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New Jersey Devils Month in Review for March 2017

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The New Jersey Devils went 2-11-2 in March. Yes, out of thirty points, the Devils earned only six points. This post looks back at a month where the team hit rock bottom in the standings.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Columbus Blue Jackets
It was a tough month, to say the least, for New Jersey.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The New Jersey Devils entered the month of March with a four game winless streak. The New Jersey Devils ended the month of March with a five game winless streak. In between, the New Jersey Devils kept up with not winning many games at all. The Devils remained in last place within the Metropolitan Division. The Devils fell hard to take last place the Eastern Conference within the month. They compiled a 2-11-2 record in March. That was the league’s lowest in this past month. If a 2-11-2 record in March wasn’t the equivalent of hitting rock bottom, then I’m afraid to see what rock bottom would look like. Let’s look back at a month that could have renamed the team to the DeviLLLLLLLLLLLLLs.

The Games in March - A Summary

The Devils ended February with a four-game winless streak. That streak was extended for the first six games in March. The Devils were winless from February 19 (their last win was on February 18) to March 16. Yes, it was a nearly-month long losing streak. The six losses:

Six games, six regulation losses, and four of them were one-goal losses. Close, but not enough is one way to look at it. A closer look at the performances also show a slumping team, whether it is in getting goals, getting stops, or even getting plays to go correctly. Fortunately, all bad streaks come to an end and it came in a big way in their next game. Which wasn’t the March 14 home game against Winnipeg; blizzard conditions forced that game to be postponed to March 28. It would be the next scheduled date.

On March 16, the Devils had a home game with the Second Rate Rivals. They chose this game to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, which was the next day. That added to the atmosphere as the Devils just creamed Philadelphia. Goals? The Devils had them. Bragging rights? The Devils earned them. Decisive result? The final score was 6-2 in favor of the good guys. Wooo. There’s nothing like beating a rival and doing so to end a ten-game losing streak was just delightful.

Unfortunately for the Devils (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), the Devils games went right back to losing column. On March 17, the Devils visited Pittsburgh in a game that turned out to be all about the scoring. The Devils tried to keep up, but the Pens prevailed as the Devils lost 4-6. On Sunday, March 19, the Devils took on Columbus for the third time this month. The Devils did score a goal against Columbus, but they still lost to them by a final score of 1-4. That score seems decisive though it featured two penalty shot goals against, a fluke against, and an empty netter. Still a loss. Then came Our Hated Rivals.

From a personal point of view, I wanted the Devils to beat the Rangers. Forget the tank. Forget the positioning. Forget the harsh reality that the 2016-17 Devils are one of the worst teams in the NHL. I wanted no brooms from Manhattan. I wanted a win. I got what I want in a game that reminded me why amid this poor season, this is all worth it. The Devils dramatically won 3-2 in overtime with a stunning performance by Cory Schneider and a sterling overtime winner by Joseph Blandisi. Again: there’s nothing like beating a rival.

That win over the Rangers on March 21 would be their last of the month. In Toronto on March 23, the Devils were rushed down in a 2-4 loss. At home on March 25, the Devils hosted a surging Carolina squad; the 1-3 loss to said Carolina squad mathematically eliminated the Devils from the postseason. At home on the next night, the Devils took Dallas into overtime - while Dallas had a power play. They converted it quickly to make it a 1-2 defeat. The postponed Winnipeg-Devils game from March 14 was played on March 28. It featured something the Devils have not done in a while: a shootout. The Devils lost in the shootout for a 3-4 final score. On the final day of the month, the Devils went to Brooklyn to play the Islanders. The game featured a lot of whistles as the Devils had to kill ten shorthanded situations. They only allowed one power play goal, scored one (out of three) power play goal of their own, and allowed the only even strength goal. Yes, the Devils lost in regulation 1-2 to close out the month; their seventh one-goal loss in March.

By the Numbers

It was bad last month and previous months are linked from there. After going 2-11-2 in the month, I expect it to be pretty bad. Let’s see if that’s true or not.

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.

Surprise, surprise, the Devils weren’t horrid in possession. Their CF% as a team was 50.31%. With a CF/60 of 51.01 and a CA/60 of 50.38, they out-did their general opposition in 5-on-5 play. Not by much. But for a team that has been so far in the red, this is a positive development. Actual shots on net are similarly decent. The Devils’ SF/60 was 27.89 and their SA/60 was 28.79 for a SF% of 49.21%. No, the Devils weren’t offensive machines in March; but they weren’t doormats for the opposition in 5-on-5 play either.

