When a regular season schedule comes out, I like to do a breakdown to see what the New Jersey Devils will be dealing with. Here’s the one I did for 2016-17 back in June. I tend to emphasize the number of back-to-back sets of games the New Jersey Devils will be playing. Given that they do not travel that much, they tend to play more of those sets than most teams in the National Hockey League. I know those games are a challenge for the team in that they’ll be playing however many games without rest based on the number of sets they have. There are disadvantages that come with that, such as fatigue (particularly for goalies), injury, and lack of time to adjust and prepare for the next opponent. What I did not know is that it can be a factor.
Enter Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy. Earlier in this Summer, he provided a lot of interesting information about it through his Twitter account, @IneffectiveMath. Namely that rest is about the equivalent of home-ice advantage from a perspective of points earned:
Over the past nine seasons, home teams have taken 60% of the available points, road teams 51%. That's home-ice advantage in numbers.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 20, 2016
When they have a rest advantage of this type (did not play last night vs a team that did), home teams take 61% of the points.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 20, 2016
Road teams with a rest advantage take 60% of the points.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 20, 2016
With a rest disadvantage, home teams take 50% of the available points. When the road team has a rest disadvantage, they also take 50%.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 20, 2016
From a league-wide perspective, having at least one night off before a game and taking on a team that did not is a big deal - and the team with rest took advantage more often than not over the last nine seasons. I don’t know about you, but that’s rather interesting. And knowing that the Devils play a lot of back-to-back sets, I wanted to see how the Devils performed with and without rest. Thankfully, Dr. McCurdy provided me with a copy of his data set to sort it all out. In this post, I’ll show how the Devils and their opponents did with and without rest. Tomorrow, I’ll show how the Devils did with and without a rest advantage.
Games by Days of Rest for the Devils & their Opponents
First, here’s a table listing how many games the Devils have played by the number of days rest they had going into it. This will all be regular season data going from 2007 through to 2016.
The number of zero days off games are the equivalent to how many back-to-back sets they had in each season. The Devils got lucky with their 2015-16 schedule with only twelve such games. It was clearly their lowest percentage of tired games (zero days off) of the last nine seasons. They won’t be so lucky for 2016-17. The Devils will have 18 back-to-back sets like they did in 2014-15. For the most part, the plurality of the Devils’ games are when the Devils had one day off to prepare.
Now here’s the same table for the Devils’ opponents.
A-ha! The league hates the Devils! The collective of 29 opponents have had more rest against the Devils than the Devils when they would play each other. BOOOOOOOO.
OK, I’m kidding. While collectively, their opponents have had nine fewer “tired” games, their proportion is similar. Again, the Devils were lucky last season that their opponents had no rest against their games against the Devils than the other way around. And there hasn’t been any glaring gap between the two since 2013-14 (22 “tired” games for Devils, 17 “tired” opponents) - even that wasn’t as bad as it was in 2008-09 or 2009-10. Based on the last nine seasons, more often than not, both the Devils and their opponents will be tired for around 20% of the season. The one day of rest situation remains more common.
The Devils With & Without Rest
Now that we know the larger situation of how often the Devils are tired, let’s see how they did when they were. First, for perspective’s sake, here are the standings of the last nine seasons complete with goals for percentage (GF%, provided by NHL.com) and 5-on-5 Corsi (all shooting attempts) percentage (CF%, provided by Corsica). (Note: O is my abbreviation for overtime/shootout loss.)
Ah, the halcyon days before the Incredibly Stupid Lockout of 2012. Point percentages above 60%, winning percentages well over 55%, and playoffs in four out of five seasons. Since then: two seasons of great possession but little scoring and questionable goaltending; two seasons of poor possession and little scoring to go with unquestionably good goaltending. Anyway, these are whole seasons. Now let’s filter it down to how the Devils did when they had rest:
I highlighted any point percentages above 60% here as if they have an advantage, then that’s how all teams performed. 2011-12 came close to making it four, but the other playoff-bound Devils squads of the last nine seasons beat that mark. Other percentages highlighted in yellow mean they are superior to those percentages for the whole season. There were more appearances of those. As one may expect, when the team became a playoff-missing squad, the point percentages dropped pretty hard. That means they weren’t successful enough. 2015-16 saw the Devils play more games with rest than any other. They didn’t improve much over the prior season and definitely not as well as better teams. Not that much better, which speaks to the quality of that squad.
