As of Saturday, December 12, 2015, Mike Cammalleri remains a top-ten scorer in the NHL. Even if he puts up nothing on Sunday, he will still be a point-per-game player with 30 already logged. His 30 points mean he has contributed to 41.6% of all of New Jersey's goals (72). Without a doubt, he is the leading forward for the New Jersey Devils in terms of assists, points, and shots on net. We are not even near the halfway point of the season and Cammalleri has surpassed his assist totals from last season and he's twelve away from matching his production in 2014-15. He's on track to have his most productive season since 2008-09. His season so far has been, in a word, impressive.
With Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique out due to injuries, Cammalleri is more important than ever in the short term for the team's offense. C.J. recently wrote about him, wondering why he's not being given more attention. Consider this my contribution: a review of his first thirty points this season.
I've done this for a few players before like Ilya Kovalchuk (back in 2012: one, two, three among many) and David Clarkson (his goals). What I did then is what I did recently for Cammalleri. I went to NHL.com and watched video of every goal, primary assist, and secondary assist he has contributed this season. There are two main ideas behind this review. First, to see how many of those thirty points were intentional. Second, to identify any patterns in Cammalleri's production. For the goals, I recorded the shot and goal type, whether he scored from a scoring chance location (defined here at War on Ice), who assisted on them and if they were legit assists, and whether it was a fluke. For the assists, I recorded who he set up, the type of assist, whether it was a pass or not, and whether it was an intentional assist.
Let's get into it with the goals first. While you're seeing this today, I did my research and wrote this on Saturday so it doesn't include what he did against the Islanders yesterday. Therefore, he had eleven goals and nineteen assists - that was what was reviewed.
The good news is that Cammalleri really only has had one fluke goal so far this season. It was his first of the season. He took a shot, it got saved, and then the rebound hit a defender and trickled through the goalie. His other ten goals were legitimate shots on net that beat the goalie. No empty nets. No other odd deflections. That one fluke goal was his only unassisted goal as well. Cammalleri has finished feeds and plays for the other ten, so it's not like has gone into the scoring business all by himself.
What's more is where he has taken his goal-scoring shots. Eight of his eleven goals would be recorded as a scoring chance. This means that Cammalleri has been effective where a scorer should be: either in or around the slot on offense. Outside of that fluke "own goal" by Washington for his first, the other two non-scoring chance goals were no flukes. Cammalleri's second of the season was above the high slot; an excellent wrist shot off a drop pass by Travis Zajac. His second goal against Carolina was below the right dot; a sharp-angled one-timer to convert a power play. Those were two very good shots. Otherwise, the Devils need to make sure #13 gets into those dangerous parts of the ice because that's where most of his goals have come from.
Likewise, the Devils should be sure to allow him space for wrist shots. All ten goals Cammalleri has legitimatelyscored have been from wrist shots or one-timers. Four from his forehand, two from his backhand, and four where he took one-touch. Of those four one-touch goals, two were off rebounds of some sort and two were one-timers. I wouldn't go as far as to say he doesn't have a slapshot or won't deflect pucks, but he's been so productive so far with wristers and one-timers that suggests that is what he's best at. With 84 shots on net, he's generally doing that. Additionally, he's only beaten one goalie high. It was on his longest goal; the others have been at mid-range heights or low through or past goalies. If that wasn't enough, Cammalleri has been at his most productive goal-wise at even strength. He has eight 5-on-5 goals compared to two power play goals (one 5-on-4, one 6-on-4) and one 6-on-5 goal. Per C.J.'s post, Cammalleri has been quite effective at evens. It has shown in the goal category.
Who has benefited point-wise from Cammalleri's goals, other than the team in general? Again, ten of his eleven goals have had helpers. Here's a breakdown:
Curiously, it's not his usual linemates running away with it. Cammalleri has been playing with Lee Stempniak and Adam Henrique at even strength and on the power play for the most part this season. Yet, those two combine for only two assists each. Further, Henrique's assists were secondary assists and only of which was really intentional. Damon Severson is the leading assist-man for Cammalleri's strikes. He directly set up two and kept a puck in play that led to his lovely power play goal against Pittsburgh. Severson can thank #13 for making three of his ten points happen. Interestingly, Severson's common pairing has been with John Moore, who has only chipped in a secondary assist on a power play. The other helpers have come from teammates where he was on late or early for a shift or on goals that came just after a power play ended (this happened twice, I believe). Only four of these in total weren't really intentional (e.g. Tootoo's primary appeared to hit off a Penguin stick before finding Cammalleri in the slot all alone), so it's not like the helpers have been driven by fortune. The good news is that Cammalleri has received help from more than just his common linemates. The hope is that with further games with #20 and #14, whenever he's back, they'll be more involved.
