Throughout most of this season, the New Jersey Devils have been winning despite their possession numbers, which have frankly been terrible. The team currently has a 47.61 CF%, which ranks as the 5th worst in the NHL. Over time, the general correlation is that the better a team is in possession, the better chance they will have at winning consistently. There are of course exceptions to this consensus, with the 2013-14 Devils instantly coming to mind. That was a dominant possession team, ending the year with a CF% of 54.50, but they could not win games.
This year, the Devils have mostly been the polar opposite of the ´13-14 Devils, as they have been consistently winning games in spite of getting dominated in possession on many nights. When you continue to look at the team’s season average, it has not been good since about the 5th game of the regular season. There has always been a fear of the other shoe dropping with this team thanks to poor possession play, but so far mostly so good.
Perhaps one reason that the Devils have been able to maintain mostly winning ways despite a poor overall Corsi is that since about the first week of November, the team’s Corsi differential has slowly been increasing. Take a look here at Sean Tierney’s chart that tabulates every team’s Corsi differential (shot rate for vs. against) during the season. It starts off as a big blob with all 31 teams highlighted, but you can click on the NJD logo on the right side to highlight how the Devils have been doing as compared to the rest of the league.
Analyzing the chart, just off the bat you can see that the Devils have been a bad possession team this season. They have been in negative differentials most of the season. However, you can also see some real positive since the beginning of November. Over the last two months, the trajectory of the team’s rolling Corsi differential has been going up. There were some dips, such as around Thanksgiving time and again at the beginning of December, but the overall path has been trending upward. Has the trend been sharp and drastic? Absolutely not. It has really been more like the tortoise instead of the hare: slowly increasing, but at a steady pace. Compare that to, say Anaheim, who had a serious dip in the second half of November before sharply rising again in the first half of December. The Devils have not had that. They have been consistently improving in their rolling Corsi differential, but just at a slow pace.
What does this mean for the Devils? Perhaps not much, perhaps a lot. Some could take it and say that the team has been slowly figuring out how to work together and drive the play on the ice as the season is going on. This would make some sense as the younger players are becoming more comfortable at the NHL level and are upping their games. However, you could also say that it means little because everything could change in an instant. Just look at the last game against Dallas, which led the Devils to a fairly significant drop on that chart. Anything could change at any time, and the team could easily fall back down to where they were back at the beginning of November with a seriously negative Corsi differential.
For me, I am obviously writing about it because I think there is some meaning to it. The Devils have been a poor possession team, and should rightly be knocked for it this season. It is something that will need to get better soon. Because the team has been so porous in terms of allowing attempts against, it has forced them to need to score a lot to keep winning. And even when they do, like when they posted 3 against a good Dallas team the other night, that still wasn’t good enough considering Dallas was able to put 4 behind Cory Schneider. That just goes to show you how fragile their season has been; any dip in production offensively would create a long losing streak that would destroy any playoff aspirations. A good possession game would stabilize and counteract that weakness.
Therefore, to see that chart and see that the Devils are slowly increasing in Corsi differential, that is a positive sign in my mind. It shows continual improvement in an important part of the game, one that can translate to better sustained success. Will it for sure lead to sustained success? Who knows for sure? Again, anything could change in an instant. Heck, maybe things have already changed with the team gaining only 2 out of their last 8 potential points. But I think if we continue to see the positive trend in that chart as the season continues, good things should continue to happen for this hockey club.
What do you think? Do you think this means anything for the Devils, or am I just making stuff up? What does a chart like that mean to you, if anything? Can a positive trajectory in Corsi differential lead to more sustained success for New Jersey? Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.