Penalties are common in hockey games and they can absolutely decide games. Whether its from keeping a team from attacking, keeping a player off the ice for some time, or giving up a goal on a man advantage, they can be costly. They played a role in how the last two New Jersey Devils games were decided. On Friday, Montreal won 3-1 with all of their goals coming from their power play. On Saturday, the Devils scored the eventual game winning goal in a 5-on-3 situation and added a second power play goal for a comfortable-looking 4-1 win over Philadelphia. Both games made me think who on the Devils have taken and drawn in this season, what kinds of calls they have taken, and what was the result of said calls.
For the sake of time, I focused on the last month. As I am writing on this on January 22, I am looking at penalties called in games since December 22, 2016. That’s from the first Devils-Flyers game to the most recent Devils-Flyers game in this season. That’s a happy coincidence. I went through the play by play log at NHL.com of each game to get the information. I’ve counted every listing of a penalty, even if they ended up cancelling each other out (e.g. fighting majors). I would have liked to use Corsica but I think there is something wrong with how they track penalties drawn and taken. I’ll explain why I think that later in this post. First, let’s look at the calls themselves.
In the last sixteen games, the Devils have taken 72 penalties and drawn 82 penalties from their opponents. This has led to 61 power plays for the Devils, which led to eight power play goals. That’s a conversion rate of 13.1%. All power plays were came from minor or double minor penalties; their opposition did not take any non-fighting majors. As for the opposition, they have had 56 power plays which led to ten power play goals against New Jersey. That’s a conversion rate of 17.8%. Two of those power plays were three-minute long major penalties (a five for a major plus two for the opposition) wherein a total of three power play goals were scored. Both of those majors were for boarding calls that were not as bad as what Tom Wilson did to John Moore, who somehow got nothing for it.
Anyway, here’s the breakdown by period of all of these penalties. This chart does not include the slashing minor Travis Zajac took in overtime against Edmonton on January 7, which led to Mark Letestu scoring on that power play.
This does show that referees have called fewer penalties as the game has went on. With this representing only sixteen of the Devils’ 48 games this season, a look at the full season would provide more evidence whether that is true or not. One game could and did skew things somewhat. The first Devils-Flyers game in this group of games had a first period with 17 penalties called between both teams and ten of those were within the last five minutes of the first period. The first period would have more calls than the other two if we ignore that game, but it’d be 29 for the Devils and 27 for the opposition in all first periods.
What kinds of calls have the Devils taken and drawn? Here’s a breakdown of all 72 they took and 82 they drew:
The Devils and their opponents have been guilty of roughing calls more than most. Four of the twelve roughing calls by New Jersey did not lead to any power plays and five of the fifteen roughing calls by their opponents did not lead to any power plays either. That would take roughing off first place for both sides. The Devils have been guilty of nine tripping and interference calls that have cost them. They have also out-slashed, out-held, out-cross-checked, and out-boarded (including those two majors) their opponents too. Their opponents have tripped them more and committed more hi-sticks and hooks. While not as frequent, the opponents have also taken a wider variety of penalties, including one instance of a clipping, illegal check to the head, stick hold, and a delay of game penalty. They’ve also taken more unsportsmanlike calls and too many men on the ice penalties. Those not-so-common calls led to the difference in total taken and drawn penalties. Unfortunately, the Devils have not taken advantage of those additional calls as they’ve conceded more power play goals (10-8) and even allowed two shorthanded goals.
That the Devils have drawn more penalties than taken is a surprise to me given that the Devils have not been good in possession in the last month of games. According to Corsica’s custom query, the Devils’ CF% in those sixteen games is 43.71%. Not only is that bad, it speaks to how the Devils just have not had the puck all that much compared to their opponents. In this larger view, the Devils’ opponents have been rather undisciplined. Again, a look at the whole season would really provide more evidence as to whether that is true or not. At the same time, this further emboldens my frustration with the Devils’ power play. There were many opportunities for the Devils to at least be more competitive in these sixteen games or win them more outright. Yet, they came out negative in score differential despite a positive in penalty and power play differential.