Lastly, as a really subjective point, Cammalleri has scored several pretty goals already. It's hard to pick a favorite. His one shot that beat a goalie high - against Arizona on October 20 - was just lovely in its placement. His goal against Pittsburgh showed off his hands. I loved how he just went around Ryan Miller on an odd man rush and coolly backhanded it into the empty net. His goals against Carolina were just very good shots. If I had to pick a favorite - and I'm allowed to change my mind - then I'd make it his fourth of the season against Chicago on December 6. It snapped a four-game pointless streak for Cammalleri. It really put the game out of reach for the visitors and it was just an excellent shot off a feed by Severson:
Of course, goals only tell a little more than a third of the story of Cammalleri's production. Cammalleri has racked up nineteen assists, which places him just outside of the top ten in the NHL as of this writing. Assists are a bit more problematic. Players can get credit for them even if they just touch a puck by accident or by intending to do something else on a scoring play. Secondary assists have been notoriously unrepeatable, as explained by Eric T at Broad Street Hockey. It was his reasoning to drop them entirely and others analytic-minded fellows online, like Micah Blake McCurdy, have agreed (example, he called it "noise"). I don't know if I'm one of those analytic-minded fellows, but I am not as convinced if only because a lack of repeatability doesn't mean the assist didn't happen. Not a skill? Sure. Not worth counting? I can't go for that. So as with past reviews, I'm not going to ignore what the NHL has continued to count as an assist. Besides, that's why I like doing reviews like this one: to see what points were intentional and were not.
In any case, Cammalleri does not have too many of those problematic secondary assists. He's only had five so far. Here's a quick overview from what I recorded:
|Assist #||Date||Assist To||Goal By||Type||Pass?||Situation||Intentional?|
All of these have been on extra-man situations. One was when the Devils pulled the goalie to tie it up in Ottawa on 10/22. The only 5-on-5 one came seconds after a power play ended; hence, the feed to Patrik Elias, which led to a score by Kyle Palmieri. That one was a cross-ice pass. The one secondary assist prior was an entry pass to Stempniak, who later fed Jordin Tootoo in front for a PPG. The other three were all passes to a teammate behind him in the offensive zone. In any case, all five passes were legitimate, intentional passes to the eventual primary assister on the scoring play. I'm sure Cammalleri will find his way to get a few more as the season rolls. For now, we cannot say he got an unearned secondary assist or he got one on a play he wasn't involved in. Unless you disregard secondary assists entirely and without even looking at them.
Let's spend more time with the fourteen primary assists Cammalleri does have. Here's another chart:
|Assist #||Date||Assist To?||Type||Pass?||Situation||Intentional?|
|6||11/08/15||Palmieri||Fake Shot Pass||Yes||4-on-3||Yes|
Ten of Cammalleri's assists were in 5-on-5 situations with the other four happening on power plays. Four were not intentional and those four came in 5-on-5 situations. Allow me to go into more detail for those.
Three of them were rebounds. I wavered on two of them being intentional as it looked to me that Cammalleri shot for a rebound that Adam Henrique would put home. It depends on whether you think a rebound creates a goal or not. If you do, then mentally change assists #3 and #4 in this chart to "Yes" under the Intentional? column. The third rebound was on a play where Cammalleri intended to score - not set one up - and was denied by a fallen Penguin on the goal line; Schlemko cleaned that one up. I wouldn't call that one a rebound that created a goal based on how it happened. The first one was definitely not intentional. Cammalleri got a puck away from a defender and Henrique just swooped in and took it away from him. Just one touch and then #14 took it, skated in, put a close shot on net, and then put home his own rebound. Of all of the unintentional assists, that one was the most unintentional from what I saw. Still, I'm not going to just ignore those four happening like some would ignore five legitimate secondary assists. Most of his primaries were intentional anyway. What this means is that it's reasonable to think Cammalleri will keep getting assists as he's making successful plays. It's equally reasonable to think he's good at it.
Adding to that notion that Cammalleri is a good playmaker is the variety of primary assists he has so far. Among his fourteen primary assists, three were passes towards the center of the zone, two were across the offensive zone beyond the center portion, two were to the back end, one was made forward, one came off a zone exit (you know this as Jacob Josefson's only goal this season), and one was from a faked shot. It's not as if Cammalleri is relying on one or two types to build up his assists. It speaks to how Cammalleri can make plays on the ice in multiple ways based on the run of play. And this is just among primary assists; it's a stronger notion when you add in his five secondary assists that completely happened no matter who tells you otherwise.