With all of the close games, the goaltending had to be pretty good. The team’s save percentage was 92.5%. That’s not as good as February, but it’s not too bad. (And Kinkaid was good, Schneider ended up around average.) The recurring problem of the team’s shooting percentage returned. In March, it was 5.81%. That’s not really much better than a 5.3% in February. Therefore, while the Devils had a good GA/60 rate of 2.16, their low shooting percentage held them back with a really low GF/60 rate of 1.62. The expected goals model had the Devils’ play in March yield a xGF/60 of 2.06 and a xGA/60 of 2.33. In other words, the Devils - namely their goalies - beat expectations for goals allowed as the Devils skaters fell below expectations for goals scored. Despite some better-than-what-I-expected numbers amid attempts and shots, the lack of goals result in a lack of results.

Power Play Situations: After being hot in February, the power play cooled off in March. According to NHL.com, the Devils finished 16th in the NHL in power play conversion percentage in March with 18.4%. That’s not bad in general. The Devils converted seven out of 38 opportunities for that percentage. If that seems a little low, then that’s because it is. The Devils finished 23rd in total power play opportunities in March. Their seven power play goals put them in a three-way tie for 18th in the NHL; the bottom third is filled with teams that only scored four or five. The Devils’ success on the man advantage in March was largely driven by a five-game PPG streak from March 16 through to March 23. The goal differential for the power play was a +4 as the Devils conceded three shorthanded goals in March.

According to Corsica’s custom query tool for 5-on-4 situations, New Jersey’s rate of shots definitely fell off in March. Their SF/60 was 41.65, which ranked in the lower third of the NHL in March. Their CF/60 of 75.72 was the sixth lowest in the NHL too. It’s a shame since the Devils’ 5-on-4 shooting percentage was high at 15.91%, the seventh highest in March. Both rates’ rankings within the league point to how the power play had more of its usual struggles that we’ve seen earlier in this season.

Penalty Killing Situations: The Devils finished March with a flat 80% success rate for the month. They killed forty out of fifty shorthanded situations. Recall that the Devils were assessed ten shorthanded situations in their last game against the Islanders. That one game accounted for 20% of all shorthanded situations for the Devils in March. Thanks, refs. Anyway, the Devils’ 80% success rate ranked 18th in the NHL in March. Their fifty shorthanded situations was the second most in the month; I’m not terribly bothered by it because, again, one game was such a big factor. Their ten power play goals allowed put them in a five-way tie for the seventh most in the NHL in March. That’s more bothersome since it means the Devils’ special teams were a net negative for the month.

According to Corsica’s custom query tool for 4-on-5 situations, New Jersey’s PK units have been conceding quite a few shots and attempts. Their SA/60 rate was 53.36, which was the ninth highest in the NHL in March. Their CA/60 rate was 99.33, which was the seventh highest in the NHL in March. Kinkaid and Schneider received plenty of work in these situations. Their save percentage: 87.69%. That finished around the league median in March and tied with San Jose and Pittsburgh. The penalty kill as a whole wasn’t bad, but the units conceded quite a few opportunities and that did yield some goals.

Additions and Subtractions

The NHL Trade Deadline was on March 1. I thought it was kind of a disappointment at the time. I think it kind of still is in retrospect. The Devils traded Kyle Quincey for Dalton Prout. Prout, who was the #8 defender on Columbus this season, has not maintained a regular roster spot on defense and not played particularly well. The Devils also moved P.A. Parenteau for a sixth round pick from Nashville. The last deal with a minor league trade: Reece Scarlett for Shane Harper. The Devils were sellers at the deadline and did not receive a whole lot. So it goes.

With the trade deadline passed, most of the Devils’ moves were internal. Partially to have a closer look at more players, partially in responses to injuries such as Michael Cammalleri, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jacob Josefson that occurred during the month. Kevin Rooney, who was with Albany, was signed to an entry level contract, called up to New Jersey, and played limited minutes in four games before going back to Albany. Nick Lappin was recalled and played in eight games in the bottom six before going back to the AHL. Blake Pietila was also recalled and he managed to receive PK time plus a regular shift in eight games; he only picked up one assist. John Quenneville was recalled and has had a more notable time with a goal, four assists, and eighteen shots on net. He remains on the team and has received power play time plus more significant minutes in a number of his nine games.

