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Devils Bucking Early Season Trends

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The new NHL season has brought with it a somewhat different style of hockey as compared to seasons past. Goals are up throughout the league as teams are playing some high scoring games. The Devils, however, are still sticking to their suppressive ways, for better or worse.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Boston Bruins Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, there have been some trends in the NHL that have been somewhat different from years past. On the broadcast Thursday night, Ken Daneyko and Steve Cangialosi were discussing some of these trends, specifically that goals per game have gone up throughout the NHL…except when it came to New Jersey Devils games.

According to Hockey Reference, here are the league-wide averages prior to last night’s games, as compared with the Devils averages so far:

Category

League Average

Devils

Goals For

12

6

Goals Against

12

8

Total Goals per Game (both teams)

6.10

3.50

Shooting %

10.3%

5.2%

Save %

.902

.938

So as you can see, every single statistic is considerably different when it comes to our favorite team. First, before getting to the areas that the Devils suppress, let’s take a quick look at the one statistic where the Devils are considerably above league average. Let’s just say that Cory Schneider is a beast. The Devils have a .938 save percentage in all situations, and over 4 games, that has all been Schneider. He was the reason that the Devils were in it for a good long while last season, and he will be the reason that the team is competitive this season. His career average is lower than that, .927, but even if he regresses to the mean somewhat, he will almost undoubtedly remain above the league average by a decent margin. .902 is low for league averages recently, as the last two years the league average was .915 and the year before that it was .914. Even if the league reaches that average again, however, Schneider will be definitively above it. He is the man.

Now, getting the major positives out of the way (sadly, there haven’t been many true positives these last few years), in every other statistic the Devils are once again playing at their suppression game. The other positive would be goals against, but that is not something that should be discussed in a vacuum as it relates to the other stats. To start this season, it seems that more teams have been playing an open style of hockey, at least to the point where more goals are being scored on a nightly basis, at the cost of save percentage. The average shots for per game is at 120 so far, with the average games played being at 4. That means the average team is taking 30 shots per game, which is not a low number. Teams are more focused on offense, on getting the puck on net, and good things are happening for them in terms of scoring.

This, however, has come at the cost of defense and goal prevention. The league average this season is quite high at 6.10 total goals per game (both teams in a game included). Last year it was at 5.42, over a half goal less per game. Since the Devils won their first Stanley Cup in 1995, there have only been two seasons total where the average was higher than 6.10 total goals per game: the 1995-96 season when it was 6.28, and the 2005-06 season when it was 6.16. That tells you just how torrid the offensive pace has been in the NHL so far. Of course, I would not expect this number to remain the entire season, but that is what has happened so far.

The Devils, however, decided that they did not quite want to rid themselves of their iconic suppression game. Their 3.50 total goals per game are lowest in the league, and it is not even close. The next lowest team, Vancouver , is at 4.00, then Washington is at 4.25, then both Anaheim and St. Louis are at 4.80. Those are the only teams who have a TG/G average under 5.0. New Jersey is a half game lower than the next lowest team, and a full 2.60 goals lower than the league average. Again, the season almost certainly will not end with a separation that high, but I am just trying to point out early season trends, and boy the Devils are bucking them.

The positive to this suppression, as I mentioned before, is goals against. The Devils have only allowed 8 goals over 4 games, which is exceptional. Only 3 teams have been better: Montreal (7), Washington and Vancouver (both at 6). That is compared with the league average of 12 goals against and the worst team in the league, Calgary, which has already surrendered 21 goals through 5 games. Allowing only 2 goals per game will keep New Jersey in every single game that they play, hands down. If that average played itself out over 82 games (it won’t), there would be virtually zero games where the Devils would be out of a game in the third period.

The negatives, however, are everything else. Despite the changes to the forward corps, the Devils simply cannot score, especially at even strength. Through 4 games, our favorite team has a grand total of 3 even strength goals. Yes, 3. Columbus and Nashville do have less, but Nashville has only played 3 games, and Columbus only 2. That is anemic offense from a team that was supposed to have improved just by personnel alone. Yes Taylor Hall has made his mark, providing the Devils with their lone win so far, and Kyle Palmieri does have two goals as well, but where is anyone else? The team’s suppression-style of play still hinders this offense. It may not be the major factor, as Devils teams in the past have managed to score despite being here, but it certainly does not help the offensive production any.

Now there is a potential saving grace, and I did add it to the chart above to showcase it. The Devils have not had luck yet in terms of shooting percentage. 5.2% is the lowest in the league, and once again it is not even close. Anaheim and Pittsburgh are next on the list, at 6.8%. Then comes Nashville at 7.7% and then Washington at 8.0%. So the Devils are 2.8% lower than the 27th ranked team, and are almost at half as much as the league average. That will almost indisputably improve, as shooting percentage has too much luck riding behind it, and most teams inevitably end up somewhere near the mean. The Devils may remain lower than league average throughout the season, but it still should improve somewhat, which in turn would ultimately improve their scoring abilities. Scoring abilities that are desperately needed.

Conclusion

Yes 4 games is a small sample size, but today I just wanted to showcase some trends in the early hours of this NHL season, trends that the Devils so far are bucking. Teams have come out fast and loose this year, putting a strong emphasis on scoring, and the numbers tell this tale. 6.10 total goals per game is a very large average, one not regularly seen in this league for over 20 years. The Devils, however, decided they did not want to follow along and instead are playing their suppression style of hockey. There are positives to this, like a very strong goals against average that keeps them in almost every single game, but the major negative is still that they cannot score at the level that they want to. While the league is out there putting on clinics when it comes to finding twine, the Devils are putting on clinics about how to prevent as many goals as possible, both for themselves and their opponents.