Now, who has been taking and drawing calls for the Devils?
Every Devil except for Andy Greene and Yohann Auvitu has either taken or drawn a penalty in these last sixteen games. Drawing a penalty is not necessarily the same as selling, diving, or highlighting a foul. According to the play by play log, it’s whoever was fouled. Taking a penalty means the player took the foul. Ideally, one would want to draw more penalties than they take because it means they’re doing something to have the opposition make a mistake.
Among all of the Devils, Kyle Palmieri has been the best at this. He’s taken only one penalty and drew seven of them, for a differential of +6 power plays. Combined with his seven goals and five assists in these last sixteen games, this further bolsters Palmieri’s recent contributions. He’s been much better than he was earlier in this season. I’m not surprised to see the team’s leading scorer and shooter, Taylor Hall, up there in drawn-taken differential. Hall is fast, he takes initiative, and that can draw defending players to foul him. Curiously, Vernon Fiddler and Adam Henrique are behind them at +3. Henrique does play an offensive game at times, so I can understand that. Fiddler is a fourth-liner who plays limited minutes and doesn’t really do much going forward. He also didn’t play for most of the month too. But he’s been good about not taking calls in that time period and he not only drew four calls but two of them led to power play goals. That’s a positive for a depth forward.
On the flip side of this, Kyle Quincey has been the most problematic when it comes to taking calls. When I first saw the number, I figured it would be from restraining penalties. His slow speed means when he’s out of position, he’s in a bad situation and that can lead to penalties. Three of out of his seven non-matching penalties could be associated with that, but four out of his seven non-matching penalties were roughing calls. Basically, Quincey needs to dial back the “toughness” a bit. Most of the Devils’ defensemen are in the red in this taken-drawn differential and that’s understandable. The Devils have been in their own end more often than not in 5-on-5 play and defensemen generally do not lead offensive plays that can result in penalties. So I’m not surprised to see the team’s current leader in minor penalties, Damon Severson, or Jon Merrill to have five taken penalties each. Merrill has been fortunate to draw a couple to mitigate the cost of those penalties. Five from Severson is an improvement given that he has eighteen minors so far. But the name that sticks out like a sore thumb is P.A. Parenteau. The winger has been productive (let’s go trade value!) but taking more calls than drawn recently is a damper. What happened? Namely, the New Year’s Eve game against Washington. He took three penalties in that game alone, which, by my count, negated three power plays the Devils had. That’s just bad. While that can be chalked up to one awful afternoon, that he hasn’t drawn more than one call points to the fact that he hasn’t been dangerous enough to warrant the opposition to foul him. I’d like to see that improve along with the defensemen - namely Quincey - to sharpen up on their fouls.
Before delving into the last player who deserves focus, let’s look at the team. It’s been good for the Devils. The Devils’ bench has been tagged for only one penalty: a too many men call during a power play against Philly on December 22. In contrast, the Devils have benefited from three too many men on the ice penalties by their opponents in the other fifteen games. Those calls were drawn by Nobody since, well, nobody drew them. There were four other calls drawn by nobody for a total of seven. There was a delay of game penalty on Karl Alzner on December 29; Radko Gudas taking a misconduct penalty on December 22; and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on Wayne Simmonds in both Devils-Flyers games. The first one (December 22) did lead to a power play goal and the second made a 5-on-3 situation that Palmieri did score on. At least the Devils took advantage of those calls instead of letting those advantages - penalties that weren’t drawn by anyone, just mistakes by opposing players/teams - go to waste. The opponents have taken more of those nobody-drawn calls (7) than the Devils (2) in addition to opposing benches getting called (3) more than the Devils’ bench (1). I do not know if that can be kept up. We’ll see.
