, but has only played a handful of minutes).

An area of concern on the team has to be the play of Elias. He’s involved in a Corsi event every 1:48, which is towards the back of the pack among forwards—Jordan Tootoo is involved every 1:53 to put that into perspective. The biggest negative with Elias is that his frequency of SAG events is way down from last year (mentioned above), and we see it continue into his Corsi and Shot involvement. Elias requires 5:04 per shot involvement, which is horrendous. Havlat is even slower at 5:34. These guys need to get it in gear.

Team View: Overall, the team is doing a much better job in the efficiency department this season compared to last season. The Devils are also shooting 12.1% from passes, compared to their 8.5% in all 5v5 situations. The passes coming from defensemen have yielded a higher shooting percentage (16.7%) compared to the forwards (10.6%).

Despite the Devils being more efficient this season (47.6% SAGE in all 5v5 situations), their opponents are still operating a much higher level (53.7% in all situations). Going back to last season, the Devils continually fall behind their opponents in passing efficiency. In fact, the only area the Devils excel at is Scoring Chance efficiency in Close situations, most likely due to the top line of Cammalleri, Zajac, and Jagr.

Your Take: What questions do you have? How does having this data enhance your view of the players and how they perform? Sound off below!