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Top 3 Reasons the Devils D Suddenly Sucks

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The Devils defense is suddenly a liability. How’d that happen so fast? I investigate.

Detroit Red Wings v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

According to Hockey Reference, through the first 15 games the Devils had a 2.06 GAA and only allowed 3 regulation goals 4 times. In the past 9 games, the Devils have a 3.89 GAA and have yet to hold an opponent to LESS than 3 regulation goals(EDIT: Just gave up two to Vancouver last night, after this was written). So...What the ****????

I’ve delved into the statistics and identified the following 3 factors as leading reasons for the sudden suckage. All charts below were assembled using several runs of the Custom Query tool at Corsica.

1. Decline in Performance of Severson/Greene

Observant Devils fans will know that Andy Greene has not been his usual defensively dominant self. He and Larsson were each in the top 4 in defensive point shares -- a stat that doesn’t even adjust for their league-bottom offensive zone start percentage -- last year. However, Severson’s press has been mostly good. This is in no small part due to his offensive contributions. However, lately Seversons offensive contributions have dwindled, and the pairings defensive numbers have plummeted. In the chart above, you can see that they average allowing 9 more shot attempts per 60 minutes (CA60) in the last 9 games than they did in the first 15 games. That contributes to averaging 1.5 goals per 60 minutes more than they used to. If they log 20 minutes a game, thats now a half a goal extra per game that can be attributed to this pairings failures.

Caveat: Their zone start numbers have shifted to the defensive side by about 3%. Not significant enough to explain away this difference, but relevant enough for me to mention.

2. Hynes’ Roster Shuffling

Hynes has been forced through slumping, injuries, and his capricious whimsy to fiddle around with the lineup. I checked what the bbiggest differences in playing time were and I have shown in the charts below any players whose playing time changed by 1 minute or more in the last 9 games (exluding injuries and demotions).

Increased Playing Time (More than One 5v5 minute increase per game)

These guys have earned an increase in playing time for the most part. Lappin has shown his chops as an NHL-level contributor, Bennett was able to supply the team with speed sans-Hall, and Quincey had the teams best defensive numbers at the time of my article on how well the D was doing (sorry ... didn’t know my jinx power was so strong). But if you examine their CA60 numbers, you can see that every one of them so a skyrocketing number of shots attempts against after getting increased playing time. Furthermore, Bennett and Lappin have not made up for it with offense as their expected goal ratio relative to the rest of the team is in free fall (Rel.xGF%). Quincey’s is worse too, but not when compared to the rest of the team.

Bennett and Lapping definitely have struggled with the added responsibility and Quincey may be being relied on too much as well. But, its tough to ask him to do less while Severson/Greene is struggling as well. So the blueline problem may need to be solved through attrition.

Decreased Playing Time (More than One 5v5 minute decrease per game)

Greene and Lovejoy are our best defensive defenders. Their numbers have seen the largest decreases in this span of anyone. Vernon Fiddler is also likely our best defensive forward in the bottom 6 and despite having one of the lowest CA60s of any forward on the team, his playing time has decreased. The difference in their performances isn’t particularly enlightening and the presence of Zacha and DSP on this list are not contributing factors IMO, but the simple fact is that our 2 best defensive defensemen and our 1 best bottom-6-bulldog are playing less. I’d say this is likely a cause and an effect of the high goals against numbers. We are getting down in games which is causing us to compensate using more offensive personnel who are, in turn, letting more goals in. Not at all unexpected.

3. Cory Schneider ...

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I feel like I don’t really need to analyze this graph, right? I mean, that’s about as self-explanatory as data gets. This graph is so easy to interpret, it looks fake. But it’s not.

Honorable Mentions

1. We have had a much tougher schedule. 7 of the last 9 games have been away as opposed to 8 of the first 15. The average PTS% of teams in the first 15 games was 53% and the average goals per game was 2.6. The average PTS% of the last 9 teams has been 57% with a goals per game of 2.7.

2. Taylor Hall got injured exactly when this GA streak started. This seems like an obvious cause, but his absence doesn’t appear to have a direct effect on the teams defensive performance in the statistics,. But I’d have to imagine that his possession contributions have to net us a defensive benefit.

Changes?

If I were Hynes, I’d stick with the plan for the most part. Hall is back and that’s already helping a great deal. Schneider will improve for sure — although it has now been 38 games and 324 days since Cory’s last shutout. And, lastly, the schedule will unequivocally get much easier. The Devils are not in the free fall it feels like we are. We’ve got a little over a week of the schedule hell left and then it eases up considerably.

Furthermore, Hall’s return bumps Lappin back down. He’ll be Fiddler and either Wood or Kalinin. I hope it’s Kalinin, because that line was an absolute defensive dynamo and Lappin has not flourished with his extra responsibilities. Other than that — status quo.