Curiously, the Devils without rest shows more positive results:
Here, a points percentage over 50% was highlighted green. Yellow is still for percentages that were higher than those percentages for the whole season. Now, this is very interesting. The Devils have done mostly well when they have played without rest. Their overall points percentage (56%) is comparable to when they had rest (56.1%). Their overall CF% is only 0.3% lower without rest compared with having rest. The gap in GF% is a little larger, but still only 1.4% less. I would have expected things to be much worse. They’ve had some poor seasons in games without rest - the second half of back-to-back sets - and as early at 2014-15. But even in playoff-less 2013-14 and 2015-16 campaigns, the Devils were able to earn at least half of all available points. They’ll go back to playing 18 of these sorts of games in 2016-17. While past seasons may have had better squads, it may not be unreasonable to think it isn’t that massive obstacle to over come. That’s important to realize, especially if you think the 2016-17 Devils should “go for it.”
The Devils’ Opponents With & Without Rest
Of course, that’s how the Devils have performed. What about when their opponents do and do not have rest going into a game against our favorite team? Let’s take a look at how the Devils did in those situations. First, against rested opponents:
For this and the next chart, anything in yellow is superior to how the Devils did in that season. When the Devils’ opponents have had rest, the Devils haven’t always performed so well. They haven’t earned half of all available points since 2013-14. They did not win over half of their games overall. If you figure 55% is about average with the post-regulation point, then its telling that they haven’t broken that mark since 2011-12. While there have been recent seasons where the Devils came close or beat their full-season stats; it’s not always good. The overall CF% is below 51% and it’s been real bad in the last two seasons. Basically, when the opponent comes into a game with some rest, it has not been an easy one for New Jersey. Particularly in recent seasons.
Without rest? Well, that’s a different story:
Now this is much better! Corsi for, goals for, winning and point percentages were all better against tired opponents. Even in the last two seasons, the Devils were able to take advantage of opponents going into their games without rest. Even the 2015-16 Devils - a 46.2% CF% team all-season - broke 50% CF%! Only 2012-13 and 2013-14 stick out like sore thumbs, but they’re bookended by seasons where the Devils certainly enjoyed these games. Plenty of wins, improved possession, and even a better goals scored ratio. Should you want the Devils to “go for it,” they’ll need to keep up or improve on this. The good news is that it doesn’t seem so crazy given the last nine seasons.
So Far, So Good, So What?
So what does this all really matter? Well, it shows that the Devils aren’t necessarily doormats when they’re heading into a game after playing the night before. It certainly is not easy but the Devils have been able to make the best of it. They were able to earn a similar percentage of all possible points in games they were tired in compared to games where they had rest. That said, the Devils were better off playing a tired opponent compared to a rest one. The latter is intuitive. The former, less so.
Why would the Devils be able to have similar success over the last nine season while tired compared to not being tired? I think it is a factor that the Devils haven’t been good in the last two seasons brought the numbers down to be closer. I think it is a factor that the Devils do play a lot of back-to-back sets often to a point where they may be used to it as an organization. That seems strange given the number of personnel, coaching, and management changes. However, I could see that preparing for a large number of these kinds of games in mind ahead of the season helps out. Good performances help too. I will again point last season was an exception of sorts with fewer tired games. With 18 back-to-backs coming up, we’ll see if the Shero/Hynes regime picks up on it. The hope should be that they can, particularly if you want to see the Devils play beyond early April.
But more hope should be put into how the Devils prepare for rested opponents. As those games are more common, the results are closer to what the team’s actual quality. A bad team may be able to churn out a good proportion of points in, say, twelve games where they were tired. But the other 70 games will be more reflective of who they are. Points are points regardless of whether the Devils or their opponents are tired; but the Devils could stand to improve when the other team has the time and energy from having at least a day off before the puck drops in their game.
This is a two-part series. I did cite Dr. McCurdy’s Tweets regarding rest advantage and disadvantage here. Tomorrow, I will show off how the Devils did in those situations; to show whether or not they really did take advantage. I’ll even include how the Devils did in games where both teams will be tired. And I’ll add some more. While I’ve known rest to be factor, I will admit in overlooking on how it might be a factor. I think the Devils are re-building, but knowing how the Devils handle these situations in their schedule can help them . Especially since the Devils do play plenty of back-to-back sets in most seasons and will return to a large amount with 18 in 2016-17. I hope this provides a good base for tomorrow’s post about how the Devils performed with and without a rest advantage. Thanks to Dr. McCurdy for providing me to making this and the next post possible. Thank you for reading.