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An Unnecessarily In-Depth Analysis of the Devils First Preseason Game

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Using a bevy of superfluously informative sources, I overanalyze the only game I can.

Washington Capitals v New Jersey Devils
OMG do you guys love to hockey too??
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils officially opened their season on this past Monday against the Capitals. You can see our official review of it here. What you’re about to read could be called the unofficial review. Since I’ve been itching to get back into the season for so long, and we have an entire new game of data to analyze, I decided to go full bore into a potentially useless set of information to see if I could extract any useful nuggets.

Cards on the table, I’m writing this sentence before actually looking into the data and I make no guarantees that any of what follows is valuable. Everything you read before “Conclusion” is nested in extreme caveats and should be taken with a quark of salt. So with that ringing endorsement of what’s to come: enjoy my first post-game analysis of 2017-18!

All data for this article is from either Natural Stat Trick or HockeyViz — both of whom share with me in embracing being as extra as possible in the preseason.

Devils on the Whole

You can toggle through the situations to see how the Devils performed in this game. The Devils had a really great shot heat map with a high concentration of attempts in the “home plate” zone right in front of the net. We will look into who those came from in a moment. At evens and in all situations, the Caps failed to produce anywhere hear as many high-danger shots as the Devils.

The Devils generated 6 high-danger shots at even strength to the Capitals’ 1. They also had 7 more scoring chances. So the Corsi differential is actually not fully representative of how lopsided the opportunities were. This clearly means that the Devils are a better team than the Capitals and we should expect the experts to eat heir words any day now and move us to our rightful spot atop the East.

Individual Player Attempts

This is a summary of the Devils’ individual shot attempts. This map jives with the NST stat that the 6 high-danger attempts went two-apiece to Palmieri, Coleman, and Hischier. Palmieri had 4 total scoring chances, Hischier had 3, and everyone else had 2 or less. When it came to creating individual scoring chances, Hischier and Palmieri stood out.

Line Usage and Performance

HockeyViz also has a great visual to show usage.

Despite knowing a lot about Taylor Hall and Kyle Palmieri already, that top line got a ton of time. I’d assume this was to determine whether or not Marcus Johansson is the answer at 1C. I’d expect to see Adam Henrique in a similar role at some point for a comparison.

Also notice how Coleman was the primary penalty killer. Between his scoring chances, 4C role in this game, and this PK role, I wouldn’t be shocked if he contends for the Brian Boyle role as he continues his courageous fight against leukemia.

Butcher was utilized heavily and wasn’t sheltered at all, playing the most defensive zone starts on the team. That said, on the powerplay, he was given the all-stars and Severson was given the 2nd-stringers.

As far as performance is concerned: Bratt, Blandisi, Noesen, Dyblenko, and Mueller were all on ice for a lot of the scoring action. The line performance with regards to shot attempts is seen below.

The single largest standout to me here was the Bratt-Blandisi-Noesen line. Look at all that blue. That line dominated everyone except the Burakovsky line who kept even. It’s tough to determine who really get’s the credit for this. I like the speed I saw from Bratt and he may have the highest ceiling of that crew. I liked how smooth Noesen’s game is and how easy he seems to be to play with (see: Zacha last year). And I think Blandisi actually had the best game of the lot — he had his trademark hustle, notched 2 assists, was the best player in the faceoff circle winning 8/9, and he managed to not dive for a change. Good all around.

Hall, Mojo, and Palms looked pretty good together too. However, Washington didn’t skate Ovechkin, Kuznetzov, or Backstrom and so we didn’t get a good taste of who they’d play against. That interrupts what has been an otherwise flawless and consequential exercise on my part.

On-Ice Results

According to Natural Stat Trick, Jesper Bratt was the on-ice results star so we’re gonna wanna sign him up to a McDavid-esque contract ASAP. At even strength, he led the way with a 9:1 Corsi for/against ratio and a 7:1 scoring chance ratio. The Devils were 6:1 in Corsi and 4:1 in scoring chances with his main line of Blandisi and Noesen, but we also were 3:0 in Corsi and when he was playing off-line — all of which were scoring chances. The team just always seemed to buzz when he was on the ice.

