Before this season began, February 2017 looked to like a month to look forward to for the New Jersey Devils. A month where nine out of eleven games would be at the Rock. When the season started, the New Jersey Devils were one of the last teams to lose in regulation on their home rink. All the more reason to have positive expectations for February. Then the team faltered more often at home. By the time February came along, the Devils were 10-9-3 at the Rock. The Devils did not move the needle much. They won three out of their nine home games for a record of 3-3-3. Throw in a split road record and the Devils’ record for the month was 4-4-3. They began the month just outside of the basement of the Eastern Conference and earning half of all possible points kept them there. Read on to find out what happened, how the team performed, and who would be a Devil of the Month.
The Games in February - A Summary
The Devils began the month with a back-to-back set. The first game, a home game against Calgary, kicked off their first of nine home games of the month. They lost that one 3-4 in OT, where T.J. Brodie was a star with four-assists and the Devils struggled throughout the third period. The second game was one of their two road games of the month and it would be against Columbus. The Devils managed to avoid the Blue Jackets when they were white-hot. They also managed to play a wonderful game, create plenty of offense, and absolutely stun Columbus. The Devils delightfully won that game, 5-1. With that trip to Ohio out of the way, the Devils returned to Newark on February 6 to host Buffalo. The Devils kept up their winning ways with Pavel Zacha scoring a power play goal to put the Devils on top, 2-1. Dropped point to Calgary aside, it was a fine way to start the month.
The Devils would have their mandated bye “week” after the win over Buffalo. They returned to the ice to host San Jose on Sunday, February 12. While the Devils scored first, the Sharks stormed the Devils with three second-period goals. An insurance goal in the third secured a 1-4 loss for New Jersey. Say what you want about Peter DeBoer and his squad, but they made the Rock a tough building on that Sunday. The Devils would rebound on Valentine’s Day. They hosted the worst team in the league this season, Colorado. The Devils did not lose to the worst team in the league this season. Despite giving up a late second period goal which made it 3-2, the Devils held on throughout the third period to make it a win over the Avs. The homestand continued on Thursday as Ottawa came to Newark. The Devils, well, stunk in that game. The Sens did not. The Devils lost 0-3 in what Devin called an “anemic” performance. The homestand would end on Saturday, February 18 with the first half of a home-and-home with the New York Islanders. The first half had the better result as the Devils went up 3-2 on the Isles. Thanks to Nick Leddy missing on a glorious chance to tie it up late, the Devils survived the late onslaught for the 3-2 victory. The Isles would have revenge on the next night, in Brooklyn. The Devils’ and Islanders’ skaters lit it up and the Devils made a comeback to be down 3-4 after two periods - and then conceded two quick goals in the third period. They would not overcome that. The Devils would fall to the better team in New York, 4-6.
The month wounded down with three games to go. Ottawa returned to the Rock on Tuesday, February 21. The good news on that night was that the Devils scored a goal against them. The bad news was that the goal came after two goals by Ottawa and despite efforts, there wasn’t an equalizer. The Devils were swept in the season series against Ottawa in a 1-2 loss. After a few days off, the Devils hosted Our Hated Rivals. The performance wasn’t bad. The passion was there with nothing really getting out of hand. The Devils led late in the game - but conceded an equalizer within the final five minutes. After Kyle Palmieri had a breakaway chance in OT, Our Hated Rivals counter-attacked and took the game. The 3-4 OT loss to the one team I want the Devils to beat this season was another let down. The month of games ended on February 27 when the Devils hosted Montreal. This was the team’s first ever Pride Night. And as the game went on, it appeared that they could send the fans home proud of their hockey team. Then a third period came where the Devils would build up a two-goal lead twice, lose said two-goal lead on the first shift after scoring, and give up an equalizer within the final minute of the game. Frustrating, to put it nicely. A power play goal against in overtime sealed a 3-4 OT loss for New Jersey. The Devils ended the month with three straight winless games at home, four straight winless games overall, and fourteenth in a sixteen-team conference. Almost mercifully, there’s only one full month of hockey left.
On a more personal note, I want to thank Devin, who took care of a lot of these recaps and previews in this month. I also want to thank Brian, Alex, Gerard, CJ, Mike, and Matt for adjusting things to try to keep things functioning on this site. I was taking care of some personal business in February; but that’s sorted and I’m back in action.
By the Numbers
The Devils’ performance in January was bad. The Devils’ performance in December was horrendous. CJ said they’re bad (but not bad enough). Mike has concluded that the Devils’ season is effectively over. I think they’re right. But were the performances bad in February? Let’s look at the data and find out.
