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How Close Were Devils Games Last Year?

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Under head coach Peter DeBoer, the Devils play a low event style of hockey. While the team may not score much, it also performs exceptionally well at preventing goals against. Does this lead to more close games than the average team? Let's look.

An overtime winner for the red and black.
An overtime winner for the red and black.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

A couple weeks back, I inadvertently found that last season, the New Jersey Devils had 50 games decided by only one goal.  That means that at least 3 out of every 5 games the team played were nail biters.  At the time, I just made a quick remark that Peter DeBoer's low event style of hockey led the team to play many close games.  After sitting on that thought for a while, I decided that I wanted to look a little more closely at that.  Specifically, I wanted to see how often New Jersey was playing close hockey, and compare that to other teams in the league.  Do the Devils spend more time than the average team playing tighter games, or do they spend a similar amount of time in nail biters?

What Defines Close?

There is one main statistic out there that will be of help for this study.  5 versus 5 close is a tally of the amount of minutes that a team played a game tied in any period, or within one goal in the first two periods.  This is the best indicator of when a game was close.  The main issue with it, of course, is that it does not tally a one goal game in the third period.  To make up for that, I will also look at how many games for each team ended in a one goal differential.

Also, another issue with 5v5 close is that it does not tally special teams minutes that took place in close games.  Since I cannot find an easy way to tally that, we will just have to leave that out with the hope that special teams minutes would not significantly alter the data.  And finally, just for the sake of it, I wanted to also see how many times each team went into overtime, as these games take being close to an even higher level.  These statistics should hopefully give us a good indicator of who played close, nail biting games the most often.

5 Versus 5 - Close

In the chart below, I wrote down the 10 teams that spent the most time on ice in 5v5 close situations last season.  I also added the team's total 5v5 time on ice so that you can see a comparison to how many overall minutes a team played during 5v5.  And just for the sake of it, since the information is available, I also threw in Corsi For percentages for each team in 5v5 close situations, so that you can see how well each team generally played in these circumstances.  (Note: all statistics in this table come from stats.hockeyanalysis.com)

Team

5v5 Close TOI

5v5 TOI

CF% in Close

New Jersey Devils

2641:02 minutes

3926:53 minutes

54.7%

Winnipeg Jets

2617:30 minutes

3881:59 minutes

49.5%

Vancouver Canucks

2597:38 minutes

3887:21 minutes

52.0%

Buffalo Sabres

2523:42 minutes

3890:44 minutes

41.0%

Tampa Bay Lightning

2518:54 minutes

3882:27 minutes

51.5%

Chicago Blackhawks

2513:57 minutes

3980:29 minutes

55.8%

Calgary Flames

2505:34 minutes

3993:18 minutes

45.8%

Minnesota Wild

2498:10 minutes

3923:11 minutes

48.2%

New York Islanders

2495:40 minutes

3893:51 minutes

49.5%

Detroit Red Wings

2488:59 minutes

3843:17 minutes

51.3%

So as it is made very clear from the start, our favorite team spent more time on ice in 5v5 close situations than did any other team in the league.  And, it is not really close.  The team with the second most time on ice in 5v5 close situations, the Jets, had around 24 minutes less than the Devils.  That is not all that different.  However, the real jump happens with the 4th team on the list, the Sabres.  The Devils played around 117 more minutes at 5v5 close than did the team with the fourth most minutes at 5v5 close.  So clearly, the Devils, Jets, and Canucks played considerably more minutes in close situations than did anyone else last year, with New Jersey playing the most.

Looking at the Corsi percentages real quick, it is at least positive to note that the Devils play well during close situations, sporting a 54.7% Corsi For.  The best, however, was the Blackhawks, who dominated possession in close situations to a tune of 55.8% Corsi For.  The worst in close situations, which is not necessarily surprising, was the Sabres, who had a Corsi For % of 41.

One Goal and Shootout Games

The first chart here will showcase the top 10 teams in terms of the amount of one goal games played last season, including overtime games.  (Note: all statistics taken from www.nhl.com)

Team

One Goal Games

New Jersey Devils

50

Calgary Flames

49

Washington Capitals

45

Winnipeg Jets

45

San Jose Sharks

44

Los Angeles Kings

43

Minnesota Wild

43

New York Islanders

43

Phoenix Coyotes

42

Detroit Red Wings

42

The next chart looks at the top 11 teams to play the most games that went to overtime or beyond last season (11 because of ties).  Again, statistics taken from the same place as the last chart.

Team

Overtime Games

Washington Capitals

28

New Jersey Devils

27

Phoenix Coyotes

24

Detroit Red Wings

24

New York Islanders

24

Ottawa Senators

24

Colorado Avalanche

23

Minnesota Wild

23

San Jose Sharks

23

Tampa Bay Lightning

23

Winnipeg Jets

23

Once again, we find our favorite team at or near the top of both charts.  New Jersey and Calgary played the most one goal games of any team by far, with a decent jump over the rest of the pack.  As for overtime games, it was the Devils along with Washington leading the pack by a fair margin.  Other teams that made both charts were the Jets, Sharks, Wild, Islanders, Coyotes, and Red Wings, although none of them could match the quantity of one goal and overtime games that the Devils played in.

Now, of course there is error in assuming that all one goal games were close.  That is not true at all.  Some games could have been pretty one-sided, but a late garbage time goal could have left the final score as a one goal game.  But, if you use the statistics on one goal games in conjunction with 5v5 close time on ice, it can give you a better picture as to which teams were playing close games more than any other.

Overall Conclusions

To make overall conclusions, you have to look at all three charts to really see which teams are showing up regularly, and how high up are they on the charts.  First, these are the teams that are on all three charts: Devils, Jets, Wild, Red Wings, and Islanders.  That means that these five teams, on average, played more minutes in 5v5 close situations than other teams, and this showed by having more one goal regulation and overtime finishes.

But looking closely at these five teams, none of them can compare to the Devils in terms of number of minutes in close games and number of games finished as one goal games.  The Jets finish high on the 5v5 close and one goal game charts, but fall much lower on the overtime chart.  The other three teams that made all three charts never break the top 3.  The Devils, on the other hand, are in the top 2 on all three charts.  What does this mean?  Well, for this highly unscientific analysis, it is clear that the Devils spend considerably more time than any other team playing close games, and it shows.

Are there other ways to look at the numbers to see who is playing more close games?  Probably.  Instead of using 5v5 close, you could add together and average out a team's time on ice for 5v5 tied, 5v5 up 1 goal, and 5v5 down 1 goal.  Then you could compare that with one goal games and see if it alters the numbers at all.  However, for what is being looked at, using 5v5 close combined with one goal games should give a fairly accurate assessment.  And of course, adding in special teams numbers could make a difference, although I am not sure if it would change the results all that much.  In the end, the Devils definitely played the closest games in the NHL last season.

Your Take

What do you think?  Do you agree with the numbers that the Devils played way more games and minutes in close situations than did any other team?  Or do you have other information that would alter my findings?  Please leave your comments in the section below, and thank you for reading.