Jimmy Hayes was the goat of the day with a -5 corsi differential and 3 penalties. Not to mention, Nico played with him for 5 minutes and was a minus — then 2 minutes with Palimeri and Hall and the Devils get 2 scoring chances and went 3:1 Corsi. Hayes didn’t do much to help his chances at the opening night roster.

The Devils experienced the most success when Dyblenko was on the ice among defenders. He had a Corsi ratio of 11:7, a scoring chance ratio of 8:3, and was on the ice for 3 of our goals. Mueller played great with him, but in the small amount of time Mirco was with Prout, the Devils gave up 2 scoring chances and produced none.

Players of Interest

Going in, I was paying really close attention to two players. I wanted to see the #1 overall pick, and the Hobey Baker award winner.

Will Butcher: I commented during the game that I thought he appeared to have the yips on the powerplay. Despite having a demonstrably better unit, he still underperformed Severson. I noticed a couple of sloppy point passes to Mojo that interrupted the flow. Severson quaterbacked a much crisper cycle. That said, at no point did I have a big problem with his decision making on the puck and I thought, in general, he handled the big minutes pretty well. Some pointed out him clearly needing to improve in his own end as a throwaway critique, but I don’t recall seeing something to make me believe that — PP miscue notwithstanding. If you disagree, point it out in the comments.

Nico Hischier: I saw some people were disappointed with how “invisible” he seemed early in the game and they seemed to believe he salvaged an otherwise lackadaisical performance with the late goal. I disagree with that narrative. I thought he was unable to carry Quenneville and Hayes — who I believe were the worst two players on the ice for us Monday — but was generating opportunities for himself, being responsible in his own end, and flourishing when put in an opportunity to succeed with the top liners. The downside was that he predictably struggled in the circle. That is the #1 thing preventing me from advocating him as the 1C. But I still think that we could kick of his career the same way we kicked off Henrique’s and stick him between two extremly skilled players with plenty of ice time and opportunity.

There were also a few players that made me consider my assessment of their standing. Yaroslav Dyblenko and Mirco Mueller were the best pairing for us and I think the race between them and Butcher for the 6th spot is going to be tight — I’ve always considered Santini to be a lock for the 5th spot.

Offensively, I’ve got Mojo, Hallsy, Rico, and Palms as surefire top 6ers. It seems that Stafford will get an opportunity up there too and Nico should see top 6 minutes even if he isn’t there in name. Noesen, Wood, and Zacha seem like safe betwe to make the team as well. Boyle, when he returns, has a safe job as well. This leaves two spots. I think Joseph Blandisi and Blake Coleman made the strongest cases for themselves in this game. We didn’t see any of Speers or McLeod who are two contenders for the spots as well. They are in the lineup tonight, and so I suppose the ball is in their court to show us what the can do tonight against Our Hated Rivals.

Conclusion

Coleman will be a 1-to-1 replacement for Travis Zajac. Mueller is the next Shea Weber. And we can nitpick differences between Nico Hischier and Wayne Gretzky, but they are few and far between.

Seriously though, as I said at the onset, this could all mean nothing. My actual takeaways from this game are very limited. I think Nico showed his big flashes will translate, but I can’t say anything about his play at-large or if he can be consistently impactful. Blandisi continues to look like a talent worthy of the NHL if he keeps his head on straight and avoids stupid mistakes. I think he supported the notion that he belongs more than Quenneville. Dyblenko may have played himself into the conversation for the 6th spot. That’s what I can say and, honestly, even that is stretching it.

Your Thoughts

What’s your overreation to this game? If you learned 1 big think from this game, what was it? Did I miss anything big? Leave your thoughts below and thank you for humoring me.