Containers, such as glasses, that are fully half full or half empty are rare. It takes careful measurement and precision in pouring to provide exactly half of content for a container. Still, it makes for a good image to explain whether one looks at the good over the bad or the bad over the good. Another good image would be how the New Jersey Devils performed in the month of November. They played twelve games, six at the Rock and six on the road. While not a perfect half, the Devils closed out the month with a record of 6-5-1 in November. They were in playoff positions for a few times, ultimately falling to the outside by month's end. Whether it was a good 6-5-1 or a bad 6-5-1 depends on how you reflect on the games. Let's go through those games in this monthly review.
The Month That Was
The Devils began and ended the calendar month of November with no games. On November 3, the Devils' month of games truly began in Brooklyn. It was a close game on the scoreboard and it was decided by a bounce. Yet, the play on the ice was not in New Jersey's favor in a 1-2 loss to the Islanders. Their next opponent was worrisome from a distance. It was the defending Stanley Cup Champion, Chicago Blackhawks. The Rock was actually sold out for this one. Fortunately, the Devils put up a better effort and a better performance than they did at the Barclay's Center. The Devils impressively buried Chicago by a 4-2 score. Chicago only dominated late and by that time, the game was long over. It was a thrilling win and in most months would easily be the team's best win. Not so.
Two days later, the Devils kicked off a stretch of four games in seven nights by hosting Vancouver on Sunday, November 8. For whatever reason, these two teams didn't get along at all. The game was very chippy and loaded with penalties, capped off by a dubious major penalty and misconduct issued to Adam Larsson. The Devils' penalty kill more than survived it, they hit back. Yet, the Canucks weren't easy and forced a tie score that survived a tense third period. Overtime was necessary and Kyle Palmieri finished a one-timer to earn another OT victory for the Devils in a 4-3 final score. Spirits were high but suffered with a case of the Blues two nights later. St. Louis shut New Jersey up, shut New Jersey down, and shut New Jersey out in a 0-2 loss in Newark. A clear case of a better team just exerting their quality. That Thursday, the Devils visited Chicago. The Blackhawks wanted a rematch and really it took it to the Devils all night long. Chicago controlled play for the better part of each period. Yet, goaltending became the difference in this one as Cory Schneider was great and Corey Crawford let up three poor goals. The Devils prevailed in Chicago 3-2 in a game that proved yet again that hockey was not fair. Saturday night would close the busy week with a home game against Pittsburgh. After getting out-played in possession for two straight games, the Devils looked like a different team against the Pens. A way better team. A team that broke out beautifully and controlled the neutral zone with aplomb. A team that kept going forward and never really let up. The Devils routed the Penguins 4-0 with a performance way better than the home win in Chicago a little over a week earlier. It was a glorious victory; one that showed that perhaps this year's Devils squad can do something big.
The good times would not roll. The Devils got some days off before they played the first of three road games in Western Canada. They visited Calgary first. Against a team that has been leaking shots and goals to nearly everyone, the Devils put up only twenty and scored two. In a one-shot game in the third, the Devils put up only five. The Flames prevailed, handing New Jersey a 2-3 loss. Two nights later, the Devils visited Edmonton - a team with plenty of offense but also leaked goals. That night went even worse than what happened in Calgary. Poor Keith Kinkaid. He gets a rare start in this month and the guys in front of him just flopped. The Oilers just rolled through New Jersey and just decked the Devils to the score of 1-5. The trip ended in Vancouver on that Sunday. Two weeks after a penalty-fest by way of constant scrums, shoves, beefs, and bellowing, cooler heads prevailed. The game was still loaded with penalties, mostly of the impeding and restraining type. The Devils killed six of seven - with the only non-kill being a score at the last second - and put up three beyond the first period in Vancouver. Cory Schneider was amazing and was only beaten twice. The Devils at least salvaged the end of the trip with a second win over the Canucks by a 3-2 score.
