As the New Jersey Devils exceeded expectations last season and the team acquired Taylor Hall, there was good reason to be excited for the 2016-17 season. Perhaps not enough for the playoffs, but enough to finish around where they did last season. One month in and the Devils are in the upper half of the Metropolitan Division with a winning record of 4-2-2. So far, so good. Let’s review the month that was before a busier and road-heavy November schedule begins (only four games at the Rock).
The Games in October - A Summary
The New Jersey Devils finished off preseason against Florida at West Point, NY. Less than a week later, they began their regular season in Sunrise, Florida to play the Panthers. The team’s first goal was scored by late-offseason waiver-wire pickup P.A. Parenteau, who deflected in a shot by Yohann Auvitu, who made his NHL debut in the team’s first game. However, the Devils basically leaned on Cory Schneider to drag the game into overtime and a busted play yielded a 1-2 loss to the Panthers. Two nights later, the Devils traveled to Tampa Bay to play the Lightning. The start was much better with first period goals by Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac. But the Lightning clawed their way back into the game, took a 2-3 lead in the third, and the Devils could not legally tie it up. They suffered their first regulation loss in Tampa.
Fortunately for the Devils, it would not be long before their first regulation win of the season. Against Anaheim, the Devils looked like the superior team on the puck at times in 5-on-5. But it was on the power play where they would do their damage. Taylor Hall would strike twice with two PPGs - and nearly got a third. They held on to win 2-1 for the team’s first win. Two nights later, the Devils went to Boston where the Bruins quickly showed that they were better on and off the puck than Anaheim. Strong play by both goalies kept the score even at zero through two periods. While Palmieri re-directed a shot for the game’s first goal, Boston hit back hard. With a well-placed equalizer and a killer one-timer within the final two minutes, the Devils went back home with a tough 1-2 loss that wasn’t as close on the ice as the score would suggest. On Saturday, the Devils dedicated “The Salute,” the statue of Martin Brodeur outside of the team’s practice rink before playing Minnesota. The Wild got on the board first with a pop-up goal off a rebound. Just as it looked like the Devils would struggle to get one - Parenteau would take a shot that found its way to tie it up in the third. Overtime was necessary and Hall became the hero. He intercepted a pass on defense, darted up into Minnesota’s end, dropped the puck for Adam Henrique and criss-crossed with #14, and no one on the Wild followed Hall. Pass, shot, score, and the Devils won 2-1.
The win over Minnesota kicked off a four-game homestand that would close out the month of October. Tuesday night saw Arizona come to town. While the Coyotes struck first, the Devils answered back with two goals by Hall and a shot by Reid Boucher that hit off Henrique’s leg and into the net. The Coyotes made it interesting by tying up the game in the third with an even strength goal and power play goal by Oliver Ekman-Larsson - both shots from distance through traffic. But the Devils avoided the comeback loss when Travis Zajac took a cross-ice pass from Hall and slid in a low shot through the goalie’s a five-hole to convert a late power play. A fortunate bounce off a clearance with Arizona’s net empty allowed Zajac to seal the game with an ENG. The offensive explosion was in New Jersey’s favor in a 5-3 win. On Friday night, the Devils hosted Chicago and played them rather well in the first two periods. Unfortunately, Corey Crawford was on his game and kept the Devils to only one goal. And Artemi Panarin converted a second period power play to make it 1-1. While John Moore made it 2-1 early in the third, the Devils saw their offense fade and just looked to hold against the power of Chicago. That did not work as Marian Hossa converted a third period power play to make it 2-2. In overtime, the Devils were pinned back, couldn’t make a change, and eventually Anisimov piled in a rebound past Keith Kinkaid - his first start to the season - to make it a 2-3 overtime loss. The Devils had to bounce back the next night against Tampa Bay. At the Rock, the Devils went up 2-0 in the first period thanks to goals by Henrique and Damon Severson. Unlike the NJ-TB game earlier in the month, the Devils scored a third goal when Devante Smith-Pelly re-directed a pass into the net. The Devils were buzzing late in the second and nearly scored a fourth. The third period was analgous to the third period against Chicago in that the Lightning controlled most of the play. But while one goal was given up, no others would be allowed by Cory Schneider. The Devils beat Tampa Bay 3-1 to end the home-stand with a 3-0-1 record and the month with a 4-2-2 record.
