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New Jersey Devils Month in Review for January 2016

The New Jersey Devils split their games in January 2016, winning and losing six each. Once again, their success came from the exceptional play of Cory Schneider and their losses were driven by a lack of offense. Read all about it in this review of last month.

This guy was a star in January. The rest of the team, um...
This guy was a star in January. The rest of the team, um...
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

As of this writing, the National Hockey League regular season is on a break. It's the All Star Game weekend.  Everyone's January of hockey essentially ended on this past Wednesday.  Mostly top players will get a little extra notice, most of the league will get some R&R, and every team needs to start getting serious about where they are.  They have to ask themselves the questions: Can we really shoot for the playoffs? Should we do so? If so, what do we need to improve and how?  What are we willing to give up to do that?  Ray Shero and his staff, among many, will have to start addressing these questions for the New Jersey Devils.

They currently sit just outside of a wild card spot; tied with Pittsburgh in points and behind only due to games played.  They're four points away from second in the division. They're five points away from seven in the Metropolitan.  They're pretty much where they were when they started the month, though other teams are closing in.  It's the result of a perfectly even, average month of results.  The Devils went 6-6-0.  Good for maintenance, bad for moving up for glory, and bad for hopes at a high draft pick, as Mike pointed out last week. Will the Devils "go for it?" Will a busy February filled with games within the division take them down?  We can only hope. In the meantime, let's look back at what happened in January.

The Month That Was

The Devils rang in the new year with, well, no games.  They were off on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  Their first game was on the second of January and against the then-rulers of the Western Conference: the Dallas Stars.  What was surprising was how well the Devils played against them. They didn't just score the game's first two goals. They earned them. While the Stars tied it up, the Devils still held the then-highest scoring team in hockey to only two goals and played a very good game against them. In overtime, the Devils got a power play and John Moore scored to get the 3-2 OT win. It was a very good moment. It was a very good performance by the Devils. It was a very good start to the month.

It would be their last good moment for about a week.  On January 4, the Devils hosted Detroit.  Larkin scored a breakaway goal and Detroit proceeded to choke the Devils' offense out of the game.  Not having Mike Cammalleri hurt, but the Devils got very little going.  As such, they lost 0-1. On January 6, the Devils went into Montreal.  While the score was close, the home team had the better run of play and controlled the game much more. The Devils at least got a goal but had a second straight loss in a 1-2 defeat. The Devils returned home for a game against Boston on January 8.  Unlike their previous two opponents, Boston found the back of the net plenty of times.  Like their previous two games, the offense yielded very little and just avoided the shutout.  The Devils lost 1-4; a decisive result for a decisively bad performance.  With a four-game road trip looming afterwards and combined with several Devils players unavailable due to injury, things looked bleak.

However, the road trip wasn't all that bad.  Despite a technical difficulties by NBC SN and a low-shooting game, the Devils played a very good game against Minnesota. They held back the Wild in their own building and managed to get two through. They won 2-1 to end a streak of three losing results and performances.  Two nights later, it appeared the Devils would be going from strength to strength in St. Louis for the first period or so.  Then reality and the quality of St. Louis hit the Devils in the second period - and hard. The Devils lost that game by a 2-5 final score.  Thursday featured the Devils going to Colorado, who were the worst defensive and possession team in hockey at the time. Like the Devils-Colorado game earlier this season, you wouldn't have known that from watching the game. Colorado looked like a team with a solid gameplan and executed it very well. The Devils looked like a team who generated offense like one squeezing blood from a stone.  The Devils lost 0-3 to Colorado. On Saturday, the road trip concluded in Glendale, Arizona.  There, the losing would stop. The bad performances, well, excepting Cory Schneider, they didn't end on that day.  Reid Boucher scored first, Cory Schneider got shelled but stopped everything, Kyle Palmieri popped in a goal to start the third, and Schneider got shelled again but stopped everything again.  That was the game: a 2-0 win largely on Scheider's back. Ugly as it was, it split the road trip's results and kept the Devils from falling in the standings.

Better times would come after that win on that Saturday.  On Tuesday, January 19, the Devils hosted Calgary. Michael Cammalleri returned to the lineup and contributed an assist.  Boucher set up a goal and jammed in another one.  The Devils' penalty kill got blown up initially and the Flames got hot in the third.  But the Devils prevailed, tacked on an empty netter, and won the game 4-2. There would be a legitimate explosion of goals on January 22 when the Devils hosted Ottawa. The first period featured the team's first power play goal since Moore's overtime winner on January 2, a second power play goal, a breakaway goal, a put back on a rebound, and a goal from the slot.  Yes, the Devils scored five goals in the first period.   It would be the first time since 2011 since the team accomplished that feat.  They cruised afterwards.  Ottawa made it somewhat exciting with two late goals in the third period, but an empty netter sealed a big 6-3 win. The Devils closed out the week by traveling to Winnipeg that Saturday.  While there would be no big output of goals, there would be a very well disciplined performance by the Devils. They kept Winnipeg in check for much of the game, they rarely sagged after scoring, and they played the proverbial "ideal road game."  They won 3-1 to make it a four-game winning streak; tying their season high.  Would they make it five in a row in their last game of the month?  No. The team closed out their month on January 26 in Pittsburgh.  That game went well for the first fifteen minutes and then turned into Pittsburgh pounding the Devils for the remaining forty-five minutes.  The Devils lost that one 0-2 and fully earned that shutout loss. Not the best way to end the month, but at least the loss came after four consecutive wins.

