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Defensive Point Production Cannot Be Overstated

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Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils
Butcher has been the man for assists on defense.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Over the last several seasons, the blue line for the New Jersey Devils has been stout in terms of preventing many attempts against. If you combine all stats from the previous five seasons (from the lockout-shortened 2013 season through the 2016-17 season), the Devils allowed 14,199 Corsi attempts against at 5 on 5 play. That was the best in the NHL over that span. Only three teams over that span allowed under 15,000 Corsi attempts against: New Jersey, Los Angeles, and Detroit. There is absolutely no doubt that the Devils were tops in the league at preventing opposition from getting many attempts on NJ’s netminder.

With that strong ability to force the opposition into low event hockey, however, came a significant cost. The Devils blue line was very poor at producing points. Last season, combining all defensemen who played at least 200 minutes with the big club, the defense scored 109 points in all situations. That was ranked 29th in the league. The only team who was worse was Vancouver, who combined all defensemen with 200+ minutes for 107 points. For the Devils, it was clear that although the low event hockey was great in preventing attempts against, it was also a huge detriment in producing points because it also stymied attempts for, especially for the defenders.

This season, however, things have changed considerably, both for the positive and negative. First, the negative. The team that over the last 5 seasons was dominant at preventing attempts against now gives up more than their fair share. The Devils, this year so far, rank next to last in the NHL in CA/60 at 53.19. This means the Devils, on average, give up over 53 shot attempts per sixty minutes of 5v5 play. Only Colorado has been worse on this front. That number over the previous 5 seasons? 47.52. That is an extra 5.67 Corsi attempts per 60. If you take that number over 82 games, that is an extra 465 Corsi attempts. That is a huge number!

As the title to the article states, however, there is a positive side effect to this year’s defensive play, and that of course is blue line offense. Where the Devils had only 109 total points last season from defensemen, this year they are already at 36 through 18 games, exactly two points per game. Over the season, that would lead to 164 points from NJ defensemen, a much higher number than last season! Those extra 55 points are a large number. 164 points is over 50% larger than 109! The Devils defense this year is scoring at a clip that is 50% greater than last year.

If you want to extrapolate that out further, the forwards last year who skated at least 200 minutes combined for 372 points. Add the 109 from last year’s defense and that is 481 points from last year. If the defense last year scored 164, however, and you add those 55 points in, you’re at 536 points, an approximately 11.5% increase in point production for the entire team.

That really is a big deal. The Devils have really struggled at putting pucks in the net since they last made the playoffs. Those first couple years after the cup run, goal scoring was the one real major thing that kept them outside of playoff hockey, given their exceptional ability to control possession (some poor goaltending before acquiring Cory Schneider also contributed, as did some serious inability to win a shootout, but still). This year, however, goal scoring has been no issue whatsoever. Yes there are some serious underlying numbers which tell us that regression should occur on this front, and they did just get shutout by Frederik Andersen and his .909 save percentage, but the team is still at 3.2 GF/60 in all situations, which is in the top 10 of the league. The Devils teams of the last 5 seasons couldn’t even dream of 3 goals per 60 minutes, never mind 2.5 or even 2.25 goals per 60 (combined over the last 5 seasons, in all situations, the Devils were at 2.14 GF/60).

While the offense has been a large factor in that 3.2 GF/60 number, you have to look at the defense too as being more than just a minor contributor. Of course, among the defensive corps, we really have Will Butcher to thank for this entire article. His 13 points (all assists of course, but points are points) have really jump started the defensive scoring on this team this year. I would still love to see more from Damon Severson, who has 5 points over 17 games played, but his quality of competition is also 5 Corsi points higher than Butcher’s is, so he does have some stiffer opposition.

In the end, if the Devils are going to continue to maintain 3+ goals per game, they will continue to need consistent offensive production from the defense. They may be Swiss cheese when it comes to allowing attempts against, and there is no denying that if they do not tighten up their defensive game things could turn south in a hurry. However, at this point in time, they are remedying that deficiency by producing points at a much higher clip than the defensive groups of previous seasons were. And in my opinion, while the tradeoff is potentially ominous, their newfound offensive production is vital to the overall health of the New Jersey Devils. Just think about a Devils’ defense that can continue to produce two points per game while also being able to at least be mediocre in preventing attempts against. That would be a dangerous combination for opposing teams and could lead to many more wins for our favorite team. Let’s hope that can happen sooner than later.

What do you think about the importance of the defense producing points this season? Am I exaggerating the importance of the Devils’ blue line offense this year, or am I right in saying that it is very important to this team’s success? What can the Devils do to tighten up their defensive game while still maintaining consistent offensive production from defensemen? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.

Note: I only linked to Corsica once, but all of the stats that I wrote in this article come from that website and were gathered before the start of last night’s games.