So far, so good for the Devils.
By the Numbers
At 5-on-5: According to Corsica before the games on October 30, the New Jersey Devils are 25th in the NHL with a Corsi For% of 47.11%. Their CF/60 is 47.42, which was not the worst in the NHL - it’s 28th. That’s a relief in of itself as the Devils were dead last in this category and by a lot last season. Their CA/60 was 53.25, which is the 20th highest in the NHL (lower is better). When including score, zone, and venue adjustments, the Devils’ CF% improved to 49.31%, which rates 19th in the league. Their CF/60 It’s only eight games, but these early indications suggest that the 2016-17 season will not be as bad last season. More impressively is their shots for percentage. It’s actually positive at 50.8% - eleventh in the NHL - without adjustment. While the team’s SA/60 (30.78) is above 30, their SF/60 (31.78) is higher. That’s encouraging in that those additional attempts the Devils aren’t getting and/or are giving up aren’t on target.
In terms of actual production, it’s low in both directions. The team scored only ten 5-on-5 goals and shot at 5.24%, which was the second lowest shooting percentage in the NHL in October. The Devils had an awful ten-period streak without an even strength goal. But Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid did very well to keep games close. They succeeded. They allowed only ten 5-on-5 goals and they had the fourth best 5-on-5 save percentage at 94.59%. The Devils played all of two games where the final score wasn’t separated by one goal; and they won both of them, 5-3 against Arizona and 3-1 against Tampa Bay. Should the Devils continue to keep shooting as they have been, the 5-on-5 goals will come.
In Power Play Situations: According to NHL.com, the Devils scored six power play goals on twenty-six opportunities for a success rate of 23.1%. The apex of the power play performance was their 10/22 game against Minnesota, where both power play goals scored won them the game. Prior to Sunday’s games, that ranked twelfth in the league. According to Corsica, their 5-on-4 shooting rate (SF/60) is only 45.11, the 20th highest rate in the league. That’s not a great rate but it is not one of the worst ones. On a more positive, the Devils have been succeeding really well with their shots. Their shooting percentage in 5-on-4 situations in October was 17.34%, the ninth best in the NHL. I would expect that to come down somewhat in the coming months. At the same time, I would hope the Devils manage to generate more shots on their power plays.
In Penalty Kill Situations: According to NHL.com, the Devils had twenty-nine shorthanded situations and allowed only four goals. That yielded a success rate of 86.2%, which finished seventh after their last game of the month on October 29th. They were perfect for the first two games (six situations), before Anaheim broke it the early streak. The worst game for the PK was the 10/28 game against Chicago where they killed three out of five situations. According to Corsica, their 4-on-5 SA/60 rate was the third lowest in the NHL at 40.65. That’s excellent work. The goalies have been superb as well with a team 4-on-5 save percentage of 92.68% - the fifth best in the NHL. Will these numbers last? Maybe, maybe not. But this points to the Devils’ penalty kill performing well despite losing some key PK personnel in this offseason.
Additions & Subtractions
As October began with the everyone in preseason, there were some surprises with the roster. The Devils signed defenseman Kyle Quincey right before October and they picked up P.A. Parenteau off waivers on October 11. Both have been regulars and have made plenty of contributions (good and bad) in the first eight games this season. Blake Speers, Miles Wood, and Steve Santini made the active roster while Jon Merrill, Luke Gazdic, and Sergey Kalinin were placed on injured reserve for various issues. Speers and Wood would make appearances for New Jersey while Santini remained scratched before all three would demoted to Albany (Wood, Santini) or juniors (Speers). Kalinin would return later in the month and appeared in the last four games. Merrill and Gazdic remain the only ones out with injury.
Lackluster performances from Wood, Speers, Reid Boucher, and Jacob Josefson drove New Jersey - among others to have the lineup changed around. They called up Nick Lappin for the back-to-back set to close out the month. Lappin made his NHL debut against Chicago and earned his first NHL point against in the second game against Tampa Bay this month.