The loss also evened up the month in terms of results. Again, the team went 6-6-0 in January. They only went beyond sixty minutes once and they won it.  All other games were in regulation so it was either two points or nothing.  In the first half of the month, it was mostly nothing.  However, the team's 2-2-0 road trip acted as a turning point despite how they played as the Devils followed their trip-ending win with three more wins.  As the Metropolitan really didn't have much movement beyond the gap between second and seventh place growing closer, the Devils' .500 month kept them on the playoff bubble.

By the Numbers

Thanks to War on Ice allowing bracketing their stats by date (until March or so, when they expect to shut down), I'm going to make a point of it to provide the team's stats month-by-month.  For this section, the date range used is for 1/1 through 1/30. The All Star Game weekend break began on January 28, so it encompasses the whole month.

At 5-on-5 Even Strength Hockey: The Devils had a CF% of 47.3% in January. Despite some absolutely lopsided-in-a-bad-way performances (that game in Arizona), the team's possession wasn't near the bottom of the league for the month.  It was seventh from the bottom, which still wasn't good.   It does rate higher after adjusting for score, although the adjustment only bumped them up to 47.7% CF%.   To their credit, the Devils had some legitimately good performances, which helped them not slip into the awful 45% and below range.  How did the 47.3% CF% break down? Same as before: the Devils had a very low 44.1 CF/60 and a very low 49.1 CA/60. Amazingly, the Devils were not in last in CF/60. Vancouver, who did finish last in CF% in January, managed to be even less prolific at attempting shots in January.  It's OK, Vancouver fans, the Devils still finished safely in thirtieth in shots per sixty minutes. The only team to best the Devils in CA/60? Los Angeles, also known as the best possession team in hockey right now.  The Devils' offense is the issue, but I repeat myself.

Like in December, the percentages at even strength were much more favorable to the Devils than their possession rate.  Both halves of it were even superior to what they were last month.  The Devils' shooting in 5-on-5 play yielded eighteen goals and a percentage of 8.5%.  Only three teams in the league had a better percentage than New Jersey did in January.  Schneider was simply dominant in January as the Devils only conceded thirteen goals in 5-on-5 situations.  He led the team to a 95.1% save percentage, the best in the league in January.  These were excellent percentages.  Yet, the team rode them to a 6-6 record in January.  As excellent as Schneider is, I don't know how long he can keep that up. And even with a high shooting percentage, the low volume of shooting attempts and shots mean the offense isn't producing as much as it could.  If you're wondering why I and other fans may be hesitant about the Devils staying or improving where they are, this is a good reason.  Percentages like this can stay so high for only so long.

At Power Play Situations: The Devils scored a power play goal on January 2. Their second power play goal came on January 21.  The team went eight games without a single power play in a row.  Per the War-on-Ice link in the heading of this paragraph, the Devils struggled to even just get shots on net. They put up a collective twenty-two shots on net while conceding twelve.  The Devils had more power play opportunities than they had shots on net. That's terrible.  But the Devils did get two PPGs on January 21 and went 1-for-2 on January 23 in Winnipeg. That pushed them to 4-for-31 for the month. Amazingly, that was enough for the Devils to not finish dead last in power play conversion rate. They finished tied for sixth from the bottom according to At least those other five less successful power plays generated more offensive opportunities than the Devils.  And they didn't concede two shorthanded goals like New Jersey did either. This has to be better if the Devils are serious for playing for something positive in February and beyond.

At Penalty Kill Situations: Relative to the rest of the league, the Devils' penalty kill got lit up in January. They conceded nine power play goals; only three teams conceded more and all three allowed ten.  Per, the Devils had the fourth worst success rate on the PK with 74.3%. That's from opposing teams going 9-for-35 on power plays. Schneider was amazing at even strength and legitimately stole a few games.  On the penalty kill, not so much. The team's save percentage of 74.1% was the lowest in the NHL in this past month.  If there's a positive, it's that the Devils still boast one of the lower SA/60 rates in the league. Still, the shots allowed have to be less dangerous and more saves have to be made.  At least the penalty differential wasn't too heavy on one side even though the Devils allowed more shorthanded chances than they had power play situations.

Additions and Subtractions

There were was a lot of movement within this month as twenty eight different skaters suited up for the Devils in January. Plenty of departures, returns, call ups and demotions.  I hope I don't miss any in this summary.  The Devils began the month with Michael Cammalleri ending up not playing the Dallas game; Jacob Josefson and Patrik Elias still out; and I think Tuomo Ruutu as well. They ended the month with Jiri Tlusty out for essentially the rest of the season after wrist surgery, Elias out indefinitely after knee surgery, Jon Merrill out for week-to-week, and John Moore day-to-day with something.  Amid all of the injuries and occasional bouts of illness, Bobby Farnham had to serve a four-game suspension for a violent interference call in the St. Louis game. There was a lot happening within the roster in this past month. After all, only eight skaters played in all twelve games.

