This season, while the New Jersey Devils have not produced good hockey all that often, they have shown a tendency to play better at the Rock. Although the team has a rather atrocious 10-18-2 record on the road, they have a 13-8-7 record at home, which is much more reasonable. While that record still indicates more losses than wins (since overtime losses are still losses), it does show the Devils grabbing at least one point in 20 out of 28 home games. NJ has a .589 point percentage in Newark this year; if that was the team's point percentage overall, it would place them 13th in the league, ahead of the likes of Winnipeg, Los Angeles, San Jose, Calgary and Boston. Even though this would still have the Devils at 5th place in the Metropolitan Division, nonetheless the team would be fighting for a wild card in the Eastern Conference. So again, while 13-8-7 is far from excellent, it is enough to contend for a playoff spot if extrapolated over the entire season.
The question, then, is why have the Devils played so much better at home this year as opposed to on the road? While I would love to mention things like a boisterous, sold out home crowd on a nightly basis, anyone who has attended a game recently knows that this is not the case. There is a decent crowd most nights, but it is hard to argue against the fact that the arena is ripe for the taking by opposing fans if enough of them made the journey.
Therefore, I will instead look to other, statistical reasons. I will compare home vs. away splits for much of the roster, and I will also look at the schedule to determine which teams New Jersey has played on the road but not at home, and vice versa.
Strength of Schedule
First, before diving into numbers, I will look at who the Devils have played at home but have not played on the road, and vice versa. Since every team plays every team home and away in the NHL, this segment will become moot once the season ends. But perhaps now, the Devils have had an easier strength of schedule at home as compared to on the road. Scheduling information comes from the Devils' main website.
Teams Played at Home but Not Away
Teams Played Away but Not At Home
Teams Played More at Home
Teams Played More Away
I think this chart makes it pretty clear that the Devils have actually had a considerably harder schedule away than they have had at home so far. First, look at the left two columns. The Devils have played Columbus, Buffalo (twice), Colorado, and Minnesota at home without having yet played a game in their buildings. Those are easier opponents this year, at least given their records. Buffalo is the worst team in hockey, Columbus is as bad as New Jersey, and both Colorado and Minnesota are outside of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.
However, look at the teams that the Devils have had to play while on the road that they have not faced in Newark. They have played in Boston twice, in Nashville, Anaheim, Calgary, and Los Angeles. None of those teams have played in NJ yet. In terms of the literal standings, the worst team on that list is Boston, and they are still in wild card position in the East. Arguably, the worst team in this column is as good as the best team in the other column I just discussed. Then, you have Calgary who has been surprisingly good this year, and both Nashville and Anaheim who are two of the best teams in hockey. Those are really tough games. In fact, the Devils went 1-4-1 in those 6 road games, not a good record at all.
Also, there are teams in the Eastern Conference that the Devils have played both home and away; however, they have played some of those teams three times, meaning they have not played them equally both home and away. These teams fit into the right two columns. Again, the Devils have played harder teams on the road more than at home. NJ has faced the Islanders twice on Long Island, but only once at the Rock. Same thing with Detroit. Both of those teams are dynamite this year. At home, however, the Devils have hosted Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Toronto more times than they have played in each of their respective arenas. None of those teams are playoff bound.
In the end, I think that the schedule so far supports an argument that the Devils might have a better home record because their schedule at home has been much easier than it has been on the road. They have not had to play the likes of Boston, Nashville, Anaheim and others in Newark, while they have had to play them on the road. And those games generally led to disastrous results. Again, by the end of the season this mostly irons itself out, but as of now it helps to explain the rather large record gap between home and away games for the Devils.
Home vs. Away Splits
Another great way to delve into the home vs away disparity is to look at players' numbers when at home as compared to on the road. In the chart below, I will look at major stat splits for New Jersey players at home as opposed to away. This information will come courtesy of Hockey Reference. The cutoff line for this chart will be current players with at least 30 games played for New Jersey. Finally, these numbers were gathered before last night's game against Vancouver.
