As of right now, the New Jersey Devils are not even close to being one of the stingiest teams in the NHL when it comes to allowing shots on net. This has been apparent by the team's play, especially over the past week. However, stats show that has been the case all season long. Per War on Ice, the team is just outside of the bottom ten in even strength shots against per 60 minutes rate at 29.2. In shorthanded situations, the Devils have conceded a rate of 55.5 shots against per 60 minutes, also just outside of the bottom ten in the NHL per War on Ice. The issue of allowing so many shots isn't just giving the other team chances to score, but it also means the Devils are playing defense more often instead of trying to go forward themselves.
However, we can go deeper into those numbers and look at where it's happening. Similar to what Alex did last week with where the shots were coming from, though I will be using the Hextally charts at War on Ice. The use the NHL's shot location data to chart out where shots are being taken for and against a team in various game states. They're relative to the league rate. Incidentally, the Devils aren't that far away from the league average. But it's worth looking to see where the shots allowed are being, well, allowed.
The most common situation in a game is even strength. Here are the shooting rates allowed relative to league average as of December 14 at War on Ice:
Despite the Devils conceding a shooting rate above league average at even strength, there isn't one area where they're getting particularly beaten on. They are ahead of the league average rate (above 1) to the right of the slot, the right of the high slot, and the center point. The Devils have actually been quite stingy in the slot, in the high slot, and to the left of the slot. So by this chart, it doesn't appear that the team has a legitimate issue in front of the net or defending the most dangerous part of the ice. How of come it seems that way though?
The answer lies in the shooting percentage rate of those areas:
The Devils have been beaten for goals higher than the league average rate in multiple areas despite being below league average in shots allowed. These areas include the slot and the high slot, again, two of the most desirable places to shoot on the ice. It also includes the area inside the left circle next to the high slot, which is also a part of the traditional scoring chance "home plate," so that makes it three dangerous areas where teams are making the most of their shots. Opposing teams have also found success from the left point and (thanks to some bad goals allowed) the left corner. When goals are allowed that, it tends to indict the defensive effort of the skaters either by an error in coverage, the lack of coverage, a giveaway, or some other mistake. Hence, why the defense may look worse than the shooting rate by location implies.
It's also worth noting that I took a look at these charts for the teams under Peter DeBoer back in September, or before this season. You'll notice that the shooting rates charts were a whole lot bluer across the entire zone. That shows that the 2014-15 Devils, while not all that bad by location relative to the league, have allowed more across the board. That means the defense has been worse than in prior seasons. I cannot say this is a total shock. Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov left and the replacement plan of giving the kids a chance has yielded more shots against. Throw in forwards also declining (e.g. Patrik Elias hitting Father Time's wall, defensively poor wingers like Michael Ryder having to be back more and more) along with conceding odd-man rushes and breakaways (this may explain some of that light red color in the slot for the shooting percentages) and I'm not sure what else could have been expected.
(Also after from that post, the Devils were giving up a higher than average shooting percentage in the slot. So that issue remains, unfortunately.)
Of course, the issue isn't just at even strength. The penalty kill was lit up in this season's first month and over the whole season, the team continues to bleed shots when down a man. Where are those shots happening? Let's look at the shooting rates first. Again, all charts are from War on Ice:
Again, there aren't any really massive areas where the team is beaten repeatedly. There are some spots where the opposition is ahead of league average. In front of the net and in the slot is above one but not by much. The area to the right of the slot has a more significant rate, but not all that significant as it's still below two. The left corner is curiously high, though I would rather have opposing power plays take shots from that part of the zone as opposed to the middle. Also curious is that opposing teams against the Devils' PK have not been firing away all that much relative to league average from the point. I think that's because the Devils tend to sit in that small box, which opens up options for the men at the point to pass it around.
Again, there isn't anything glaring but it is step up (down?) over prior seasons where the Devils' PK would hold teams below the league's average shooting rate in all but one area (the right of the high slot, which is 1.09, for your information). I think that, like at even strength, that's a function of the change in personnel on the blueline. This is also where the recent injuries at forward have hurt since Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, Mike Cammalleri, Patrik Elias, and Dainius Zubrus have all played on the penalty kill and they all have missed time to some degree.
Again (there's that word...again), the shooting percentages against
Yikes. This is the result of just being paper tiger for about a month on the penalty kill. Opposing power plays have been able to get to net and have converted. The left side has been particularly damaging, with higher than average percentages inside the left circle and one above one in the left point. I'd love to see War on Ice allow date ranges if only so I can see what it looked like once the PK success rate got back above 70%. Nevertheless, teams have been succeeding on the left side. The shooting rate isn't as high on that end, but since a power play goal ends power play situations, there isn't going to be any more shooting once there's a conversion.
There isn't one area where the Devils are just significantly worse than the rest of the league on defense. There are spots of concern between both shooting rates and shooting percentages, though. The middle of the ice has been a source of success, including the spots next to the slot and high slot areas. However, the big difference is that the Devils have been worse than they have been. In other seasons under DeBoer, they've been beating the league average by a good margin when it comes to shooting rate. That has clearly gone up in 2014-15. Throw in some areas just above the league average rate and so the Devils are on the wrong end of SA/60 and other such stats.
This does raise another question. Is it due to the play of a particular player or players? I did mention earlier in this post that the rise in even strength shooting rates could be due in part by the loss of Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov. Those departures have meant more ice time for younger defensemen who are still figuring it out. We know from sites like War on Ice that the play has tended to go the wrong way when Jon Merrill, Peter Harrold, Bryce Salvador (Remember him?) and Seth Helgeson are out on the ice. But are the Devils conceding significantly more shots as a team when they're out there? If so, where is that happening? Let's answer those questions in another post.
In the meantime, what do you make of the Devils defense this season? What do you think has led to the uptick in shooting rates against the Devils at even strength and/or shorthanded situations? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils' defense in the comments. Thank you for reading.