In one short month, the New Jersey Devils both dazzled and delighted us with a four-game win streak and fell hard to reality with the disappointment of a 1-3-1 run to end the month. Overall, it was a successful October in that the Devils earned 11 points, more than half all 18 potential points. A record of 5-3-1 is not a bad one on its own. How the Devils got to that point and the slump it otherwise led dims any brightness from a look back at the first month of the 2018-19 season. As is tradition, we will look back as the team presses on in November.
The Games of October 2018
The Devils’ schedule for first month was filled with loads of home games. Their first game of the season was a home-opener in name only as it took place in Gothenberg, Sweden. All the same, the Devils made it a good one for all of the fans around the world. They rose up and decisively defeated Edmonton by a 5-2 score. Five days later, the Devils had their true home opener in Newark. They hosted the Stanley Cup defending champions, the Washington Capitals. The Devils gave the Caps a glorious beatdown which ended with a 6-0 victory. It was a historic shutout win. On Sunday, the Devils hosted San Jose, a team that has given them issues and defeats in Newark for several years. The Devils made a third-period comeback to beat the Sharks, 3-2, to extend their winning streak to three games. Two days later, the Devils hosted Dallas and shut them down with a 3-0 win to make it four in a row. The Devils were playing well. The Devils were sharp on and off the puck. The Devils made statements with these wins. The Devils were hot.
Then it all went away.
The Devils ended a four-game-in-Newark home-stand against Colorado. That night, for whatever reason, the Devils struggled to string passes together and maintain possession. The opposition took advantage and made it a competitive game. Worse, the Avs put up two goals against Keith Kinkaid in the third period to go up 3-4 in what would be a 3-5 loss via an empty netter. The third period would quickly become a time of concession as the Devils’ slump has been filled with goals against in the final frame of regulation. On October 18, the Devils traveled to Philadelphia for their first official road game of the season. Again, the Devils’ performance was very sloppy. They played undisciplined hockey, which yielded many penalties. They managed to make it 2-2 in the third period before conceding one late and allowing two more empty-netters to make it a final score of a 2-5 loss. The Devils had four days off to have some intense practices and sort things out. The performance was better on October 25 against Nashville in New Jersey. However, the Devils saw a 3-2 lead in the third period become 3-3. At least they got a point out of it, but Nashville prevailed in overtime for what was New Jersey’s third straight game without a win. On October 27, the Devils played their final home game for the following two weeks with a matinee against Florida. After a sluggish start, the Devils went up 3-0 and cruised for the rest of the game. Florida tried to mount a late comeback, but the Devils maintained this lead to win 3-2. This broke the winless streak. That was good. The good times would not last. The Devils started a seven-game road trip on October 30 in Tampa Bay. The first eight minutes or so were good before Tampa Bay’s ferocious offense ate the Devils’ breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in the remaining 52 minutes. The Devils were blown out 3-8 - and conceded three more third-period goals in the process. This loss ended the month at 5-3-1 for New Jersey. However the struggles have already continued into early November.
It is not so much that third-period goals allowed equal losses, but that the Devils have dropped opportunities to get more results in these games. Bad nights are bound to happen in an 82-game season. There will be nights where the team takes too many calls or struggle to execute basic tasks on the ice for one reason or another. The issue for New Jersey is that these struggles really took hold after looking strong in their first four games. Yes, it helped that Washington and Dallas played the night before playing New Jersey; but everyone in this league has to go back-to-back at some point. Credit the Devils for taking full advantage. What I cannot figure out is how the performances switched so suddenly and how third period goals allowed have just ballooned after shutting out Dallas. Passes have been more of an adventure, the defense became a lot leakier, and the amazing top line has not always been amazing enough or even enough when amazing. It is because of how the second half of the month took place on the ice, I can understand and agree with being down on the Devils. The first two games of November have only solidified that thinking as the team is mired in a one-win-in-last-seven-game slump.
That being written, I make a point of it to look at the numbers to see if they justify these feelings. Let us look at the numbers for October.
By the Numbers
The numbers provide evidence to how the team has performed in various situations. These numbers were pulled from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.com on November 1, 2018; so it is inclusive of the entire month of October.
For the “For” stats, higher numbers are better and are ranked accordingly. For the “Against” stats, lower numbers are better and are ranked accordingly. Green numbers are top ten in the NHL and red ones are 21st and below. Some stats aren’t colored because they aren’t significant at the time (shorthanded goals allowed, which is currently and sadly no longer zero).
From an attempts (Corsi) standpoint, the New Jersey Devils were a below league median team in November. It was not that bad. They were just in the bottom end before adjustments. With adjustments for venue and score, the Devils were closer to the median. In other words, the Devils were pretty OK from a Corsi stand point, but further gains are possible. The same can be said for scoring chances. The Devils were a bit below league median in terms of chances for, against, and for-percentage. After adjustments, they ranked about the same except they were just above the median in for-percentage.