The Devils did make two external moves after the deadline. First, the Devils traded Brandon Gormley, a defenseman who’s been with Albany, to Ottawa for future considerations. Gormley is ineligible for the postseason; he’s remained in the AHL. Second, the Devils signed undrafted free agent defenseman Michael Kapla. After UMass-Lowell’s season ended, the Devils inked the left-handed defender to an entry level contract. He was immediately assigned to New Jersey and made his NHL debut on March 31, even receiving some power play time given his offensive skillset. His inclusion along with the Prout acquisition has made a rotation of sorts out of Jon Merrill, Steve Santini, and Prout in terms of who is in the lineup. There even have been a few games where the Devils went with seven defensemen; that may continue in spots until the end of the season.

Last and certainly not least, there is now resolution of one of the ongoing loose ends for the season. Patrik Elias announced his retirement. He will drop the puck on April 4 and skate one last time with the team on April 8, the team’s last home game of the season. His number will be retired sometime next season. As Mike put it perfectly, Elias was something special for the team. No, he wasn’t a signed player for 2016-17. But Elias is a franchise legend; the best forward in Devils history. His retirement absolutely counts as notable news for the month while technically not a transaction.

Devil of the Month

Given that the Devils have went 2-11-2 in March, there really weren’t a lot of standout performances from the skaters. Everyone has had some off nights or nights where they just couldn’t get much going. But if there’s one shining silver lining of the past few months, then it’s the line of Travis Zajac, Taylor Hall, and Kyle Palmieri. Hall has been a joy to watch in this season. His pace, stickhandling, patience on the puck, and aggression at attacking is refreshing amid another Devils season lacking offense at general. What did he do in the month of March? Five goals, five assists, and 49 shots on net for starters. A CF% of 54.29%, tied with Beau Bennett for the second highest on the team in March, for another. And when he was on the ice, the Devils had a scoring chance per sixty-minute rate of 9.53, the third highest on the team. Hall was quite good amid a crummy month of results. He’s the honorable mention for this month.

I will give the edge to Kyle Palmieri. While Palmieri’s CF% was not as high, 53.01% is nothing to sneeze at either. Palmieri’s scoring chance per sixty minute rate was a bit higher than Hall’s at 9.73. While Zajac had an even higher rate, Palmieri has had more production than Zajac. Palmieri finished tied with Hall in points, but he had six goals and four assists out of 45 shots on net. Palmieri also had two of the Devils’ seven power play goals of the month too; Hall and Zajac were goalless on the PP. Just as Hall impressed with how he played on the ice, Palmieri was quite similar in his own right. He played with pace, fire, and firing plenty of shots too. With the edge in goals as part of being New Jersey’s top line, I will name Kyle Palmieri the All About the Jersey Devil of the Month for March 2017.

Concluding Thoughts

One of the more interesting developments on this blog is the creation of a fictional character of Sherman Abrams. He represents those who support a Devils tank. I’m glad that some of the readers have taken to him. But that I created him at all is telling. The Devils have been really bad in 2016-17. While some of their monthly stats in March was not as bad as in previous months, the record shows that they are really bad. They had two wins out of fifteen games. Yes, it’s two wins over the team’s most hated rivals. Two victories that were just cathartic for the Devils fan to see and/or happen. But 2-11-2 can’t be defended as anything but just very poor. If only for that, I don’t believe the Devils are trying to lose games on purpose - they’re just not good at all.

For the fifth straight season, the Devils will end their season at the 82nd game. I’ve been counting down the games because, well, I just want the season to conclude. A lot of the excitement, or at least interest, with the team is for the future. I can’t blame anyone who is; I’m even one of them. Bring on the lottery, the expansion draft, the entry draft, and another potentially busy summer for Ray Shero. Who wants to excited for how this team is currently performing? So we’ll see the final four games out and move on for another year. Such is the harsh reality of re-building.

Your Take

Now that you’ve read what I thought about the team’s performances in this past month, I want to know what you think of how the team played in March. The underlying numbers weren’t awful aside from the shooting percentage, so what went horribly wrong for the team to go 2-11-2 in the month? What’s left to root for if you’re not in agreement with Sherman Abrams and his tanking preferences? 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 March. There won’t be a month in review for April as it’ll only be five games long. As always, thank you for reading.