The month essentially ended around Thanksgiving for the Devils. Before the American holiday, the Devils hosted Columbus. The Devils conceded first, tied it up, and then lost the lead late in the second. The Devils appeared to have tied it up on a delayed penalty call, but after the score, a linesman reported a touch by the Blue Jackets missed by two referees. That wiped out the goal to the chagrin of many. The Devils pushed for an equalizer but could not get one; they ultimately were foiled by a 1-2 final score. After Thanksgiving, the Devils held a home-and-home with the best team in the Eastern Conference: the Montreal Canadiens. On Friday, the Devils played two pretty good periods and built up a 2-0 lead, before getting dominated by the visitors. Fortunately, Schneider was on point and could only be beaten twice. Overtime didn't lead to a result and so the Devils went to their first shootout since Halloween. In five rounds, Montreal would prevail for a 2-3 final score. This recent Saturday would be the conclusion of the home-and-home and the last game of the month for the Devils. The game didn't feature a dominant period, though the Canadiens put up a more consistent fight. The Devils brought the drama to Quebec with an equalizing goal within the final minute and a big overtime winner off a rush led by Adam Henrique and finished by John Moore putting in his own rebound. The Devils came back from a 0-2 deficit to take that one 3-2. It was a fun, exhilirating ending to a month filled with highs and lows.
By the Numbers
Thanks to War on Ice allowing bracketing their stats by date, I'm going to make a point of it to provide the team's stats month-by-month. For this section, the date range used is for 11/1 through 11/29 prior to Sunday's games.
At 5-on-5 Even Strength Hockey: The Devils remained as a very low event hockey team. In twelve games, they posted a Corsi For percentage of 46.7%, which ranked eighth from the bottom of the NHL. If adjusted for score, the team's CF% drops to 46.2% - tied for the seventh lowest in the NHL. Their Corsi For and Against per 60 minutes is 91.9, which was very much the lowest in the NHL. Surprising to me, the Devils did not put up the lowest shots for per sixty minute rate in November. They came next to the lowest at 24.5. Their shots against per sixty minute rate also jumped up to 27.8, which is nowhere near the lowest in the NHL. That's not an encouraging sign. Percentages were also mixed bag. Their shooting percentage of 7.6% was above league median in November. Their save percentage of 92.1% was actually below league median in the month. Though, when you're allowing as few shots and attempts as the Devils, it doesn't lead to as much damage as it could. Still, the Devils came up in the red in 5-on-5 goal differential with a -3: 17 goals scored, 20 allowed.
At Power Play Situations: The Devils' power play did come through but not nearly as hot as they were in October. In November, their shooting percentage was only 13.1%. As a result, they only scored eight power play goals. The good news is that they only conceded one shorthanded goal - and that was off an error by Schneider more than anything else. With fewer conversions, the Devils did see a rise in their shots for per sixty minute rate to 56.6. That ranked fourteenth in the league when I took these numbers. It means the Devils did indeed have some situations where they did generate offense, even though it's easy to forget when the Devils struggle to make a clean zone entry when up a man at times. I think most would prefer the conversions, though.
At Penalty Kill Situations: The penalty kill absolutely shined in November. In non-empty net situations, the Devils only gave up three power play goals and scored one shorthanded goal. If we add empty nets, then it's four by my count. The three goals allowed was the fewest in the NHL and four with empty net situations would be down there as well. The team's save percentage was 94.7%, which was also the best in the league in this past month. It wasn't just Schneider and Kinkaid standing on their heads, although there were several situations where that was the case. The Devils' PK units have contributed a shots against per sixty minute rate of 45.1, which was the ninth lowest in the NHL in that month. While the power play took a step back, the Devils' PK performances have driven this half of special teams to have one of the best success rates in the league as of this writing.
Additions and Subtractions
There weren't too many changes to the roster. From an injury standpoint, forward Jiri Tlusty has had issues with his shoulder throughout the month. He'd get some days off, tried to play through it, but never really got back into any kind of form. I think it's contributed to some of the struggles he has been having. He's now currently on injured reserve. Defenseman David Schlemko has missed the end of the month with a lower body injury and witnessing the birth of a child. He should be back in the lineup soon enough. With the Devils carrying extra forwards and defensemen, no one had to be called up in light of these developments.