Adjustments made the Devils’ 5-on-5 stats they did very well in look even better. In terms of shots on net, the Devils did quite well at generating shots and the proportion of 5-on-5 shots. Their shots against rate was around median. The rates went in the right direction after the adjustments, further showing that this aspect of 5-on-5 play went well. High danger chances continue to be a source of strength. The Devils were outside of the top-ten in terms of creating them but they were by and large the very best in the NHL at preventing them with the league’s best HDCA/60 and HDCF% stats. It remains to be seen if these adjustments would really hold up after the Devils play a good number of road games (read: after November). However, the run of play in 5-on-5 was not a real issue at all in October.
Percentages were definitely favorable for the Devils. Their team shooting percentage was still high by the end of the month, something that cooled off over their struggles. It still was a top-ten rate. Even with the big 3-8 loss to Tampa Bay, Kinkaid’s save percentage in 5-on-5 play was still pretty good and better than league median. And even with the big L in Tampa, the raw number of goals allowed was still really low relative to the rest of the league. Granted, the Devils did only play nine games - which also led to the low number of raw goals scored. On the flipside, the Devils’ rate of goals for ranked high in the NHL and the goals against rate was still solid. Production and performance do not always correlate, but in October, the Devils were not solely riding hot sticks and pads to success nor were they playing well but not finishing or getting enough stops. 5-on-5 was good over the whole month.
Adding to this which is not in the table is the expected goals model. Every attempt is calculated with an expected goal value and the result of that gives us an idea of whether the Devils have been over or underperforming. Corsica calculates this model among others. According to Corsica, New Jersey’s 5-on-5 expected goals for percentage was 54.17% in October, the fourth best in the NHL in October. Their actual goals for percentage was 55.88%, which was the ninth best in the NHL in October. While the Devils overachieved a bit in 5-on-5, it is comforting to know that what they have been doing in these situations was still quite good. While the last two games has undercut any reason to be confident, these stats are evidence that the 2018-19 Devils may not be that bad of a 5-on-5 team. They were at least good in this past month.
In terms of individual standouts, per Natural Stat Trick, the Devils finished the month with 7 players at 50% CF% or better and 12 skaters at 50% SF% or better. From an attempts perspective, Travis Zajac, Nico Hischier, and Taylor Hall have done very well with the best defensive pairing being Andy Greene and Damon Severson plus a surprising leader in John Quenneville (who played plenty with Zajac). From a shots perspective, Hischier and Hall were leaders at forward (and two games of Drew Stafford) but Sami Vatanen and Mirco Mueller ended up as the better defenders.
In terms of raw 5-on-5 production, Kyle Palmieri led the team with 4 goals and 7 points; Severson led the defense with 6 points; Hall led in total shots and attempts; Hischier led in high-danger chances and penalties drawn; and Miles Wood was a runner-up in attempts, shots, and high-danger chances.
Power Play Situations
The Devils’ power play was very good over the month of October. Their success rate was a top-ten rate in the NHL. While they did not have a ton of ice time (which makes sense, scoring goals ends power plays) or draw a lot of them, the Devils were a +10 on the PP. Unfortunately, the Devils have started November with a number of shorties, even if they are mostly empty-netters. Still, the man advantage was an advantage in October.
However, the underlying numbers do not instill much confidence in the power play being as effective going forward. While scoring goals ends power plays, most power plays do not end with a goal. To that end, it is jarring to see that the Devils’ rate of attempts, shots, chances, and high-danger chances all ranked near the bottom of the NHL. It is true that there has been a big talent drop off from power play unit #1 (Hall, Hischier, Palmieri, Zajac/Boyle, and Will Butcher) to power play unit #2 (which uses two defensemen, Vatanen and Severson). This suggests some real issues with how the team breaks out; their long back pass has not yielded consistent entries or success post-entry. This suggests some real issues with how the Devils perform in the 1-3-1. Unlike other teams, they do not move around much and sometimes get caught distributing the puck between two or three skaters, which limits their actual man advantage. The good news is that the Devils have been productive and had a very high shooting percentage on their PP in October. The other stats mean that Rick Kowalsky and the players have a lot of room for improvement.
Who was the best power player? While Hall had the most power play points, the individual counts at Natural Stat Trick clearly point to Palmieri. Hall had no PPGs, Palmieri had 5. Hall had 4 shots; Palmieri had 13. Hall took 11 attempts; Palmieri took 18. Hischier had more scoring chances and high-danger chances than both, but he’s set up in the middle of the zone in the 1-3-1 set up. Palmieri is hanging out in the circle, usually in the right one. The Montvale man has been a target for blasting pucks and he is the biggest reason why the PP was so successful in October. And Hall knows it because he (and Butcher and others) keeps feeding #21 like they should.