Miles Wood deserves his own focus. He’s the reason why there’s a count with and without non-matching penalties. I wanted to use it to show that Wood really has grown to be a pest. His inexperience and tendency to be over-aggressive has led to taking some pretty dumb penalties. At the same time, his speed and tenaciousness going forward has forced the opposition to try to slow him down illegally. When you take out fighting majors (Wood has three!), Wood has still been involved in more penalties than any other Devil. If he can be smarter in general on the ice and especially when it comes to taking the man, then Wood could shine in the future as a drawer of penalties - which only adds to his value as a winger and how much of a pleasant surprise he’s been since his call-up to New Jersey. He’s been doing that in these last sixteen games, he just needs to stop himself from taking enough calls to match it.
Wood is also one of the reasons why I had to go through the play by play logs myself instead of relying on Corsica. The other was that nobody seems to have specific counts of how many calls of a penalty type were taken. Corsica does have a count by player for penalties taken and drawn. Using their Custom Query for all situations in the last month of Devils games, Corsica claims Wood has taken six penalties and drew only three. That’s totally wrong. Even if Corsica’s data scrapers don’t account for penalties that do not result in special teams situations, Wood has clearly drawn more than three penalties in the last sixteen games and he didn’t take six penalties. He took four that didn’t match and seven if you include his fights. And there are additional errors. Michael Cammalleri is listed by Corsica to not have drawn any penalties but he has drawn three: a tripping call this past Saturday, a trip on January 7, and a roughing call on December 29. It’d be one thing if Corsica’s counts included fights or excluded certain events, but it’s just wrong. It also makes me question if War on Ice had the same issues. Needless to say, by the end of the season, I’ll have to go through all of the play by play logs of Devils games to get the complete picture of the 2016-17 Devils because I certainly can’t trust Corsica on this. And neither should you.
Going back to what I did discover, I would hope the 2016-17 Devils try to make some adjustments based on the last sixteen games. I’d like to see Kyle Quincey be smarter about trying to get rough with opponents for whatever reason. I’d like to see P.A. Parenteau be more threatening on offense and try to avoid taking calls because he’s not drawing anything. I’d like to see Severson be more cautious if only because he’s taken so many penalties in general this season. I’d also like to see Palmieri and Hall keep it up. Should they continue to attack and go forward with the puck, they will continue to draw calls. I’d like to see Wood be smarter to reduce the ones he does take while still utilizing his speed to continue to draw calls. Lastly, I want to see the Devils’ power play really take more advantage of all of this. In the team’s last sixteen games, the Devils have drawn and received more opportunities than their opponents despite not controlling most of the run of play. That they’ve been outscored compared to the power plays the Devils have conceded represents a real lost opportunity within the last month. Yes, the Devils have been more successful so far in January, but imagine if the power play just potted in a few more goals - they could have won some more games outright or at least be more competitive. It would further justify reason to believe the team is heading in the right direction.
At the very least, the last month of games has shown that while penalties have been at the forefront of several games, the Devils have come out better for it. Their opponents have taken more penalties than the Devils. They’ve taken more bench minors and non-drawn penalties than the Devils. There are a couple of Devils who have been successful at drawing calls; namely Kyle Palmieri and Taylor Hall with Miles Wood, who can really shine if he starts taking fewer penalties. There are a few who have been really negative when it comes to taken-drawn differential such as Kyle Quincey. But the Devils have come out ahead in this area. I’d like to do this again with a full season’s worth of data to really find out the additional value or cost a player has provided to the team by way of drawing or taking penalties.
What do you think of all of this? Were you surprised to see that more penalties were called in the first period of Devils games than the other two? Did you expect roughing, interference, and tripping to be among the most called penalties against the Devils? Did you think Palmieri would be the team’s leader in penalty differential while Quincey would be last? Do you think Miles Wood can be an effective penalty drawer one day in the near future? Should we send a thank you card to Wayne Simmonds for the unsportsmanlike penalty calls? Lastly, would you want to see a full set of data after this season ends? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about penalties drawn and taken by the Devils within the last month. Thank you for reading.