Last month was terrible. December 2016 for the New Jersey was terrible. They played very poorly and won only four games. A new year was coming and surely things would be better for New Jersey. Surely better than 4-9-2, right?
Well, yes. January would be better than December for the Devils. The Devils went 7-5-2. They actually had a successful road trip. They even had a winning streak. There were real bright spots in this past month. However, the Devils also found their way to the bottom of the Eastern Conference and they lost all but one of their home games after a road-heavy December schedule. Let’s review what happened to see how they got to where they are now as a new month begins.
The Games in January - A Summary
After a day off on New Year’s Day, the Devils hosted Boston for the first of seven home games in the month. Since December only had four games at The Rock, it was thought that this would benefit the Devils. One would have thought after that game against Boston. The Devils played well and Cory Schneider was perfect in a 3-0 shutout win over the B’s. On the very next night, the Devils went to Raleigh, North Carolina to play the Hurricanes. With Andy Greene leaving the game early due to injury and Carolina out-attempting and out-shooting the Devils throughout the night, the Devils had to gut out the game. They did so successfully thanks to Schneider and three goals in a 3-1 win. With two wins, the Devils looked to be on the rise. Plus, there would be the emotion from debuting the Devils Ring of Honor by inducting Dr. John McMullen. Unfortunately, Toronto had other ideas and utterly stunned the Devils with four straight goals. Two late goals were just consolation in light of an early embarrassment to Toronto, 2-4. The Devils had no time to dwell on it, they hosted Edmonton. Schneider was sensational, not so from the other 18 skaters. At least they pulled out a point in a 1-2 overtime loss to Edmonton. On the following Monday, the Devils ended a three-game home stand by hosting Florida. The Panthers scored - and then would add two empty netters to make it a 0-3 loss. The loss to Florida meant the Devils would head into a four-game road trip - their last of the 2016-17 season - with three winless games.
That winless streak would first go to four games. The Devils went into overtime with Edmonton in another performance where the Devils were fortunate to get to overtime. An ill-advised line change yielded another OT loss to Edmonton for New Jersey. However, the next night in Calgary was much better for New Jersey. The Devils played a very good game. In a fast, attacking, and well-supported performance, the Devils beat Calgary 2-1. The road trip continued to Vancouver on Saturday. A tight game was ended quickly in overtime with an OT winner by Taylor Hall for a 2-1 final score. In the final game of the road trip, the Devils would visit Minnesota. The same Minnesota team that led the Central Division and featured one of the best goaltenders in this season in Devan Dubnyk. Despite a 0-2 deficit, the Devils were able to make a comeback. The Devils put up four goals on Dubnyk and won in regulation in Minnesota, 4-3. New Jersey picked up seven points out of a possible eight points. The four-game road trip was actually successful. It even had a winning streak. This would be the high point of the month.
Unfortunately, what usually follows a high point is a descent. The Devils returned home to play Montreal. The night was a bad one for New Jersey and the referees. The latter led to the goals against and the former ensured the loss. The Devils lost 1-3 and it was a reminder that things are not quite all that good. Better times would occur the next night in Philadelphia. The Devils actually had a successful power play amid the usual shenanigans in a game against the Flyers. Miles Wood was involved in a lot of it - and scored twice in a 4-2 win. Beating the Second Rate Rivals is always a positive.
Unfortunately, very little of it carried over into their final two home games of the season. Los Angeles scored three goals in the first period and controlled the rest of their game. The Devils were left looking lost in a 1-3 loss. Washington preyed upon the Devils’ defensive errors for several goals. While it was not as bad as the loss to the Capitals on New Year’s Eve, it was still a decisive, 2-5 defeat. The loss secured a six-game winless streak at the Rock. It also sent the Devils to last place in the Metropolitan Division and in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star Weekend. Suddenly, that high point looked so far away - even if it was just from a little over a week prior.
Fortunately, the Devils would have one more game to salvage their position. In the last game of the month, they visited Detroit, who was one of their conference basement neighbors. They played well for two periods, scored two shorthanded goals, and actually did not lost their lead despite coming really, really close. The Devils beat Detroit 4-3 to end January on a positive note. Is it a sign of better things to come? Is it just a win over another bad team? We will find out in February, which doesn’t look so promising with Alex’s recent post in mind.
