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Shootouts Went Well for the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18, but Remains a Challenge for Next Season

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The shootout actually went well for the New Jersey Devils last season, having won five out of nine. But what about this coming season? This post looks at how the Devils did in shootouts in 2017-18 and what could come for 2018-19.

Tampa Bay Lightning v New Jersey Devils - Game Three
Drew Stafford was good at shootouts for the Devils last season. But if he’s gone, who’s left?
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Say what you want about the shootout. Purists, analytics-minded people, journalists, and others have lamented how shootouts are even in the game at all and how they are counted during the regular season. However, they have been a mainstay in the NHL season since 2005-06 and it does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Winning a shootout gives the team a second point in the standings as if they won in regulation. Like them or not, they matter.

And New Jersey Devils fans know this all too well. The 2013-14 squad missed the playoffs by five points. That was the team that managed to lose all thirteen shootouts they were in that season. Even slightly-losing record (6-7) could have put them in the postseason. However, the shootout has not been a source of pain in the last two seasons. The really bad 2016-17 team went 3-3. The 2017-18 team that did make the playoffs went 5-4 in shootouts. Not so coincidentally, the Devils finished in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by one point. While shootout wins do not help with tiebreakers, points in the standings are still points that matter. So let’s go over how the Devils did last season.

2017-18 Devils Shootout Team Stats

2017-18 Devils Shootout Team Stats
2017-18 Devils Shootout Team Stats
Data from NHL.com

The New Jersey Devils were relatively frequent members of the shootout. Compared to the rest of the league, they were not really that bad. Their nine shootouts put them in a four-way tie for fourth-most in the NHL. (Related: The Devils went beyond regulation in 20 of their 82 games.) While they gave up exactly as many goals as they scored, they still put up a slightly-winning record. The shootouts were a net positive in 2017-18.

If you are like me, you probably were a little surprised that there nine of them. That is because they were spread out through the season. No month had more than two of them. They only had two within a week of each other. The Devils did not have a common opponent; they were against nine different teams. There was only shootout after the 2018 NHL Trade Deadline, also known as the “stretch run” to the playoffs. Here is the game-by-game breakdown of how it went:

2017-18 Devils Shootouts Game by Game
2017-18 Devils Shootouts Game by Game
Data from NHL.com

Five out of the nine went beyond the standard three rounds, with an epic-length post-regulation session against Boston that they ultimately lost. That night on November 22 was an exception; the extra-rounds did not go beyond five shooters in all other cases. There was no real streaks of success or failures; nothing that went on for three-plus games. That also helps the notion that shootouts were not a huge issue for New Jersey even though only three teams participated in more than nine.

You should also note how low-scoring the shootouts were last season. Neither the Devils swept in goals either by scoring on all three shots or going up 2-0. Only St. Louis did so out of all opponents - and they were remarkable at the shootout last season. (Aside: The Blues entered only three shootouts, went 6-for-7, and did not allow a single goal last season.) The Devils were only blanked twice while opponents were also blanked just twice. The Devils played a lot of close games last season; after all, nearly a quarter of their season had to be played beyond sixty minutes. But it is something to see that even the shootouts were close.

Overall, the Devils were a bit better than last season at the shootout. They did have more of them, they won just over half of them (5-4), and they did so through close ones. A good number of them went beyond three rounds with one really long one. The days back in 2013 and 2014 where fans dreaded shootouts because it was almost a guaranteed ‘L’ are clearly in the past.

The 2017-18 Devils Players in the Shootout

Goaltending is crucial in shootouts. While teams can pick different shooters with different moves, looks, and ideas; you do not see goalies change during a shootout. Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider were the only Devils goalies to go to a shootout. Here’s how they did as well as their lifetime stats.

2017-18 Devils Goalies in Shootouts
2017-18 Devils Goalies in Shootouts
Data from NHL.com

Cory Schneider’s numbers look great as they are boosted by that November 22 game against Boston. Making nine out of eleven saves will always look better than making one out of three. Those eleven attempts against him and those nine saves boosted his season totals to be well beyond Kinkaid’s totals despite Kinkaid playing in one more shootout than him. They also helped Schneider have one of the highest save percentages in the entire NHL in shootouts last season. Kinkaid, in contrast, was below league median. From a pure results perspective, Kinkaid has the edge by going 3-2 to Schneider’s 2-2. From the perspective of what a goalie actually does, Schneider did more - even with the “help” of being in a really long shootout.