As far as who he has helped, Henrique has received the most direct help from Cammalleri. Five of his thirteen goals have come with primary assists by #13. Stempniak is right behind him with three of his seven goals including a primary assist by Cammalleri and another one including a secondary assist by Cammalleri. Whereas #20 and #14 haven't assisted on most of Cammalleri's goals, Cammalleri has provided more help. It's a trio that has functioned well together and, again, in time the balance of assists to goals may shift. It's all leading to scores for the Devils so it's all good either way. Others should be thankful; namely David Schlemko for his two only goals of the season. While Jiri Tlusty's goal wasn't exactly scored by him, he, Andy Greene, Palmieri, and Josefson should be gracious for Cammalleri as Cammalleri should be gracious to them. Again, production floats many boats.
Lastly, I do have a favorite assist. Like the goals, there was plenty of choices because Cammalleri has had many aesthetically-good passes get finished. I've chosen his second assist in the Devils' win against Buffalo. Cammalleri made a great pass to Schlemko for his first of the season and with the team. It also gave New Jersey their first lead of the game that night. So it wasn't just a milestone goal for a player (first with a franchise), but it was an important play within the context of that evening. It was about this time where I started noticing that he was picking up many points. Little did I know they would keep coming in groups:
The larger takeaway from this is that Cammalleri may have enjoyed good fortune this season, but his thirty points are mostly legitimate. He has not been propped up from generous scorers giving him assists he shouldn't have. He only has one fluke goal, a handful of unintentional assists, and that's it. Nothing easy like an empty net. Nothing easy like getting carried by another player to get points. He's earned most of his points in even strength situations, though he has been productive on a power play that is largely driven by himself, Palmieri, Stempniak, and Zajac. Cammalleri has been a legitimate scorer for the Devils and he has earned his spot to be among point leaders in the league right now.
There are a few factors that could undo Cammalleri's production. Namely, injuries. Right now, the Devils are without Zajac and Henrique. Henrique's absence can be a big one if he's out for an extended length of time as Cammalleri has been involved with his production as well. With Zajac out, opposing teams will be forced to target Cammalleri more as the team is weaker at forward. Who else should they match up against? Who else can take on a tough match-up if you're John Hynes, but a line including Cammalleri? Further injuries up front will only exacerbate that. It's also a concern I have for Cammalleri. Look at his season-by-season career numbers and focus on the games played.The last time he played most of the season was in a lockout-shortened 2013 campaign where he played 44 out of 48. Other than that, he's either missed significant time or around 14-19 games. Last season, he made 68 appearances. Cammalleri has been healthy so far, but I'm skeptical about thinking the 33-year old will be able to play at 75 games, much less all 82. If he can do it and most of his productive teammates aren't out for long, then he'll have a great chance to really surpass the 42 points he earned last season.
The other factor is bad fortune. Lady Luck is cruel and doesn't care what you think. It's not like Cammalleri has scored entirely on rebounds, deflections, or flukes. And his assists haven't been on any plays that were fluke goals either. Still, Cammalleri's production this season has come in bunches. Look at his game log. He'll have a couple points in two, three games and then go pointless for a few in a row. Nine of his twenty-nine games were multi-point nights, but thirteen of them were pointless. An extended slump isn't entirely out of the question, especially if his productive teammates aren't active or also hit a slump. The good news is that he didn't change his game or question himself when he went two to four games without a point. The points eventually came as he kept shooting and making passes. I'd like to think that it'll continue, but it's a big reason why the hope should be for 50-60 points instead of the 84 he's currently on track for.
That all said, Devils fans have every right to be happy with what Mike Cammalleri has done so far this season. Fans of other teams should at least respect what he's done. The goals have been almost entirely real goals from real shots. The majority of his nineteen assists have come from real, intentional passes. He's helped Henrique and Stempniak achieve a good proportion of their goals so far this season and he's helped others in 5-on-5 and extra man situations (power plays, pulled goalie). He's been one of the most productive forwards in the league so far. We can only hope he can keep it up, as the Devils' offense has been driven heavily by Cammalleri.
What do you make of this review for Cammalleri? Are you hoping he'll get another thirty (or more) points for a follow-up review? What are your expectations for Cammalleri's production this season and have they changed with his current production so far? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Cammalleri and/or this post in the comments. Thank you for reading.