By the Numbers
Since Corsica takes a day or so to catch up, these numbers are between January 1 and January 30. I will update them after the last game against Detroit.
In the evening of February 1, Corsica has all 14 Devils games in January accounted for, so the numbers have been updated to match them.
5 on 5 Play: After using Corsica’s custom query tool, I cringed at first.
The Devils’ CF% in January was 45.23%. That is an improvement over December’s abysmal 44.46%. Unfortunately, the Devils’ CF% in January ranked 30th in the NHL. That’s the worst in the NHL. That’s last place. That’s a real bad percentage that speaks to a lot of really bad 5-on-5 hockey by the Devils. Devils have continued to be owned in the run of play. The possession has largely been controlled by their opponents; that means a lot of action in New Jersey’s end - and not so much in the opponent’s end. The Devils’ CF/60 was 44.15. Not only is that the lowest in the NHL, 29th in that category is St. Louis at 51.37. The Devils’ shooting attempt rate in January is that much behind everyone else. As for the CA/60, it’s at 53.46. That’s actually the fifth lowest rate in the NHL so that was actually good. But it isn’t so good since, hey, the Devils weren’t hitting back as much as their opponents were hitting them with attempts. (And the Detroit game didn’t help.)
That said, there are some stats that mitigate this awful finding. First, their SF%, while below 50%, was not as bad at 47.95%. Six teams had a worse percentage of shots for out of total shots, so the big difference in attempts have not necessarily meant more shots on net against New Jersey. Further, the team’s SA/60 was 28.31, which was the eighth lowest in the league for the last month. That’s also a plus. The SF/60 was still a low 26.08 but it didn’t rank dead last - OK, it was 29th, but still better than last place. What was surprising to me was that they outscored their opponents in 5-on-5: 21 goals for, 16 goals against. That’s pretty low scoring, but the Devils were at least positive in goal differential. Even their expected goal rates would’ve put them ahead. It’s somewhat unfortunate that their expected goals for and goals against were higher (2.40 and 2.34) than their actual (1.96 and 1.49). But the point is that the team didn’t give up a lot of chances or were fortunate to score and allow as much or as little as they did.
What really helped in 5-on-5 play was the goaltending. Last month, Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid combined for a 90.58% save percentage. In January, prior to the Detroit game, they combined for a 94.74% save percentage. That’s the third best save percentage in the NHL in all of January. Even with some games featuring goalies being pulled (Toronto, Los Angeles, Washington), both Schneider and Kinkaid were largely excellent. The shooting percentage also rose to 7.5%. That’s not a huge jump over last month, but it’s better than nothing. It does beg this sobering point: if the Devils got such great goaltending, then that they only did this well in January is a problem for the future. Recall what I wrote about high points and how descents tend to come after them. If the Devils somehow don’t make massive gains in how they perform in 5-on-5 situations, then I fear February will be uglier.
Power Play Situations: The Devils finally scored in a 5-on-3 situation in January! That would be the highlight in a month where, per NHL.com, the Devils converted 14.6% of all of their power play situations - they went 6 for 41. That ranked in the bottom third of the NHL. Curiously, the Devils were near the top of the list of power play opportunities in this past month. Only Calgary and Tampa Bay had more power play ice time in January. There were plenty of choice situations that were left on the table, so to speak. At least there was no extended power play drought; the longest the Devils went without a PPG is three games. I suppose that’s a kind of progress over last month. Not much progress, but progress nonetheless. Some of the deeper numbers (as in not what is usually presented) at Corsica show that the Devils’ power play was still poor in January. Their SF/60 rate was 31.63, which was the second lowest in the NHL. Their expected goals per sixty minute rate was 3.06. Both of those point to the fact that the Devils have struggled to generate shots and shots that would threaten to score. That’s a result of the gamut of issues ranging from breakouts, zone entries, setting up in the opponent’s zone, and distributing the puck. Geoff Ward still has a job. I don’t know why.