This led to opportunities for several players in Albany in January.  Joseph Blandisi has been the best of them.  He's taken a spot alongside Travis Zajac and Kyle Palmieri and he ended up tied for second among all Devils in points in January with one goal and five assists.  He's played well enough that I think many Devils fans will be unhappy if he's not back in New Jersey when the season starts back up.  Reid Boucher also contributed by putting up two goals and an assist in two out of his five games. Seth Helgeson hasn't been demolished on defense.  Others shown that they should stay in Albany; this would be players like Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jim O'Brien, and Paul Thompson.   At least Cammalleri and Josefson are back and active; Moore should be soon.

The big question will be whether the Devils will make any external moves with the roster. There hasn't been any movement like that in January.  If anything does happen, it'll be in February. The NHL Trade Deadline is on February 29. Ray Shero essentially has a month to take and make calls on moving players with other teams. This should be something to keep in mind as the team plays in this coming month.

Devil of the Month

I'll spare you the suspense. It's Schneider.  It has to be Schneider. Aside from a really poor penalty kill performance, he was the main reason why the Devils had the best even strength save percentage in the NHL in January. As recorded at, Schneider himself posted a 95.7% at even strength. 95.7%! That's stupendously fantastic.   The Devils offense has been poor in their performed in terms of generating shots and taking advantage of opportunities in this past month.  If we're honest with ourselves, it's been a problem for this season and past seasons.  As high as the team's shooting percentage was, they still only created eighteen goals in 5-on-5 play and put up four power play goals.  That's usually going to lead to a lot of L's short of some outstanding goaltending. Schneider provided that in just about every single game he played in January.  It was a no-brainer that he was named to the 2016 All Star Game as the team's representative. I don't think anyone can argue another player for being more important to the Devils than him in this season

It also helps when no other player puts up a consistently strong set of performances in a month.  No one really ran away in terms of production.  Lee Stempniak led all skaters with five goals and three assists. Yet, Stempniak was pretty much lost without Cammalleri.  The bulk of his production came in a four-game scoring streak, which was mostly when was next to the returning #13.  The one game that wasn't, he set up Boucher in that Arizona game - and then proceeded to do little else as Schneider put the team on his back. While named as one of the stars of the week by the NHL, I can't say one week is enough for a monthly consideration - even if I like the player quite a bit. Likewise, I can't say Palmieri or Adam Henrique have been consistently good in this past month.  Not with just six points and averaging just over two shots per game. That's not all that good. Adam Larsson and Andy Greene has been at the mercy of too many opposing players to say he's been the best player.  Blandisi has been great during this call-up, but he hasn't been great on the level of Schneider.  It can only be Schneider. He's been head and shoulders above the other Devils. Schneider is the AATJ January 2015 Devil of the Month.

Concluding Thoughts

High percentages don't last for very long. Neither does a run of injuries.  While Tlusty and Elias will be out for a significant amount of time, the main players driving the Devils this season are available.  While it's clear that the Devils have yet to have that slump of results, it's also clear that their performances belie the notion that they are a playoff team.  In time, their lack of offense and being on the wrong end of possession more often than not will lead to a fall from where they are.  The good news of the Devils is that they have thirty two games where they can keep things steady and make a legitimate run at the postseason.  With Montreal crashing in the Atlantic and no one outside of Washington playing superbly well in the Metropolitan, the Devils could feasibly stay in the mix for a while even with their current flaws if the bubble stays as it is.  The Devils can afford to go one step backward and one step forward provided the other teams around them in the standings can do so.

That said, I'm skeptical that this is a squad that can just add a player or two to address their dearth of offense. We've seen this for the better part of four months this season and we've seen in past seasons. Pick your measurement, the Devils simply don't attack enough in a meaningful way.  The Devils need both talented players and better tactics.  Maybe the latter will follow the former.  Until then, how they do business is exactly how you think it is: get a lead and hope Schneider denies enough pucks to preserve the lead.  It's not the worst possible plan since Schneider is amazing.  If Schneider gets hurt or runs into a slump, then it's going to be bad. This isn't news but nothing in January made one think otherwise.

And this leads to my last thought.  Despite Schneider being amazing, the team still only went 6-6-0.  I know the team was beset by injuries but it really speaks to the notion that perhaps this team isn't as real as one may think.  They beat Dallas and played great against them.  Just as we all get hyped for it, they drop three games and drop them with poor performances.  The road trip was split but it's not like the Devils played all that well in those games.  Then the team wins three in a row, where they look a bit better but the last game against Pittsburgh was a cruel slap in the face by reality.  All this time, #35 was fantastic.  And that wasn't enough for the Devils to really have a good month. So, again, if high percentages don't last and the team still plays the way it does, what do you think will happen now?  I think we know the answer. We knew it earlier this season and this past month did nothing to change it.