The Devils did bring back two people in November. The first is Tyler Kennedy. He was brought back into the organization on a professional tryout in the middle of November. He left training camp early due to personal issues and was not signed. He returned, practiced with the team, and by the home-and-home with Montreal, he was signed. Per the team's official website (video link), he signed a one-year, two-way deal. He's been a depth winger in the two games he's played so far. The second carries more importance to the franchise than Kennedy: Patrik Elias. After missing all of preseason and most of the first two months with a knee injury, Elias returned to the ice in the Columbus game. He started on a third line in his first two games, though he moved up a bit in the last game against Montreal. He has put up a deflection goal and a secondary assist already, so he may be getting into form. To make room for both, Brian O'Neill and Stefan Matteau have given way on the roster.
Once Tuomo Ruutu - remember him? - or Tlusty gets healthy, the Devils will have to make a hard decision on their roster to keep who they want. We will see what will be in the coming month, though.
Devil of the Month
Last month, I gave this designation to Mike Cammalleri. He would be a worthy recipient in November. As of this writing, he's 15th in the entire league with seven goals and sixteen assists. Four of those goals and eight of those assists came in November. His line with Henrique and Lee Stempniak has been the team's most productive and their best in possession. When that line suffers - and they had their rough patches in November - the team suffers greatly up front. Consider him to be an honorable mention.
For this month, I have to give the nod to goaltender Cory Schneider. Look at this past month and notice all of the close scores. Eight of the twelve games were decided by a goal and only once did the Devils concede more than three in a game. The one game they did featured Kinkaid, not Schneider - not that it was his fault. Per War on Ice, his even strength save percentage for the month was 93.58%, the eighth best among goalies who played at least 300 minutes in November. His save percentage in all situations was 93.52%, the seventh best among all of those goalies as well. Furthermore, night in and night out, Schneider has been superlative. His worst game was the 2-3 loss to Calgary where he posted a 90% save percentage. His nine other starts were at least 92%. With a defense that gave up a higher rate of shots in this month and an offense that clicked but only sometimes, Schneider gave the Devils more chances to get results than otherwise possible. Therefore, as much as I enjoyed Cammalleri in November, I will name Schneider the AATJ November 2015 Devil of the Month.
Let's go back to the image of the half-full, half-empty container from the beginning of this very post.
The optimist or the idealist tends to see it as half-full. Such a person would look at a 6-5-1 record and marvel at how the Devils are just right outside of a playoff spot right now. They would exalt the facts that they beat the defending Stanley Cup Champions twice. They beat Vancouver twice in games loaded with penalties and whistles. They took three out of four points against the best team in the East right now, the Montreal Canadiens. And the Devils absolutely wrecked the Penguins in a game that showed off how good they can be when everything works out. OK, some of the underlying numbers aren't so hot, but it's a results-oriented business and they're right there. Patrik Elias getting into form could bolster the top two lines, which will help keep driving the offense. With a December schedule not featuring some of the best teams in the league, it's possible the Devils enter 2016 in a similar or better spot.
The pessimist or the realist tends to see it as half-empty. The Devils did put up a winning record and beat some very good teams. They also dropped games against the Islanders and Blue Jackets, both divisional games where better results would have the Devils in a better spot right now. The Devils had three games against teams well below them in the standings - Calgary, Edmonton, Columbus - and lost them all with the Oilers loss being an especially bad one. While they beat Chicago twice, they got outplayed in the second game and it could have ended up as ugly as the 0-2 loss to St. Louis that seems to be forgotten. While they beat Vancouver twice, they have Vancouver's poor power play to thank as the Devils took thirteen calls and only paid for it on a last-second bounce. While the Devils took three out of four in a home-and-home with Montreal, Montreal also took three out of four against the Devils so it's not like that's a massive feat. Overall, the underlying numbers aren't so good and with the Devils coming out on the wrong end of low-event hockey games, there's a real concern that a drop in play from the top two lines - which we've seen - or Schneider - or worse, he gets hurt - just undoes this team. The opponents on paper may be easier in December, but the Devils are closer to the bottom of the Metropolitan as they are from the top. A 6-5-1 month doesn't change the needle on the proverbial gauge that much.
Where do I stand? I'm just enjoying the games one at a time. What do you think? How do you see the container that was November 2015 for the New Jersey Devils? Was it a good month considering who they beat and how? Was it a less than successful month, given the record and how the team performed in general? Who would you say was the most important Devil of the month? Would you agree it was Schneider and if not, who then (and why)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this past month of games in the comments. Thank you for reading.