5 on 5 Play: Thanks to Corsica’s Custom Query tool, here are the team’s stats in 5-on-5 play, the most common situation in hockey games.
The Devils had a CF% of 47.02%, which is an improvement over the past two months if you can believe it. That CF% was the sixth lowest in the NHL in February. It’s not good but it was a step forward. Speaking of steps forward, the Devils’ CF/60 actually broke 50. It was 51.21, the third lowest in the NHL in February. It’s not good, but again, it’s better than where they were at the end of January. As for CA/60, it was 57.70, which was the tenth highest in the NHL. That’s just plain not good. What this all means is that the Devils’ games had more events in 5-on-5 play and while the Devils made more attempts, their opponents were able to do more. The same conclusion can apply when looking at the team’s shot statistics. Their shots for percentage was 46.73%, their SF/60 was 28.11, and their SA/60 was 32.05. As with attempts, they ranked poorly in those categories but were not abysmally in last. If you can accept progress as not being the worst in those kinds of stats (e.g. CF%, CF/60, SF%, SF/60) in the league for a month, then this is progress.
In terms of actual goals, the Devils were out-scored in 5-on-5 play. Corsica has the Devils with 14 for and 20 against. As is the case for most of this season and perhaps past seasons, the Devils’ goals against rate is good on its own. A 2.13 GA/60 in February is good! But it isn’t good enough given how infrequently they score goals. A 1.49 GF/60 in February is bad! Amazingly, there were teams worse off in scoring; but it’s still poor. Adding to the frustration is the expected goals model. Based on where and how many shots the Devils have taken and allowed, the Devils’ expected goals for rate was 2.39 and their expected goals against rate was 2.22. In other words, the Devils were unfortunate to not score more in the month. This is further justified by the team’s low shooting percentage for the month: 5.3%. So it goes for this squad.
The one shining star amid the 5-on-5 stats in February is the goaltending. Say what you want about Cory Schneider in the last two games of the month, he showed up throughout the month to make a lot of saves. He appeared in ten out of eleven games and largely drove the team’s 93.36% save percentage in 5-on-5 play. Schneider may not have been perfect but he wasn’t the problem in this month in 5-on-5 play. Again, it falls on the performances of the skaters and the tactics by the coaches.
Power Play Situations: In a word: wowzers. After months where the Devils’ power play represented a whole lot of famine, they absolutely feasted on their opponents in February. According to NHL.com, the Devils had a success rate of 46.1%! That was by far the highest conversion rate in the league in February. The team went 12-for-26 and currently has a five-game power play goal streak. 12-for-26!! There were only two games all month where the Devils didn’t convert a power play: 2/12 against San Jose and the shutout loss to Ottawa on 2/16. According to Corsica’s Custom Query tool, the Devils’ power play units were just very effective in 5-on-4 situations. It is true that they had the second highest shooting percentage in the NHL at 21.82%. But they also had the highest SF/60 rate of 89.48 too. The scoring was spread out with Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha both leading the team with three power play goals; Palmieri (2), Hall, Andy Greene, Adam Henrique, and Miles Wood contributed too. They just got pucks to and in the net; a far cry from weeks of absolutely miserable play on man-advantages. The only downsides? Two shorthanded goals against (one was a consolation goal) and only drawing 26 situations. Still, this was a huge success in February. It’s astonishingly amazing that the Devils’ power play has been so hot in this past month. Yet, it didn’t seem so to me given how few goals they have scored in 5-on-5 play and the state of their results.
Penalty Kill Situations: As for the other side of special teams, it was not such a successful month. The Devils’ penalty kill success rate was 76.9%, tied for the 21st best rate in the NHL as per NHL.com. The Devils killed 20 out of 26 situations. At least the Devils kept the number of shorthanded situations fairly low. The Devils’ penalty killing units yielded a 4-on-5 SA/60 rate of 49.28, according to Corsica’s Custom Query tool. That isn’t terrible but above the league median in February. Schneider and Kinkaid combined for a 4-on-5 save percentage of 85.29%. Again, that’s not bad but on the wrong side of the league median. The PK was not all that strong. Fortunately, the power play was hot enough to make special teams a net positive for this past month. And they didn’t have to kill any major penalties for boarding.
Additions and Subtractions
March 1 is the NHL Trade Deadline for the 2016-17 season. So there may be some new additions and subtractions as you read this. As for the month of February, the Devils did make a number of changes. First, Vernon Fiddler was traded to Nashville for a fourth round pick in 2017. While Fiddler may not have been all that good, he was a mainstay on the fourth line for this season. So it was a subtraction. Second, the Devils traded Sergey Kalinin to Toronto for defenseman Viktor Loov. Kalinin was a regular on the bottom two lines, although he was scratched multiple times in this season for poor play. He didn’t figure into the team’s plans, so he was moved for a minor-league defenseman in Loov. No other trades were made prior to the end of the month. There was an addition to the 50-man reserve list, though. The team did sign Albany forward Kevin Rooney to an entry level contract on February 27.
