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Net Gains: Projecting Goals Against for the Devils in 2014-15

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With a largely-similar squad and a likely-improved goaltending situation in the upcoming season, the Devils could take a step forward in terms of goals allowed this season. But how big an improvement should we expect?

Bruce Bennett

Last week, I took a look at how much we might expect the Devils to score next season with the roster currently constructed. As I did last year, I'll now take a look at the number of goals the Devils are likely to let up to try to hone in on expectations for next season. Last year's projection of 189 total goals was fairly accurate, as the final total ended up being 195 for the season. It wasn't a perfect projection as the individual goal totals ended up being a bit off for each goaltender, but as a whole the projection did a pretty good job and serves as a strong starting point. So, without further delay, let's figure out what to expect in the Devils' own end this season.

Shots Against

First, we need to project the number of shots we expect the Devils to see on a nightly basis in the upcoming season. The Devils have been elite in terms of limiting shots over the past 4 seasons, yielding 26.2, 26.8, 23.1, and 25.5 shots per game over the past 4 seasons, respectively. While there is some turnover on defense this upcoming season, the Devils are returning a largely similar squad, overall. One might expect the team to take a small step back with the loss of two of this past season's top shot-suppressing D in Mark Fayne and Anton Volchenkov, but the Devils' system is nothing if not resilient on this front. Perhaps it won't quite be at the league-leading level it was this past year, but I would say remaining in this general range is likely, so we'll set the total shots/game at 26.5 for this upcoming season.

Goaltender Starts

With the amount of pucks finding their way to the net figured out, we now need to address the situation in net. With the departure of Martin Brodeur and the subsequent extension handed to Cory Schneider, there is no doubt that Schneider will now be bearing the brunt of the goaltending load in New Jersey. On July 1st, the Devils signed 37-year-old former Devil Scott Clemmensen to compete for the backup job with AHLers Keith Kinkaid and Scott Wedgewood, so unless there is an injury, Schneider figures to be the undisputed #1 for the foreseeable future.

The question becomes: to exactly what extent will the Devils see fit to "ride the Schneid" this year? Given the backup goaltending options, one might hope for a 70-plus-game option, à la Marty Brodeur in his prime, but considering Schneider's 45 appearances last season were the most in his career, scaling that back a little bit seems both likely and prudent. With 18 back-to-back sets this season, that immediately makes it probable that Schneider sits for at least that many games. It is conceivable that he will be given both ends of a few back-to-backs, but there is also the likelihood that he deals with a minor injury or two throughout the season. Say his backup (whom I will refer to as "Clemkaidwood" for the remainder of this piece) gets 15 of those back-to-backs and another 5 games mixed in for rest/minor injuries and we have 20 total games started by Clemkaidwood over the season, which seems pretty reasonable.

Goaltender Save Percentage

In terms of save-percentage, we have a pretty good idea of what Cory Schneider should be bringing. Over his past four seasons, he's posted save percentages of .929, .937, .927, and .921, posting a cumulative .928 (the best in the league) over that time period. He's a pretty good bet to top .920 again, but .928 is likely a little higher than his true talent. Last year's prediction of .922 turned out to be fairly on the nose, so we will stick with that number for this particular analysis.

As far as predicting what we'll see from Clemkaidwood this upcoming season, that may be a little more difficult to nail down. Clemmensen is a goaltender who has seen success at various times in his career, but his past two seasons were fairly disastrous, with him posting dismal .874 and .896 save percentages. Prior to that, he had a pretty good four-year run where he was a shade above league average overall, so it's not like he's incapable. Over the last four seasons, it averages out to a .903 save percentage overall. Can he post that anymore? He's on the wrong end of the aging curve, so it's hard to say. He certainly could in a small sample, but it's likely to be even a shade lower for him, perhaps around .901.

The two AHL options, Kinkaid and Wedgewood, have virtually no NHL experience between the two of them so predicting where they might end up is even more voodoo than a typical goaltender. Kinkaid is only average at this point in the A with a .912 in his most recent campaign and Wedgewood still has yet to best a .900 sv% in the minors, so neither are likely to set the world on fire. Goaltenders, as a group, tend to see a .007 dip in sv% when jumping from the AHL to NHL, and while it's not particularly reliable for predicting on an individual basis, it's the best guess I have for promoting someone up a league. Since Kinkiad has shown more to this point, we'll use his .912 as a predictor and say he posts around a .905 if he sees NHL action next season. Split the difference with the estimated .901 for Clemmensen and we come up with a composite .903 for Clemkaidwood. It's far from a perfect science, but the purpose of this exercise is to venture a best guess, so ultimately what we are dealing with is a guess.

The Projection

So, pushing forward with the .922 for Schneider and the .903 for Clemkaidwood, we are now able to calculate a projection of the number of goals each tender will allow in the upcoming season.

Goalie GP SA/G Sv% GA
Cory Schneider 62 26.5 0.922 128
"Clemkaidwood" 20 26.5 0.903 51

So the final combined tally for the goaltenders would be 179 goals against, which is a very strong number, overall. There is still one more step that went unaccounted for in last year's projection, though, and that is empty net goals. The actual GA for Schneider and Brodeur last year was 184 (projected was 189), but since the Devils allowed 11 empty net goals on the season, the team number ended up at 195. Empty net goals are a largely random occurence based on a small set of circumstances, so the best guess is probably around the league median for a typical team. That median was 7 goals last season, so that's what we'll go with. Add the ENG to the goals allowed by the goaltenders and we get a grand total of 186 goals allowed on the season.

Total Projected Goals Against = 186

So there you have it. Juxtaposed against the 213 206 [adjusted due to a correction in last week's piece] goals scored predicted for the team last week, that gives this group a projected goal differential of +27 +20, which would put them near top-ten in the league (up from 15th this past season). Now, there are caveats to these projections, chief among them injury concerns, but it's hard not to be at least a little optimistic for the upcoming season based on how these projections shook out. The offense has taken a step forward with the introduction of Cammalleri and, to a lesser extent, Havlat and the defense will be aided by the enhanced role for Cory Schneider in the upcoming campaign. With modest improvements on both sides of the puck, a Devils team that was in the hunt for a playoff spot (despite a putrid shootout record) and in the top half of the league in goal differential has a good chance to make waves in a weak Eastern Conference next season.

Your Take

So how do you feel about the the team now that you've seen what to possibly expect from both the offense and the defense? Are you now optimistic? Are you still skeptical based on last season's frustrations? Anything in this particular goals against projection you take issue with? Respond with your comments below and thanks for reading.