Penalty Kill Situations: A lot of the in-game criticism of referee decisions led to many penalty kills, including multiple boarding calls that were somehow major penalties whilst Tom Wilson hitting John Moore from behind, which gave him a concussion, was not. The Devils had just over eighty-eight minutes of penalty killing time and they suffered. In January, according to NHL.com, the Devils killed 40 penalties out of 52 for a success rate of 76.9%. That success rate ranked 22nd in the NHL, which isn’t good but not necessarily among the worst. Corsica’s data for 4-on-5 situations revealed that the Devils’ SA/60 was 49.50. That’s a shots allowed rate that was above the league median but still better than the bottom third in that category. The Devils’ goaltenders did post a 85.9% save percentage in 4-on-5 play, which was not that bad - although Kinkaid had a rougher time in shorthanded situations than Schneider. The power play remains the more problematic special team since the team continues to leave opportunties on the ice. Yet, the PK in January wasn’t so sharp and with 52 situations lasting just over 88 minutes, the team could stand to be more disciplined. Although it would’ve been nice if the referees had a consistent definition of what constitutes a major penalty for boarding in this past month.
Additions & Subtractions
The New Jersey Devils’ blueline witnessed two season debuts in January. On New Year’s Eve, John Moore was knocked out of the game with a concussion. This led to Steve Santini being called back up to the New Jersey Devils. He was with the NHL team earlier in the season but did not play. He would make his season debut on January 2, contributing an assist in 11:35 in action. With Andy Greene being knocked out of the Carolina game with an arm injury that would see him miss most of the month, Santini would take on more minutes including penalty killing situations. Santini would end up scoring his first goal (Hall’s shot hit his arm before going in) and his first intentional goal (a long shot against Montreal). For a player in his first pro season, he’s held his own and has not been lit up too bad in limited action. Corsica has him with a 46.13 CF% and a 27.27 SA/60, which weren’t too bad among Devils defenders in this past month. If nothing else, Santini showed that he has a future in the NHL.
The other debut came after Yohann Auvitu left the Edmonton game on January 7 in his first shift with an injury. Ahead of the team’s road trip, Karl Stollery was called up. Stollery is 29 and was intended to be used a bit more on offense, including the power play. In eight games with the team, he was primarily paired with Santini except in man advantage situations. While their usage was appropriately limited, Stollery’s CF% and SA/60 were both better than Santini’s at 48.24% and 26.54, respectively. Like Santini, Stollery largely took care of business. He did not help out much on the power play and he has only contributed six shots in eight games; although, the power play has issues that go beyond whether Stollery is the lone defender. While he is a veteran fill-in player, Stollery has not been abjectly bad and so there’s that. It’s telling that the injuries on defense did lead to Seth Helgeson getting into three games, but since Stollery’s call up, Helgeson has since been scratched except for one game (January 20 and that was because Jon Merrill was sick). All three of Santini, Stollery, and Helgeson were sent down to Albany to stay active while the NHL was on a short break.
At forward, poor play among the forwards - especially with the last two lines - led to many changes with the lineup. Sergey Kalinin, Beau Bennett, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Luke Gazdic all rotated in and out of the lineup. There were two debuts at forward. Blake Coleman was added to the roster ahead of the team’s four-game road trip. He did decently to start and so he played five games on the fourth line. Decent was far better than what Sergey Kalinin or Devante Smith-Pelly were providing in January. The 25-year old would have a highlight in his call up. While falling down, he hit Beau Bennett in the slot with a pass. Bennett finished the feed for what would be the game winning goal in Minnesota. It remains to be seen whether Coleman will be back, but he at least had that. Before the All-Star Weekend, Anaheim waived Stefan Noesen and the Devils claimed him prior to the Washington game. With Beau Bennett put on injured reserve (a lower body injury), Noesen stepped into the lineup and scored his first goal as a Devil against the Caps. He scored his second goal as a Devil in his second game with the Devils, against Detroit. That’s a fine debut, we’ll see soon enough what else he can contribute.
There would be two returns at forward. First, Jacob Josefson recovered from concussion symptoms, and returned to the lineup against Calgary on January 13. Nick Lappin, who didn’t do much in six games in January, was sent down to help make room on the roster for Josefson’s return. Josefson has mostly been the third line center in the seven games since then. He’s returned to his usual form of not contributing a whole lot but not necessarily being an albatross. The other return was Vernon Fiddler. He came back to the lineup on January 21 against Philadelphia. His return led to Coleman being sent down to Albany. Fiddler has returned to his usual fourth line center role.
