Another way I could’ve titled this piece would have been something like “the Devils are really bad at anything related to shots on goal.” We all know that the Devils are atrocious at producing shots for, and this manifests itself in several ways. Most obviously, the team has the worst shots per game in the NHL at 27.3 per game. The Devils used to get away with this by being stellar at suppressing shots against as well, but at this point they are 10th worst in the NHL at that, allowing 31 per game. Being bad at producing shots also manifests itself in possession. Corsi measures shot attempts, those that get on net and those that don’t. The Devils are bad at generating any shot attempts period, currently owning the 3rd worst Corsi, and even worse, the lowest number of Corsi attempts For, at over 100 less than the next worst team, Detroit. The Devils used to suppress both shots for and against; now they only suppress their own shots for.
Again, this is all known. Anyone who follows this team knows all of this. What I found interesting while recently checking into some stats, however, was how badly obvious this manifests itself in some other ways, namely score effects. These dictate that when a team is leading, the odds are that they are going to give up more shots and shot attempts than they will generate on average, because the team leading will play more defensively than the team that is trailing. This can be proven easily by looking at some stats from NHL.com. When leading a game, only four teams have a positive possession differential this year: Boston, Los Angeles, Montreal and Pittsburgh. Only LA is not currently in the playoffs, but they have a shot. On the reverse, when trailing a game, only four teams have a negative possession differential this year, meaning that they lose in possession even when they are losing games. These teams are Colorado, Detroit, Arizona and New Jersey. You know who four of the five worst teams in the NHL are at this point? You guessed it, those four.
You know what’s most disgusting about that stat? Let’s look at the four teams. Colorado is a -8 possession differential when trailing, meaning that they’ve given up 8 more Corsi events than they have produced over the course of the season when these score effects are true. Detroit is at -12, Arizona is at -30. The Devils? -67. That is more than these other three teams combined. So not only are the Devils really bad at possession when they’re losing games, but they’re so bad that the other three atrocious teams, combined, have a better differential than New Jersey.
But let’s keep going. There are times when a team loses a game but outshoots the other team. This happens a decent amount, again partly because of score effects. The leading team will become defensive and the losing team will start firing away to try to claw back into it. Just look at Carolina. They have the 4th best Corsi so far this year at 51.9%. They also have 22 losses when they outshoot their opponents, out of their 27 total regulation losses. The Devils had 31 regulation losses before last night’s game in Pittsburgh. You know how many games they’ve lost by outshooting their opponents? Six, good for dead last in that category in the NHL. A team that was tied for the 6th most regulation losses in the NHL entering last night had the least amount of losses when outshooting their opponents. That is not good.
Sadly, given how this team has played this season, it is easy to find something negative about this team. In fact, it is quite hard to write positively about them unless we are talking about the potential of specific players who we think will be good in the future. But looking at this information shows us just how deficient this team is in certain ways, in areas of hockey that are incredibly important. The Devils have rarely ever been great at generating shots and shot attempts. That was never really in this team’s DNA. But they were good at creating positive differentials by suppressing the opposition. This kept them in good areas when it came to things like score effects. This year, however, NJ cannot even use score effects to their advantage. They are one of only four teams to still have negative possession even when losing games, and compared to the other three, they’re seriously worse.
At this point, I’m sure that most of you are rooting for the Devils to keep losing to generate a better draft pick, even if you want to watch competitive, interesting hockey. It is very difficult to not feel that way. But just looking at some of these numbers, man, it makes you wonder how much help one player is going to be. If they don’t win the lottery, and the odds strongly state that they won’t, the numbers that are surrounding the 2016-17 Devils state that the 2017-18 Devils could be pretty ugly too. And that is sad to think about. When you’re a fan, not much is worse then when your rebuilding team is moving in the wrong direction.