Marek Zidlicky: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 27 1 8 -3 20 51 2.0% 22:35
Road - 30 3 15 -5 16 41 7.3% 21:46
Adam Larsson: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 20 2 8 4 14 26 7.7% 20:26
Road - 19 0 4 -5 8 24 0% 18:55
Andy Greene: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 27 0 7 1 4 23 0% 23:58
Road - 30 0 5 -2 10 34 0% 23:09
Jon Merrill: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 23 1 5 5 8 17 5.9% 21:49
Road - 20 1 7 -12 10 11 9.1% 20:55
Dainius Zubrus: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 22 0 3 -2 18 14 0% 15:31
Road - 27 2 4 -5 16 31 6.5% 14:17
Martin Havlat: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 17 1 5 1 2 15 6.7% 15:52
Road - 20 4 9 -10 8 30 13.3% 13:56
Stephen Gionta: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 17 2 2 4 2 21 9.5% 11:39
Road - 22 1 4 0 4 25 4.0% 11:52
Adam Henrique: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 25 6 15 5 2 42 14.3% 18:37
Road - 25 5 14 -7 12 39 12.8% 17:00
Tuomo Ruutu: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 26 2 3 -1 4 24 8.3% 10:11
Road - 27 4 7 1 18 25 16% 12:08
Jacob Josefson: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 16 0 1 2 6 14 0% 10:46
Road - 21 3 5 2 6 21 14.3% 12:28
Michael Ryder: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 18 2 6 -2 14 35 5.7% 15:27
Road - 25 4 12 0 16 49 8.2% 14:19
Steve Bernier: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 19 3 7 6 4 22 13.6% 11:54
Road - 23 7 11 -5 2 36 19.4% 12:07
Travis Zajac: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 25 4 10 -4 6 41 9.8% 20:01
Road - 24 4 8 -4 10 30 13.3% 19:09
Jordin Tootoo: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 20 2 3 -2 33 11 18.2% 7:14
Road - 23 2 2 2 26 22 9.1% 8:26
Scott Gomez: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 18 2 8 2 4 24 8.3% 17:42
Road - 15 2 12 -10 2 17 11.8% 17:10
Eric Gelinas: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 14 2 2 -1 18 35 5.7% 16:47
Road - 23 2 10 0 8 45 4.4% 16:05
Mike Cammalleri: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 20 8 10 0 8 42 19% 18:24
Road - 25 10 15 -2 14 52 19.2% 18:35
Patrik Elias: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 24 7 15 0 2 51 13.7% 18:30
Road - 23 2 9 -15 2 26 7.7% 17:10
Damon Severson:GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 11 0 5 -2 2 29 0% 23:24
Road - 21 4 7 -2 14 45 8.9% 22:50
Jaromir Jagr: GP G PTS +/- PIM S S% ATOI
Home - 27 8 16 -3 18 57 14% 18:17
Road - 26 3 13 -7 24 55 5.5% 17:39
Cory Schneider: GP W L OT GA SA SV% GAA
Home - 22 10 7 5 41 601 .932 1.83
Road - 27 10 15 0 66 816 .919 2.67
Okay, so that was a boat load of numbers right there. For those of you who just scrolled through it because who wants to read numbers, I'll throw out some interesting finds right here. First, it is very obvious that the Devils as a whole are worse on the road by looking at their +/- differentials. Only Ruutu, Ryder, Tootoo and Gelinas have a better +/- on the road than they do at home, and none of them are significantly better away from the Rock. However, some players on this team have a sizeable gap between their +/- at home as opposed to away. Merrill is a +5 at home but a -12 away. Havlat is a +1 at home but a -10 away. Henrique is a +5 at home but a -7 away. Bernier is a +6 at home and a -5 away. Gomez is a +2 at home but a -10 away. And Elias is a 0 at home but a -15 away. Those are some major differences.
Amongst the skaters, the rest of the stats need to be looked at individually, as there are no major trends elsewhere, at least from a first glance. The lack of major trends, however, is interesting in itself. Some players are actually playing better on the road despite the team's worse record. Gelinas only has 2 points at home, but has 10 on the road thanks to 8 extra assists. Bernier has 4 extra goals on the road, to go along with a 6% improvement in his shooting percentage. Josefson has yet to score a goal at home, but has 3 on the road for a road shooting percentage of 14.3%. And Zidlicky has 15 points on the road with a 7.2% shooting percentage, but only 8 points at home with a miserable 2% shooting percentage.
The biggest factor in all of the numbers, however, has to be Cory Schneider. His numbers show a clear cut improvement at home. His 10-7-5 record at the Rock is not bad at all, especially considering the team he plays for. He has also faced over 200 less shots at home, and while playing 5 less games in Newark so far has something to do with that, 200 shots over 5 games equals 40 shots per game, which is more than what the Devils will usually allow. His .932 home save percentage is above his career average, and he also sports a pristine 1.83 GAA in New Jersey (and that is all without last night's win in Vancouver). On the road, however, his record is a not-so-good 10-15-0. His save percentage drops to .919, and his GAA shoots up to 2.67. Those are fairly major differences.
In the end, I do have to say that it is great that the Devils play better hockey at home. It is nice to see your team at least be a little more competitive when they are on your home ice. Why they are so much better at home, however, has to be attributed to a couple things. First, I do believe that the schedule up to this point has played a role. The Devils have had a very tough road schedule, but their home schedule so far has provided them with much more winnable games. This will change the rest of the way, when those teams that have not yet come to the Rock make their annual visit. But as of now, it certainly is worth noting.
The other major factor that has led to an improved home record for New Jersey has to be the play of Cory Schneider. His home statistics are definitively better than his road numbers. If his home numbers were his actual numbers for the entire season, he would have the 2nd best save percentage amongst active starters, ahead of Pekka Rinne and behind Carey Price. His goals against average would place him 1st amongst active starting goaltenders, ahead of Carey Price's 1.93. And at home, the Devils' point percentage when Schneider starts is .568. That would again have the Devils in playoff contention. While I am not blaming Schneider at all for the Devils' road woes, quite the opposite really, what I am saying is that when the Devils play at the Rock, Cory Schneider is usually excellent in net. And when your goalie is standing on his head, you tend to win games more often than not.
What is your take on the whole home vs road differential that the New Jersey Devils have shown this season? What do you believe are the main causes for the much better record at home? What can the Devils do differently to get their road record to look more like their home record? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.