Devil of the Month
I was so disgusted by last month that I named nobody as the Devil of the Month. I will not do so again. I will give out an honorable mention and a proper Devil of the Month as usual for these posts. First, the honorable mention. Ahead of the last game of the month, Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Michael Cammalleri were all tied in first in January scoring with eight points. Palmieri pulled away with two goals to lead the team in January, but Hall, who had one less point, has stood out much more than the other three. First, Hall led both - and all other Devils - in shots as he had 43 on net compared to 37 for Palmieri and 22 for Cammalleri. Second, the 5-on-5 stats at Corsica for Devils skaters in January were telling. On a team that mustered a woeful Corsi For percentage around 45%, four skaters had a CF% above 50% in January. In reverse order, those four were Pavel Zacha (13 games), P.A. Parenteau, Beau Bennett (in 9 games), and Hall. Hall led the team with a CF% of 56.07%. His relative Corsi is an astounding 16.16%. What that means is that when Hall was on the ice, the Devils were usually attacking. When he stepped off the ice, the Devils were not - and sometimes in a very big and noticeable way. Hall was the team’s lone All-Star representative in this season and it was easy to see why in this past month. While he did not put up a lot of points in January, he was their most productive skater when you factor in shots and attempts and supporting teammates to get said shots and attempts. To that end, Hall is my honorable mention for the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month of January 2017.
As for the actual Devil of the Month, go back to the 5-on-5 Play section of this post. The goaltending was fantastic throughout January. The Devils nearly had the best save percentage in 5-on-5 play in the month. Both Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid had sensational bounce-back months after a December where they both slumped. Their play kept the Devils in many of their games in January. They only lost by three goals twice: the 0-3 loss to Florida that had two empty netters and the 2-5 loss to Washington that had one empty netter. While Schneider was pulled twice and Kinkaid was pulled once, their numbers do not lie. They were absolutely on point in even strength. In the view of the whole month of January, the Devils have shown to have several issues - but goaltending was not one of them. So this award would have to go to a goalie. Kinkaid was very good in three of his four starts. But Schneider was just better with more appearances and a superior penalty killing save percentage (88.7%) to go with his fantastic even strength save percentage (94.1%). It also helped that he shut out Boston and survived barrages from Carolina, Minnesota, and Edmonton twice among others to drag the team to points in the standings. Therefore, I name Cory Schneider as the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month of January 2017.
The Devils did have a successful month in that they won more games in December. They earned points in more games (9) than they had regulation losses (5). Both Kinkaid and Schneider not only emerged from their slumps, but they sparkled throughout the month. They even finished January with a remarkably good road record: 6-0-1. Given that those games did include potential playoff teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Philadelphia, and a really good Minnesota team, that’s rather impressive. There is reason to be pleased about how the team played in this past month. Compared to December, it was wonderful - but that’s namely because December was just that awful.
However, this past month had several down points to it too. Their home record was a terrible 1-5-1, with that first win coming right at the beginning of the month. The team’s awful CF% manifested itself in some performances that belied even some of their winning results. The power play showed little improvement and the penalty kill wasn’t all that hot either. While a few players led in scoring, no one outside of Kinkaid and Schneider and Hall (to a degree) were exceptional throughout the whole month. Even with that 3-0-1 road trip, the Devils were finding themselves dropping down further in the standings and did hit rock bottom. Mike’s main point in a post earlier in this month was right. The Devils are a victim of the standings system - and their success could not be sustained so they just fell as others (e.g. Islanders) were able to do so. Beating Detroit pulled them out from the East’s basement. So there’s that. Moving on up is going to take a lot more successes and those to happen more frequently and for other teams to falter. If you consider that to be a sign of progress, then you didn’t really get that in January. It was better than last month. To me, that is progress and I will take whatever I can get because A) this is still a bad team that is rebuilding and B) December was just that awful.
Now that you’ve read what I thought about the team’s performances in this past month, I want to know what you think. Do you think January was a good month or not? What did the team do in January that confirmed what you thought or feared about the team? What did they do that taught you something new about the team? Most of all, where should the Devils go from here? I think they should be sellers at the trade deadline, but should they try to make a run anyway like last season or would you prefer that they stay close to last in the East? Please leave your answers and other thoughts that you may have about how the team performed in January. As always, thank you for reading.