Devil of the Month
There were plenty of positives in a winning month. Yohann Auvitu has been good. So has Travis Zajac. Damon Severson has shown improvement as the month went on, really fitting in nicely alongside Andy Greene on the team’s top defensive pairing. However, in my mind, there were two Devils that really stood out among the rest. One is old, one is new.
The old one is Cory Schneider. In a month where all of the final scores except for two wins were decided by one goal, the goaltender clearly did his job keeping the game close. Schneider was sensational from the first game of the season and onward. In seven games, he conceded a total of only thirteen goals: two on the power play and eleven at even strength per NHL.com. Schneider finished October with an even strength save percentage of 94% and an overall save percentage of 94.1%. No disrespect to Kinkaid; he did well in his one appearance. But without Schneider, we’re not discussing a 4-2-2 record for the Devils.
The new one is the big star: Taylor Hall. It took a bit of time for him to get going on the scoresheet. But it was apparent in the first game of the season that Hall moved just a bit faster, his control of the puck was stronger, and he was more confident on the ice at going forward. Hall would get going, and he got going. Hall finished the month with five goals, two assists, and 31 shots on net to lead the team in goals, points, and shots. The 31 shots impress me the most; that’s an average of nearly four shots on goal per game. When was the last Devil to have done that for a month? According to Corsica, Hall leads the team in individual Corsi (shot attempts he took) with 31 in 5-on-5 play and leads the second best Devil by ten (Michael Cammalleri and Auvitu tied with 21). Hall also has the highest expected goals for per 60 minutes on the team with 2.45 and the second highest expected goals for of 4.80. The point is that Hall has led the offense in so many ways. Tack on the fact that his goals mattered. The first two were the only goals New Jersey scored in their win over Anaheim. His play in overtime secured a win over Minnesota. His two goals against Arizona were answered, but provided the base - and the pass for the game winner by Zajac - for a 5-3 win. Hall has been a source for much of the excitement surrounding the 2016-17 Devils and he has justified it with his play in October.
Schneider was crucial. But so was Hall. It’s a tough decision. Hall was the team’s most impressive skater. Schneider was very good to down right great for all seven games he appeared in. When the Devils had an awful scoreless streak at even strength in the middle of the month, Schneider was there. When the Devils needed to hold onto a one goal lead or keep the game close as they tried to tie it up, Schneider was there. When the Devils took a third period penalty and needed a penalty kill, Schneider did his best to keep the puck out - as he did in his appearances. Hall did great and I’m really pleased with what I saw from him. But to me, the consistent excellence means that I should name Cory Schneider the October 2016 All About the Jersey Devil of the Month.
I’m pleased with how the month went. While the team showed to be a low scoring team with some issues at moving the puck, there are plenty of encouraging signs and numbers that means this won’t be as bad as last season. The CF% and CF/60 are near the bottom at the league but not at the bottom. The team shot at a rate of over 30 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. The team’s shooting percentage was low at 5-on-5 and so we could see a rise in coming months. There’s a man named Hall who’s actually averaging close to four shots per game. The Devils offense was expected to be better and it might be in time. While concerns about the defense were and are real, the Devils aren’t getting wrecked. And when the defense does fall apart, Schneider has been more than good enough to make up for it. As tense as most of the games were - six were decided by one goal and three went to overtime - it also meant the Devils were able to be competitive for the most part. That’s a positive in of itself.
I still think the team is re-building in regards. I am not expecting playoffs after a 4-2-2 month. But this month has confirmed to me that they are heading in the right direction. That’s really what I want to see by the end of 2016-17; that progress is being made towards making the Devils a squad with a functional offense instead of just hoping Schneider keeps it close and a random chance provides the win. Then we’ll talk playoffs. But for now, it’s been fun and I hope the Devils find a way to continue it on the road. That’s the one thing they have not done; they have not won on the road in October. They’ll have ten road games in November. We’ll see how it goes soon enough.
In the meantime, let me know what you thought of how the Devils performed in October. Were you pleased with how they did? What would you like to see the team improve in their performance in November? Would you name Hall as the Devil of the Month over Schneider? Or perhaps someone else entirely? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils’ performances and results in October 2016 in the comments. Thank you for reading.