On the surface, my actual statement in the title is not one hundred percent accurate, and the reason is that the New Jersey Devils have one of the better penalty kill units in the league, ranking 8th in the NHL with a PK% of 82.7%. However, the more opportunities you give the opposition on the man advantage, the more likely it is that they will eventually score. Furthermore, the more time you spend on the penalty kill, the less time you will have to attack and score goals. And for a team that does not get many attempts at all (fewest in the league at both 5 on 5 and in all situations), the Devils need all the time that they can get to throw attempts on net and produce points.
The reason that I bring all of this up is that New Jersey is currently not that disciplined of a team, at least in regards to penalties. The Devils have taken 124 minor penalties up to this point, which ties them for 7th most in the NHL. Buffalo, the least penalized team, has taken only 83 minor penalties, 41 less. That is an extra 82 minutes that that the Devils have had to spend on the penalty kill that Buffalo has not, and that is assuming that all of those minor penalties are of the two minute variety and not the four.
The question I had coming into this article was what sort of penalties the Devils are generally taking. Are their sins due to a lack of speed and quickness which leads to penalties such as hooking and tripping (which would negate the whole ‘fast' part of fast, attacking, and supportive)? Or, are they due to aggression, which would lead to penalties such as boarding or roughing (which I guess would confirm the ‘attacking' bit, although in an unintended manner for sure)?
Here is the list of minor penalties the Devils have taken, broken down by type:
Types of Penalties:
Hooking - 27
Tripping - 19
Interference - 19
Goaltender Interference - 0
Holding - 8
Holding the Stick - 0
Roughing - 17
Slashing - 8
High Sticking - 12
Cross Checking - 4
Bench Minor - 2
I think it is clear that the majority of the penalties that this team takes are related to being out of position or simply being too slow. 27 hooking calls, 19 tripping calls, 19 interference calls, and another 8 holding calls equals 73 penalties that more than likely come from being beaten and needing to compensate for it. Some of course are more incidental and may happen because of other reasons, but the main reason to commit one of those penalties is to make up for speed or bad positioning. That is not very good.
According to NHL.com, the Devils have 361 penalty minutes through 32 games, which is 7th worst in the league. Carolina, who has the least amount, has only 206 PIMs, 155 less. Conversely, the Devils are only 43 PIMs away from being 2nd worst in the league (Columbus, who has the most, is far and away above the rest with 434).
Those numbers can be a little difficult to grasp, as they account for the entire season as opposed to a single game, which can be much easier to comprehend. In terms of PIMs per game, the Devils take 11:16 minutes of penalties per game. This is 8th worst in the league. Carolina, still the best in this category as well, only takes 6:38 of penalties per game. That is around 4 and a half minutes of penalties less per game, or over 2 minor penalties. Now of course, some of that can be attributed to major penalties, and even fighting majors which count as 5 minutes of penalties despite not creating special teams situations. However, the Devils only have 5 more fighting majors than Carolina does, so that is only 25 minutes extra, which is not a whole lot when the difference between the two is at 155 minutes total.
What Does It All Mean?
Well, I think the point is simple: the Devils need to become a more disciplined team. They have been lucky so far that they have a good penalty kill, but that is not an end all be all. Shorthanded time takes away from chances to push forward and generate offense, and as a team that does not produce that much offense to begin with, NJ cannot afford to lose so much time at 5 on 5 play.
The problem is that this has been an issue since the preseason. They were a penalty machine back before the games counted, and while they have not been as terrible since the start of the regular season, it is still an issue. Now I do not expect that they will all of a sudden become similar to Carolina and never take penalties, but I also believe that they can and should improve. Being in the bottom 10 in penalties is not a place that leads to much success. Just look at the other teams around them: here are the 10 teams with the most PIMs per game.
8. NJ Devils
10. Arizona Coyotes
Of those teams, only Boston, Nashville, and Ottawa currently sit in playoff positions (not including the Devils), while Anaheim, Columbus, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Arizona all have more losses than wins. Taking lots of penalties is clearly not a winning formula for most teams, and the Devils would benefit greatly from trying to get away from the penalty box.
In the end, I realize that this can be a difficult thing to change midseason, and it might not make a huge difference because the penalty kill has been fairly successful. However, for a team that is currently on the bubble, any sort of improvement could go a long way to maintaining that wild card position down the stretch. And as a Devils fan, I want nothing more than to watch competitive, meaningful hockey near the end of the season. Reducing penalties could help make that happen.
What are your thoughts on the penalty situation? Do you also feel that the Devils need to improve their penalty-taking situation? While watching, do you notice the Devils taking too many penalties game in and game out? How would you suggest the team improve in this regard? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.