The Devils are in a slump. Pretty much no denying the product that’s been on the ice for us. But I’ve found a couple things interesting about the anatomy of the slump. You’d expect pretty unilateral failures across the board, but there are bright spots — some very big. The recent skid is significant, but the slump goes all the way back to November 17th I’d argue. Considering Taylor Hall came back into action on December 1st and I think he makes us a significantly different team, I decided to define that as the beginning of the current slump because I believe the analysis of that segment of time will be most interesting moving forward. All stats in this article were found using Corsica.
The Return of Rico and Palms
Three weeks ago, I wrote an article about how Adam Henrique and Kyle Palmieri have been just the coldest anyone could possibly be. They both turned a corner when it comes to point production. Kyle Palmieri scored 1.95 points per 60 minutes before December, and has been scoring at a 2.72 P60 pace since. Adam Henrique similarly improved from 1.44 to 2.56.
This is not a fluke of percentages either. Palmieri and Henrique have seen the sharpest rise in xGF% (Expected Goal Ratio) of any forward other than Miles Wood — who is playing some very competent hockey and was a consideration for his own section of this article. I was never in doubt that Rico would come around, he’s been good for long enough to get the benefit of the doubt at this point. But after only one good season and a subsequent big contract, it is nice to see Palmieri finding his way again.
Lovejoy’s Defensive Play
Ben Lovejoy was much-maligned in the preseason and early season for his failure to deliver on the promise of being a strong stay-at-home force. But give credit where credit is due, he has improved defensively.
Of the 5 every-game defenders, Lovejoy has the best goals against rate (2.01 goals scored against the Devils per 60 minutes). The next best GA60 is Damon Severson at 3.40. And Lovejoy’s not being given sheltered situations, he’s starts in the defensive zone more than any defender other than Andy Greene.
Also his shorthanded play has been steadily improving all season. The graph below is the CA60 (shot attempts against the Devils per 60 minutes) of Lovejoy in shorthanded situations.
Reminder: Shots against are bad — which means this is good. The downward slope indicates that the Devils are preventing shorthanded shots better with him on the ice no than they used to. He is a big reason the Devils still boast a top 10 Penalty Kill despite the pitiful state of our defense.
Shot Quality of the Team
The Devils are 2nd in goals against in this stretch. They are also bottom 5 in shots allowed and unblocked shots allowed. So it seems like an obvious conclusion that the team and the goaltending are experiencing a simultaneous failure. But upon closer investigation, we may not be playing as bad at it appears.
Our SCF% (Scoring Chance Ratio) is 50.6. That puts us at 14th in the league which is average. I’d like to remind you that this is over the course of an 9-game period in which we have been outscored by 16 goals (19 for 35 against) and we won exactly 1 game in regulation. That’s remarkable in itself.
Also, we have the 7th highest expected PDO (luck statistic — PDO = SV% + Sh%). And the 7th lowest actual PDO. The difference between the two is the 2nd largest in the league indicating we have definitely fallen on hard times in the fortune category — not only in the performance category.
The Devils are not playing good hockey. But they are also not playing anywhere near as bad hockey as the stats would imply. I do not think we will make the playoffs because this division is just stupid good. But, I actually do believe this is a league-average team. And it appears some of the stats would support that statement.