The New Jersey Devils have always been known as a low event team, and that has been true for most of the team’s recent history. It is one of the reasons they have been considered a boring team. However, this year we have seen a significant change in play style, with a change more away from that old, Lou Lamoriello style to a style more fitting of ‘fast, attacking, and supportive.’
With this new, exciting play style has come new scoring rates as well. This season, instead of a team that is at or near the bottom of the NHL in Corsi Attempts For and Goals For per 60, and conversely at or near the top of the league in Corsi Attempts Against and Goals Against per 60, we see very different trends developing. To showcase, according to Natural Stat Trick, here were the 5v5 rates for this year’s Devils heading into last night’s game, as compared to their rates from previous seasons.
CF/60: 2017-18: 57.76, 2016-17: 49.09, 2015-16: 43.16, 2014-15: 46.41, 2013-14: 50.44
CF/60 Rank: 2017-18: 19th, 2016-17: 30th, 2015-16: 30th, 2014-15: 29th, 2013-14: 27th
CA/60: 2017-18: 63.45, 2016-17: 53.62, 2015-16: 50.32, 2014-15: 51.95, 2013-14: 42.28
CA/60 Rank: 2017-18: 24th, 2016-17: 9th, 2015-16: 3rd, 2014-15: 6th, 2013-14: 1st
GF/60: 2017-18: 3.3, 2016-17: 1.75, 2015-16: 1.73, 2014-15: 1.81, 2013-14: 1.92
GF/60 Rank: 2017-18: 4th, 2016-17: 29th, 2015-16: 30th, 2014-15: 28th, 2013-14: 29th
GA/60: 2017-18: 2.57, 2016-17: 2.29, 2015-16: 2.09, 2014-15: 1.93, 2013-14: 2.09
GA/60 Rank: 2017-18: 18th, 2016-17: 16th, 2015-16: 12th, 2014-15: 2nd, 2013-14: 7th
So I know that is a little confusing to look at, but the new story editor doesn’t allow us to copy and paste tables from Word, so I tried to improvise the best I could. If you can’t figure it out, I try to explain through it anyway.
Just look at the previous four years. Each year is essentially the same. In terms of producing Corsi attempts and goals at 5 on 5 play? The Devils were atrocious, one of the worst teams in the league without reservation. However, in terms of preventing Corsi attempts and goals at 5 on 5 play? The team was amazing. With the exception of goals against last season, the team was always in the top half of the league in these stats, and almost always in the top 10 of the league if not the top 5. Their ability to prevent Corsi attempts over the previous four seasons was unparalleled.
This year, things have been considerably different. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The Devils have completely forgotten how to prevent Corsi attempts against. They’ve gone from a perennial top 10 team at suppressing attempts to having almost no idea how to prevent them. This is quite obvious when watching the team, however. The defense has been much like Swiss cheese, with opposing offenses getting plenty of grade A chances on a nightly basis. They’ve also continued the downhill trend in preventing goals against, now being down to 18th in the league. However, that is only a gradual decline from the previous couple seasons, and if they end the season at 18th, given their newfound offensive prowess, that would signal good things.
Now, let’s get to the positives. The Devils have learned how to produce offense! Over the previous four seasons, the Devils were never better than 27th in the league at generating Corsi attempts. Only one season did they breach 50 attempts per sixty 5v5 minutes, and that was just above that number way back in 2013-14. This year, they’re all the way up close to 58 attempts, which is nearly 9 more attempts than last season. That is not an insignificant number by any means. Over 82 games, that equates to around 738 Corsi attempts! That will lead to plenty of more goals over the long haul.
And producing goals has been one area this year’s Devils have really excelled at. Producing 3.3 goals per 60 minutes at 5v5 is an incredible number, good for 4th in the league! Over the previous 4 years, they had never even breached two 5v5 goals per 60 minutes, never mind 3. If the Devils can manage to continue the early season trend of scoring over 3 goals per 60 minutes at 5 on 5 action, they will certainly contend for a playoff position, and I would say they would most likely make the dance. The great part is that after 8 games, the Devils only have a 5v5 shooting percentage of 7.15%, the 5th worst in the league. So it is not like they are getting crazy puck luck at even strength, leading to all of these goals. Their shooting percentage in these situations is still low, and could even increase as the season progresses.
What does this all mean? It means that the Devils may have finally turned a corner in terms of the rebuild. I am not saying specifically that the team is better. They have played better, but it still remains to be seen if they will end up better. But the team has turned a corner in another, perhaps more symbolic way. The old, traditional, defense-first New Jersey teams are gone. That play style is no longer indicative of this year’s team. It is like the new Adidas jerseys have ushered in a new team. Even though Ray Shero and John Hynes took over a couple years ago, they were still largely working with Lou Lamoriello’s players, and because of that, they largely kept the same system. But now, the majority of the players are products of Shero, and the play style resembles what he wants to bring in, and what Hynes wants to run. Do they want an improved defense? Of course they do. But they clearly want to play a different style from what the Devils used to play. And so far, they’re seeing some positive results because of it.
In the end, it will be interesting to see what the rates look like as the season progresses. Will they still be able to produce over 3 goals per 60 minutes at 5v5? Will they be able to remain in the middle of the pack in terms of goals against per 60? If those answers remain a yes as the season moves along, this team will probably continue to win games. However, they will almost certainly need to get better at preventing Corsi attempts against. Allowing so many attempts per game will almost certainly lead to more losses. Overall, however, so far so good!