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Leads are Everything to the Devils

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Some teams are never out of a game. You know that when you play them, you can never feel safe until the final horn sounds. Other teams are unbeatable once they hold a lead. The Devils fall more in the latter category. Leads for this team are huge.

Take that lead!
Take that lead!
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Before you call me Captain Obvious and note that leads are important to every single team, as without leads you cannot win games, let me explain.  As noted on this website many times, score effects mean a great deal.  It changes how the flow of the game will most likely go.  Teams that are leading, especially in the third period, will play more conservatively and defensively, while teams that are down will look to attack more and be aggressive, as they need to tie the game up.  While the New Jersey Devils do not always play like they are losing sometimes, this is generally an accurate statement.  Just look at the Ottawa game on Thursday night.  After a dominant first period, NJ just sat back and allowed themselves to be outshot by a considerable margin.  That was a textbook definition of score effects.

Where I am going with this is on the main NHL.com stats page, there is a section of the statistics page specifically devoted to how teams play when winning or losing.  It showcases a team's record and win percentage when they are up after 1 period, up after 2 periods, or conversely down after the first period or down after the second period.  The numbers really help to showcase how a team performs when leading in a game versus how they respond after taking an early deficit.

Of course, a team's win percentage will always be better when they are leading.  No team has a better win percentage when trailing after 2 periods as opposed to when they are leading after 2.  However, it is clear from the numbers that some teams have a much greater propensity to come back from deficits and steal some wins, while other teams really have almost no chance to turn a deficit into a victory.  Conversely, some teams are excellent at protecting leads, while other teams have let more leads slip away than they would like to admit.

When looking specifically at these numbers for the Devils, it is clear that they are a dominant team when they have the lead, but have considerable trouble coming back from any sort of deficit at all.  Here are the numbers as from the page linked above, with the top team and bottom team in each stat category added to showcase where the Devils fall.  These numbers were taken before last night's games:

Up After 1st Period

Team

Rank

Record

Win %

Washington Capitals

1

17-0-0

1.000

New Jersey Devils

3

11-1-0

.917

Arizona Coyotes

30

9-6-1

.563

Up After 2nd Period

Team

Rank

Record

Win %

Pittsburgh Penguins

1

17-0-0

1.000

New Jersey Devils

9

15-0-1

.938

Vancouver Canucks

30

11-1-6

.611

Down After 1st Period

Team

Rank

Record

Win %

Los Angeles Kings

1

5-5-0

.500

New Jersey Devils

23

2-12-2

.125

Columbus Blue Jackets

30

0-14-2

.000

Down After 2nd Period

Team

Rank

Record

Win %

Washington Capitals

1

5-4-1

.500

New Jersey Devils

16

3-17-2

.136

Winnipeg Jets

30

0-16-2

.000

So as you can see, the ranks and win percentages for the Devils when up after a period or 2 periods are considerably different then when trailing.  Of course, I added in the best and worst team in each category as well to showcase a point.  When up after 1, the worst team in the league, Arizona, still has a .563 win percentage, while the best team when down after 1, Los Angeles, only has a .500 win percentage.  Scoring first in this league is absolutely vital.  The Devils have yet to lose in regulation this season when scoring first, having a 16-0-3 record when scoring the first goal.  That is huge.

However, look at the numbers a little more closely to get just exactly how important a lead is for New Jersey in any situation.  When up after 1, the Devils have the 3rd best win percentage in the NHL at .917.  They win at least 9 out of every 10 games when leading after the first.  That number then jumps to .938 when leading after 2, although the team's ranking drops to 9th simply because they have not played as many games where they have had the lead after 2 periods as compared to other teams.  On the reverse, the Devils are 23rd in the league in win percentage when down after the 1st, at only .125.  The Devils barely win more than 1 in 10 when trailing after the first period.  Compare that to winning over 9 out of 10 when up after the first.  The difference there is night and day.

When down after 2, ironically enough, the Devils' win percentage jumps up a little more to .136 thanks to a couple crazy comebacks, that home game against Detroit coming to mind when they came back from down 0-2.  However, don't count on heroic comebacks like that often.  The numbers show it simply does not happen with any sort of regularity unless you are the insanely hot Washington Capitals.

What Does It Mean?

Well I think it is simple enough.  Getting a strong start to a hockey game is vital for the Devils.  The difference between being up 1-0 and down 0-1 in any game at any time is the difference between having an exceptional chance to win the game and having almost no shot at winning the game.  Another way to showcase it is looking at Cory Schneider's save percentages when winning or losing.  According to Puckalytics, Schneider has a .955 save percentage when up 1 goal at 5 on 5 play, and has a .947 save percentage when up 2+ goals at 5 on 5.  When down a goal, however, his save percentage drops to .939, and when down 2+ goals, it is at .938.  While all of those numbers are outstanding, you can see the difference.  With a lead, Schneider has a better save percentage, and much of that can undoubtedly be due to the fact that when leading, the Devils can play more defensively, protecting their lead.  And as shown by their 16-0-3 record when scoring first, the team is remarkably good at holding a lead.

In the end, this does not have a real effect on us the fans.  We will still watch and root for our team to win regardless if they are tied, winning, or losing.  However, as informed fans, it is good to know what we see.  And as is the case for our New Jersey Devils, you should root hard for them to score first and take the initial lead, as when it is the other way around, a defeat is very likely.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts on this info?  Do you think it is as important for the Devils to score first as I said above?  Or do you look at other factors as being more important to winning the game?  How do you think the Devils can improve their come-from-behind play?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.