If you’re not reading Hockey-Graphs, then you’re missing out on some of the cutting edge of discussion and even creation of publicly available hockey analytics. Even Ryan Stimson, who you know (knew?) from this site, has been putting up summaries of his passing project data there. Last week, Dom Luszczyszyn, who goes by the handle omgitsdomi, released something new and different: game score. It’s his attempt at answering the question, “Who had the best game last night?”
While Luszczyszyn readily admits the faults of his approach to game score, I think it’s a pretty good one. The idea was to provide a quick and dirty way of establishing who performed well and with available stats, it does the job. His logic is well laid out and the information he would need to make it more complete is not readily available. Defensive stats remain particularly elusive and there’s only so much that can be done with goaltending stats as they are. Still, it’s a good attempt. Fortunately for the readers, Luszczyszyn released his game score data comma-separated value spreadsheets from 2007-08 through to this past season on a Dropbox account. That means anyone can download it and observe it. That means it was only right for me to take last season’s data and look at how it fared for our favorite team, the New Jersey Devils.
Before revealing how everyone did, here’s some perspective. There were 47,566 calculated game scores, one for each player who took to the NHL ice at some point last season. This does include the playoffs. The range for that massive group is 5.1 (Phil Kessel’s five-point night on 3/26/2016) to -1.7 (Marco Scandella getting run over by a Corsi steamroller on 4/22/2016). The average among all of those skaters is approximately 0.458. As for the goalies, there were 2,842 calculated game scores. The range for them is 4.5 (a tie between Jonathan Quick and Jake Allen, who had 45-save shutouts on 12/17/2015 and 11/7/2015, respectively) to -3.6 (Jonathan Bernier conceding 6 goals on 15 shots on 12/29/2016). The average for them is approximately 0.764. With that in mind, let’s look at the Devils.
Do you remember Scott Wedgewood’s amazing four-game run? Sure you do. 111 saves on 116 shots across four games. It was sensational. Wedgewood’s astonishing 39-save shutout on 3/24/2016 against Pittsburgh (my recap) was the best performance by a Devils goaltender based on game score. Cory Schneider had two other 30+ save shutouts that were close, but that extra shot stopped gave Wedgewood the edge. All the same, both the fill-in and the #1 were far and away great by game score. The red text means they beat the league average for games. Both beat it well and Schneider’s contributions show that he was really important to the team. I don’t know if you can compare game score equally between skaters and goaltenders. If so, then Schneider’s had the highest average game score on the team last season with one one-game exception.
Keith Kinkaid, well, he didn’t come close to the average. He had two particularly awful appearances in March. On March 6 (my recap), he gave up six goals on 30 shots for a game score of -2.1 for that night. On March 14 (my recap), he gave up six goals on 24 for an even lower score of -2.7, which was the team’s lowest for 2015-16. Take those two games away and his average shoots up to 0.696; that’s how damaging they were. Still, by game score alone, he was below average. Yann Danis’ two appearances in relief provided very little of that. As such, his game score just ended up at the bottom of this small list.
Let’s look at the defensemen:
As Luszczyszyn admitted that his game score formula was driven by offensive contributions, I’m not surprised to see Adam Larsson and Andy Greene not anywhere near the top of this list. Both didn’t play in many offensive situations. Rather, they were mostly getting tough minutes, tough starts, and tough match-ups that, in part, forced them to play a lot of defense. The sad thing here is that no Devil defenseman comes close to the 0.458 average. David Schlemko, who’s now a Shark, led the way and he was still not even close. If anything, this points to the sore need of some offensive help from the blueline. By game scores, Eric Gelinas and Damon Severson weren’t providing it; Jon Merrill absolutely contributed little; and there wasn’t much help from the depth players. This isn’t all on the defensemen alone and it doesn’t mean all of these players were bad last season. Again, it’s a calculation that favors offensive contributions more than anything else as those stats are available. It really means the Devils haven’t had much support from the blueline. I don’t think that should surprise anyone given their production or the fact that the team was the second worst possession team in the NHL last season.
Since it is an offense-driven formula for skaters, how did the Devils’ forwards fare?
Hey, seven Devils forwards beat the league average. Travis Zajac was close, but no cigar. There are some relatively sample size issues at play. Namely, Pavel Zacha’s one game. At least the game score says, “Yes, it was a good one.” So there’s that. Devante Smith-Pelly and, surprising to me, Patrik Elias came out well in their sub-twenty game stints with New Jersey. Smith-Pelly got hot early on and that drove his score. The last game of last season, April 9 against Toronto, featured Elias putting up one of the best games by a Devils skater last season. As for his other fifteen games, he wasn’t so bad in terms of Corsi differential or goal differential to really get negative scores. So he had a relatively decent average.
As for the regulars, Mike Cammalleri was the main man. He beat out Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, and Lee Stempniak and did so soundly. Cammalleri and Henrique had the two best game scores among all Devil skaters last season (October 24, 2016; Cammalleri had a 3.5, Henrique had a 3.1); but Cammalleri had more good and great games to push him ahead. I don’t think there would be much of an argument as those four being standout forwards on last year’s squad. Cammalleri was briefly a top-ten scorer in the entire NHL; his injury that effectively halved his season hindered the Devils’ offense. With Henrique and Stempniak not contributing at the pace of Palmieri, as per game score, it really was a loss. In other words, Cammalleri was important to the team last season. A healthy Cammalleri (I know, don’t hold your breath) combined with Father Time not undercutting his game would make him a key part of the 2016-17 campaign - if only to keep them competitive.
Of course, the big issue is that so many of the Devils’ forwards just did not contribute much. Or, rather, what they did was just not enough. Reid Boucher had a couple of great games, but Boucher had many more nights where he added next to nothing. I was surprised to see Tyler Kennedy ahead of Jacob Josefson and Joseph Blandisi. Like Boucher, they had a handful of good games and bucketfuls of “meh” nights. And then there’s the rest. Sure, someone like Mike Sislo had one crazy night - Sislo had one of 15 two-goal nights the Devils had last season, in fact. But that one crazy night doesn’t make up for seventeen not-at-all crazy nights. To that extent, I like the game score stat for summarizing these individual performances. I don’t like the fact the Devils really had a lot of passengers and not enough drivers in terms of offense last season.
By the way: Taylor Hall’s average game score last season was 0.959. I think he may help, at least in that regard.
In any case, I hope you enjoyed this look at last season using game score. Thanks to Dom Luszczyszyn for writing it up and making the data available at Hockey-Graphs. Let me know what you think of game score and how it applies to last season’s team in the comments. Maybe in the near future, I’ll compile the best games by the Devils from 2007 onward. We’ll see. Thank you for reading.