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Early Season Misconceptions To Avoid

About a quarter way into the season, many start to believe they have figured some things out about this Devils team. Some may be right, but others are very wrong.

Detroit Red Wings v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Devils have had a very up and down start to the season. We got off to a blazing start, and then cooled off before an embarrassment of a road trip. Palmieri was the best goal scorer in the league to start the season, and has only 2 goals in the last 10. There have been some key injuries to the team such as Bratt’s early season broken jaw, or Nico and Sami’s current ailments. We’re far enough into the season now, that people start to think they know things — myself included. I’m going to point out a few particularly treacherous assumptions that I’ve seen lately.

1) Travis Zajac’s Scoring

Travis Zajac is in fact, having a bit of a renaissance season. His been worth +0.55 goals above replacement per hour at 5v5 as opposed to +0.08 last year, +0.21 the year before, and +0.15 three years ago. HOWEVER,

Many people in the twittersphere and in the comments here at AAtJ alike, have taken note of Zajac being on a pace for 32 goals and 32 assists and determined that he’s now ascended to the elite of the team’s forwards. That would be the most assists he’s registered since 2010 when he was a 24-year-old centering the ZZPops line and it would be the most goals he’s ever scored.

I’m not completely ruling out the assist total since this is a higher-scoring offensive team than many of the ones he’s played on in that span, but the goal scoring is not sustainable. Zajac is currently shooting 28% — his career average is 10.9% and his career high is 13.2%. In other words, Zajac has shooting at a percentage over twice as high as that of the high water mark of his 13-year career. Does that seem sustainable? ...

It’s not.

Zajac is having a good year and he’s been one of the more effective forwards on the team. But he’s not scoring 30 — I’d expect 15-20.

2) The Young Depth Forwards Have Not “Earned Their Spot”

Early in the season, JS Dea won a spot on the lineup and has held on to it for 17/19 games. John Quenneville had a spot, but Seney and Anderson have since beat him out and consistently inhabited roles in the bottom 6 since. All these rookies have FAR from proven their worth on this roster and in the future of this team.

As you can see, Seney and Anderson have actually cost the Devils goals when compared to a replacement level player. Noesen is the only forward (>60 minutes) that has been worse. Quenneville actually outranks each. Stafford (not shown) is virtually tied with them. So all of those Stafford-haters that begged us to “play the young guys” — we’re no better off so far due to their contributions. They are here because of injuries, and poor point production of the guys whose spots they’re taking, and a shallow roster.

So if you think that either of their roster spots are safe, guess again. There’s going to be plenty more shuffling in the entire bottom 6. They aren’t even locks to play 20 games, let alone finish out the season.

3) The Devils Aren’t THAT Bad

Here are some images from Sean Tierney’s invaluable Tableau Gallery

These are the K ratings for each team. K is a statistic from Corsica isolates their performance in shot rates, shot quality, penalties, shooting, and goaltending. The Devils are currently 2nd only to the Sharks in total K performance and are one of only two teams (Nashville) to be negative in no categories. They’re among the most well-rounded teams in the NHL on this metric.

In this graph, you can see teams performance in expected goals vs actual goals. The Devils were one of 12 teams classified as “good” in this image. As it turns out, the Devils are 12th in 5v5 GF% and 5th in the NHL in xGF% which you can see visualized in this other Tierney graphic. So why is the goal differential negative? A few reasons. First of all, of special teams time, the Devils have spent the 6th least percent on the PP. This means that they are shorthanded more than they are on the PP to a detrimental extent. Their performance in both situations is good, but since we’ve spent more time killing, the net result is poor. Another reason is that the Devils have let in a league-leading 6 empty net goals. In all empty net situations, the Devils have a -4 goal differential which ties Edmonton for the worst in the NHL.

The Devils are a good team that need to shore up their penalty differentials, play more carefully with the net empty, and need to start getting better bounces. There is plenty of reason to believe this team can turn it around so do not despair!

Your Thoughts

What are some things that you guys think you’ve heard that are hasty conclusions? What things in here do you agree or disagree with? Are you confident in Zajac’s scoring pace. Do you think Anderson/Seney are here to stay? Do you think the Devils are doomed?

Thanks as always for reading and leave your thoughts in the comments section below!