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Why are the Devils Still Good Defensively

Despite losing top defender Adam Larsson in the offseason, the Devils boast the 2nd best defense in the league. How are they doing it?

Anaheim Ducks v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils are, once again, one of the stingiest teams in the league. We all know about how defensively dominant the Devils were in the era of Stevens, Niedermayer, Brodeur etc. We have also been very good recently though with regards to goals against, despite floundering as a franchise.

Even in this rough stretch, the Devils have never been a below-average team in goals against and we’ve never let in more than 210 goals. And so I put it to you...HOW IS THIS HAPPENING?

We have seen this team lose elite defenders of its glory days (Niedermayer, Stevems Martin, Rafalski), franchise-defining legends (Brodeur, Lamoriello), and then last year we lost Adam Larsson — debatably our best defender. So why are we the 2nd best defensive team in the NHL?

Is it possesion statistics?

Put simply, no. Check out Corsica’s team page. We are 17th in Shot Attempt Ratio, 10th in Shot Attempts Against per 60 mintes, and 9th in Expected Goals Against per 60 minutes. I was trying to look for an elite statistic, but there isn’t one. You would expect the Devils to be average defensively from these stats.

This shouldn’t be surprising since the Devils start more in the defensive zone than almost any other team as they have the 5th highest DZFO% in the league.

But those are just even strength. Maybe we have a great PK?


Our average shorthanded goals against rate is below average (13th worst). And have a PK% of just below 80 which is the 8th worst in the league.

Okay, enough playing around — we all know it’s because of Cory.

NO. I’m dead serious. I mean, it’s obviously not that we’ve played well in spite of him or anything crazy like that, but you can absolutely not say that Cory has carried this team at this point. Via ESPN, Cory is the 15th ranked qualified goalie in GAA, and the 11th ranked in Sv%. Good? Of course. Carrying the team? No. And it get’s even worse if you dig deeper. The xGF-affiliated goalie stat from Corsica is Adj. FSv%. It checks the goalise save percentage versus their expected save percentage essentially. And of the 42 goalies that have played 5 or more games, Schneider ranks 20th.

So is someone secretly playing out of their mind on defense?

Well, first of all, you can check out a more thorough analysis of this from John in his article from Monday. But if it’s not your style to read that much, then here are some highlights and additions of my own.

According to Hockey References Defensive Point Shares, we don’t even have a defender that would comfortably qualify as a #1 on an NHL team. The highest ranked is Quincey — 27th in the NHL.

BUT — and here’s where it get’s interesting. Literally all 6 of the Devils defenders are in the top 100 of that statistic. Every one. The only other team to have 6 defenders in the top 100 is the Kings.

This carried through to other stats as well. In Corsicas skater page, Quincey is again our highest defender — this time in xGA60 (Expected Goals Against per 60) — at 31st in the NHL. However, our top 4 (Quincey, Severson, Greene, Auvitu) are all in the top 45 and only 3 other teams can make that claim. And every defender on our team is in the top 110 — only 5 other teams can say that.

And it’s not just the Devils defenders that are preventing goals. Still looking at DPS, the Devils have 4 forwards that have a DPS of 0.5 or higher — Hall, Zajac, Palmieri, and Henrique. No other team can say that. And those are the 4 forwards with the most ice time.


When the 4 forwards you put on the ice the most are all defensively responsible you are in a good position already. When there is no glaring hole in your defense, and your top 4 are among the most reliable in the league, you’re in an even better position. And when you have a top 10 goalie (that’s all we can say right now) you get nudged over the edge.

So, my explanation for why we are still so good defensively probably boils down to on thing — it’s the state. It’s gotta just be the state of NJ. Nothing else can describe it.

Jk lol, it’s Ray Shero. I give him credit

The offensive producers that he got have been positive on both ends of the rink. But, most importantly, his gamble on the blueline is paying off. Severson is playing better than Adam Larsson by just about any metric right now. Quincey and Auvitu have massively overachieved their expectations. And Lovejoy and Moore have been a serviceable 2nd pairing.

According to Hynes, Merrill is “Cleared to play [...] It's just whether we think he's ready to get into a game and face regular game action."

I am not going to hunt down all of the articles in which I trash Merrill, but I think that you don’t mess with these 6 guys right now. Even if Merrill wasn’t the a dumpster fire on skates, we are working. Quincey makes some really conspicious errors, but has been statistically our best defensive defencemen. Lovejoy caught some flack from Gerard early, but has leveled off and is 10th in the league in shorthanded ice time. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And the Devils defense definitely ain’t broke.

Your Thoughts

What is your explanation for the Devils defensive prowess? I think it’s good juju. What’s your take?