In terms of injuries and call ups, there was plenty of movement. Joseph Blandisi was called up at the beginning of the month and appeared in all but one game in February. John Moore eventually came back from his concussion. Kalinin, Devante Smith-Pelly, and even Michael Cammalleri were healthy scratches at points during the month. Kyle Quincey and Beau Bennett both missed a few games with some injuries, although Quincey was a healthy scratch in the monthly finale against Montreal. That’s a clue that he may be dealt. P.A. Parenteau was also a scratch for that game, but with a finger injury - he’s day-to-day. Pavel Zacha missed the last two games of the month and ended the month on IR. This led to Blake Coleman being called back up to the New Jersey roster. Karl Stollery played in one game but otherwise spent the month in Albany. Seth Helgeson came up for a few games and was waived prior to the end of the month, presumably to give the Devils some roster flexibility. With the trade deadline on March 1 and teams limited to four non-emergency call ups from Albany, there may be a couple of new faces next month.
Devil of the Month
When you draw the tough matchups, when you’re assigned to play with the best players, and when you’re in the middle of the ice, then the coaches generally think you’re good. Or at least the best among the other centers. Travis Zajac had a very good February and it deserves some recognition. His power play goal against Montreal put him tied for the team lead for the month with three. It was also his eleventh point of the month, which was enough to make Zajac the team’s leading scorer in February. While Kyle Palmieri’s stick got hot and Taylor Hall is Taylor Hall, Zajac has been impressive in the run of play and often with those two. According to Corsica’s Custom Query tool, when Zajac was on the ice, the Devils had a 5-on-5 CF% of 53.77%, SF/60 rate of 33.16, and scoring chance for per 60 minute rate of 11.77. The CF% percentage and the SCF/60 rate was the best among Devils who played the whole month, the SF/60 rate was just the best on team. Basically, when his line was on the ice, the Devils were usually at their best in February. Since he was a stand out on a stand out line, he is an honorable mention for Devil of the Month.
The actual Devil of the Month needs to go to Cory Schneider, though. Grouse about some of the goals he allowed as you’d like, but he continued to give the not-really-attacking or supportive Devils chances to get results in most these past eleven games. Only three of the Devils’ seven non-wins in February were by more than one goal and Schneider only played in two of those. Schneider finished the month with an even strength save percentage of 93.4%, a penalty killing save percentage of 86.8%, and a GSAA (goals saved above average) of 3.99 for the month per Corsica. Those links compare Schneider with the rest of the league and he compared rather well. The data shows that -Schneider was consistently good throughout the whole month. That is worthy of being the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for February 2017.
While there were improvements in the team’s performance in February compared to the last two months, I have to say I’m disappointed with how the month turned out. The Devils started the month off just fine. However, the nine home games ended up being a mixed bag and dropping the last three at the Rock was a pretty sour experience. While taking two playoff-bound teams to overtime may not be a bad thing on the surface, the Devils lost leads in both of those games and lost both entirely in overtime. They were the latest reminders that This Is Not A Good Team. While I didn’t think they would be, it’s still disappointing to witness that reality live multiple times.
For those that want to see the team earn the best possible draft pick, the Devils are certainly on pace to still do that. While they’re not going to “catch” Arizona or Colorado, eleven points was on the lower end points earned. They can conceivably fall behind Detroit (who are two points behind) or Carolina (who are three points behind) in a matter of weeks. With a March schedule that features the last road trip of the season, three games against Columbus, games against playoff-fighting Toronto and Boston, and matchups against the best in the Metropolitan, I forsee plenty of ‘L’s coming. Likewise, I forsee that the Devils will try to sell what they can at the Trade Deadline. Those aren’t exactly bold predictions but how the team performs justifies the selling and the further acceptance that, yes, this is a bad team. As stated earlier, mercifully, there’s only one full month left in the season.
Now that you’ve read what I thought about the team’s performances in this past month, I want to know what you think. Would you agree that the Devils had better performances in February regardless of the results? Does going 4-4-3 in the month help them at all? What are your expectations for the month of March; what do you want the Devils to try and achieve? Do you agree with who is named the Devil of the Month? Please leave your answers and other thoughts that you may have about how the team performed in February. As always, thank you for reading.