Penalty Kill Situations
Alex wrote about how the Devils’ penalty kill has been a source of strength near the end of October. While Tampa Bay lit it up on the last game of October and the PK has slid further in early November, Alex was right. The Devils’ penalty killers have been successful. Despite some bad nights of discipline, they really have not allowed a lot of situations relative to the NHL. They also allowed a mere six goals, which speaks very well of Kinkaid as well as the PK units.
The rates at Natural Stat Trick all suggest that the PK units really have been that good. Their rates of shots, chances, and especially high-danger chances against all finished among the best in the NHL in October. Their rate of attempts against is above the league median. Again, Kinkaid has been very, very good in that he has not allowed a high rate of goals against. Yes, the save percentage is around league median, but it has been more than enough for the Devils to find a lot of success in their penalty kill. The only fault out of the PK unit in October is that they have not scored any shorthanded goals yet. Given how they tend to generate a shot or two per game, they will be coming provided those opportunities keep coming.
Individually, the numbers at Natural Stat Trick for those with at least 20 shorthanded minutes highlight some familiar names on the Devils’ penalty kill. Greene and Ben Lovejoy have been the best from an shots-against rate standpoint. That is impressive as Greene and Lovejoy usually start penalty kills and often face the other team’s top units. Mirco Mueller has been no slouch either; his rate stats also are quite good for a PK. Among forwards, Pavel Zacha is a surprising leader. His rate stats are so much better than Brian Boyle, Zajac, and Blake Coleman. They have not been too bad, but Zacha has managed a SA/60 below 30, which is something else on a PK. While he is usually on the second unit, this points to Zacha being really good at something. It may not be what you want from the young forward, but it’s better than nothing.
Additions and Subtractions
As one would expect in October, there have been debuts and a variety of changes. Unfortunately, the Devils have had to make a number of these in light of injury. This is not an exhaustive list but here who has been out:
- Jesper Bratt has been out with a fractured jaw two days before the Devils’ first game, which was going to be in his home country of Sweden. He missed the whole month.
- Cory Schneider was out, as expected, as he recovered from offseason hip surgery. He did have a conditioning stint in late October with Binghamton and did technically get minutes in the third period of the Tampa Bay game after Tampa went up 3-7.
- Ben Lovejoy missed three games with an upper body injury after the Colorado game. He did return for Tampa Bay on October 30.
- Travis Zajac missed the Philly game with a lower body injury suffered from the Colorado game, but he did return for the Nashville game and has been healthy ever since.
- Marcus Johansson was sick for the Florida game on October 27. He has been healthy ever since.
- Steve Santini suffered a fractured jaw in his second shift in his season debut in Philadelphia. He has not yet returned to action.
- Stefan Noesen played the whole month but he has been placed on injured reserve retrospective to October 30, so he got hurt from the Tampa game.
While that is not a run of injuries that would ruin a team’s run, they added a degree of difficulty to the month. It led to some new or new-to-this-season names in the lineup. As a result of these injuries and other decisions, we have seen the following people in New Jersey:
- Jean-Sebastien Dea was picked up off waivers before September ended and made his Devils debut in Sweden. He has been in the lineup ever since.
- After Bratt’s injury came to light, the Devils signed Drew Stafford to a one-year contract and have kept him on the active roster. He has played two games in October.
- John Quenneville and Eric Gryba made the active roster out of camp. Quenneville would start with the Devils; but only make five appearances before being sent down. Gryba would be sent down first, but he was recalled in light of Lovejoy’s and Santini’s injuries. Gryba played in two games and has not been in the lineup since the win over Florida.
- Kevin Rooney was called up and has made three appearances. He was returned to Binghamton in early November.
- Joey Anderson was called up and made his NHL debut in the 3-2 win over Florida.
There could have been one more debut in defenseman Egor Yakovlev. He was called up but has not yet played. Maybe he will in the future. In any case, the only player on the above list that has registered even a point has been Dea. Quenneville, Gryba, Rooney, and Anderson have all been pointless. Granted, these players did not play much but there weren’t enough contributions to make up for the players they were filling in for. That said, they also did not hurt the team all that much either.
Other than the Stafford signing, Ray Shero has been quiet in terms of trades. There are no real rumors or reports of doing anything. We’ll see if that continues as November rolls on.
Devil of the Month
In every one of these months in review, I want to highlight one player who has been consistently great throughout the month. That player is the Devil of the Month. I also typically name a “runner-up” as an honorable mention. In most months, there is a legitimate honorable mention. For October, I have a few to note before I get to that honorable mention.