I included each of their lifetime stats in shootouts to show context. Since shootouts are not common events and goalies are not always in them, sample size within a season is an issue. Over the course of a career, there’s more data to conclude . Well, sort of, in this case, as Kinkaid has only been in twelve of these. Relative to career NHL goalies as well as to Schneider, Kinkaid has stopped a larger percentage of pucks.

The larger point is that neither Schneider and Kinkaid have been very good in shootouts in their respective careers. If we assume that breakaways are around a 33% of scoring, then a goalie below 66% in save percentage is not doing so hot. Kinkaid has beaten that in his career (not by a lot, but he has it), but did not do so last season. Granted, these numbers are for the player’s careers, so Schneider’s numbers include his time in Vancouver. Take those years away and Schneider’s save percentage is moved up a little to a 65.4%. With that in mind, Schneider played well above what he has historically done in shootouts.

Last summer, I was more concerned with the shooters in the shootout. Three of their four most common shooters from 2016-17 were no longer Devils by September. I pointed out that newcomers Marcus Johansson and Brian Boyle were neither prolific or productive in shootouts in their careers up to that point. I also noted that Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, and Adam Henrique were not great shootout scorers in their career. I concluded that the team needed to give their youth a chance, like Pavel Zacha and Nico Hischier, and hope that Drew Stafford, who has been quite good at shootouts, can help out. Did the coaches take that approach? Not quite. Here’s the complete list of shooters and their stats from last season.

2017-18 Devils Shooters in Shootouts
2017-18 Devils Shooters in Shootouts
Data from NHL.com

Say what you want about Drew Stafford, but he did contribute to the shootout. He scored the most goals and his season shooting percentage superseded his lifetime shooting percentage in shootouts. He did his job. When he was in the lineup and actually participating in a shootout, that is.

The coaches did not really give youth much of a chance as the staff put out Hall and Palmieri several times despite neither being all that great at shootouts. Each scored twice, but neither did so with any regularity that would make one want to keep seeing them take them. The lone exception was Jesper Bratt, who scored on one slick move (which won the shootout on October 27) and proceeded to not get much else off four other times. It’s a start. On a more positive note, Brian Boyle managed to get into four of them and scored on two of them. That was a pleasant surprise and it is never a bad thing to put up a shootout-deciding goal against Our Hated Rivals.

That eleven-round shootout is why there are twelve shooters on this list. It was the only time Will Butcher, Travis Zajac, Zacha, Henrique, and Damon Severson got an opportunity to shoot. It was also the first time Brian Gibbons had a go at the shootout (his second was against the Isles on January 7) and Nico Hischier had his second and final chance at it of the season (his first was on October 27). Take that away and the coaches largely went with Stafford, Hall, Palmieri, and Bratt with Boyle as an “extra round” guy.

Given that Stafford is not likely to return to the Devils, I return to what I concluded about shootouts last summer. Assuming the Devils want to try for the postseason in 2019, they’ll want to do well here. But there are no real reliable shootout performers on the team. Given how the coaches kept putting Hall and Palmieri out there, I suspect we’ll keep seeing them despite that they’re likely 20-25% shooters where 33% is what you’d like to see. Boyle is above that mark but that’s after going 2-for-4 after 2-for-9 prior to joining New Jersey, so that hope that he’s a reliable shooter is kind of faint. Bratt has a real flair for the puck; he has potential. And the team could see if Hischier and Zacha have something with a few more attempts. That said, the Devils may have go back to just going with players on an as-needed basis until they find some success. Such as players who had a good game that night or did well in shootouts in practice. And, of course, the coaches will have to hope that both Schneider and Kinkaid play above what they have historically done in shootouts in their career. If only to keep them close and/or secure wins.

In other words, it was a challenge ahead of the 2017-18 season due to uncertainty and it still is a challenge ahead of the 2018-19 season due to uncertainty.

If last season was any indication, then the eventual answer may not be so bad. Short of the Devils being able to decide more games (in their favor) in regulation or in overtime, you should expect shootouts to happen at points throughout the 2018-19 season.

In the meantime, what do you think of the Devils with respect to shootouts? Were you pleased that they did somewhat well at them? Who should be their regular shooters in the shootout? Should they go out and get some shootout help? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils and shootouts for next season in the comments. Thank you for reading.