There was a real question as to whether Keith Kinkaid would be able to be the team’s primary goaltender to start this season. Schneider was going to be out due to recovery from surgery and he was out for nearly all of October. Kinkaid rose to the occasion and was a big reason why the Devils started off the season so hot. He only allowed four goals in his first four games and put up save percentages well above 95%. Unfortunately, as with the team, he has cooled off. Kinkaid has not really been giving up soft goals even as the GAS’ piled up. I would go as far as to say for all of the issues the Devils had by the end of the month, goaltending has not been one of them. And it still isn’t since Kinkaid and Schneider (with one start in November) have been doing the best they can behind some bad games by the skaters. If nothing else, Kinkaid deserves some recognition for holding it down.
While they have not started off the month scoring, that Hall and Hischier’s 5-on-5 numbers are among the team’s best is a plus. Hischier has been a penalty drawing machine and has eventually got points going. Hall eventually got his points going and had a point streak going into November. So much so that Hall had 12 by the end of the month and Hischier had 8. Yeah, they were very good.
But the honorable mention for me is Damon Severson. Andy Greene has been declining as a player for the last few seasons. Last season, he was drowning with Steve Santini and Sami Vatanen had to put in a lot of work to make him seem half-decent again. The captain has been re-united with Severson. CJ noted that the reunion of #6 and #28 has been good for both of them as well as head coach John Hynes giving that unit some more favorable match ups and minutes with Mirco Mueller and Sami Vatanen taking on some of those tougher responsibilities. In a home-heavy October, that has worked out and Severson has been often on the scoresheet because of it. Seven points in nine games is very good for a defenseman. While Mueller and Vatanen have better shots against rates, Severson has the team’s best CF%, the team’s best scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance against rates, and Severson’s own SF% is still above 50%. The point is that the Devils have been good in the run of play with Severson on the ice and the defenseman has contributed regularly on and off the scoresheet. He is my honorable mention for the Devil of the Month for October 2018.
The actual Devil of the Month is easy. He was the team’s hottest shooter in October with a stunning and unsustainable 30%. He finished the month with a goal-per-game average of one. He set a specific franchise record for most consecutive games with multiple goals scored to start a season with three. He scored seven goals in the Devils’ four game winning streak. His fourteen points placed him in the top 30 NHL scorers for the month of October. Only five players scored more than his nine goals. He was only held pointless in one game in October - the game in Philly - and he responded with at least a point in the next three games. He scored half of the Devils’ ten power play goals of the month. His October was so abnormally productive, only Mikko Ratanen was found to have a hotter-than-usual start according to this Athletic ($) article by Dom Luszczyszyn. He is the pride and joy of Montvale, New Jersey and the October 2018 All About the Jersey Devil of the Month: Kyle Palmieri.
October was ultimately positive and there are plenty of positives from the team and player levels to pull from it. However, how it ended was in a slump that has continued into the beginning of November. The Devils are on the road and they will be the last team in the NHL to win a game away from home if/when they actually get a road win. I agree that things may get worse before they get better, so I can understand those who may roll an eye at anything that looks at October and states that it was good.
But in ways it was, or at least it was not bad. There are signs that the 2018-19 New Jersey Devils are not this crummy band of dudes scraping by for goals and results. They’re not this group total overachievers hoping and praying that 2017-18 repeats from them. Are there improvements they can make? Absolutely. Will they need to make some adjustments? Hynes really needs to and if he doesn’t, he should review the tape from the last two weeks. Can the Devils end up better than how they finished October? Possibly, but it will take strong execution, an adjusted game plan, better focus, a more resilient mindset, and a little bit of luck to go with a lot of hard work. Capping off third period goals against to lose leads or secure losses would go a long way to do that. Having the power play generate more offense in general will help. Secondary scoring is always a plus and so is good 5-on-5 play from them; it cannot always be on 9-13-21. Being smart in general to avoid putting the team in tough situations is generally beneficial. There’s a lot to improve, but the team’s play in October suggests that they can do it. It is not asking for a miracle given that the team played pretty well in most aspects of their first nine games.
The Devils are in a slump now and so every bad shift, period, and game feels like the end of a season - but nothing is over yet. It remains to be seen whether they will get it out of it. But October is a reminder that it has not been all bad from a results, performance, or production perspective. That’s how I choose to see it.
How do you choose to see the team’s play in October? What did the Devils do then (other than, you know, win more) that the the Devils should try to return to doing now? Who impressed you the most in October? Would you agree that Palmieri was the Devil of the Month? If not, then who would you pick and why? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about how the team played in October - and what you expect for the rest of November - in the comments. Thank you for reading.