Yesterday, I wrote at length about the New Jersey Devils shootout performances by the team’s goaltenders from last season. This was a result of reviewing every single shootout attempt by and against the Devils, through the broadcasts available at NHL.tv. Today, I will focus on the shooters as a group today. Those are the ones that were selected to take the attempts for the Devils. With Drew Stafford seemingly still out of the picture (he’s still available as a free agent as of this writing), I am concerned about who will take these in 2018-19. But how did the team do based on their attempts; what common traits were there, if any? Let’s get into it.
Shooter Performance as a Team
Twelve different skaters took at least one attempt last season for the New Jersey Devils. Seven took at least two and only five took more than two: Taylor Hall, Drew Stafford, Kyle Palmieri, Jesper Bratt, and Brian Boyle. One of the things I wanted to look at was whether getting on the scoresheet in the 65 minutes prior to the shootout influenced John Hynes’ selections for the shootout.
The answer appears to be no. The players highlighted in yellow are those who were selected. Those highlighted in green scored a goal in the shootout. The stats are basic: goals, assists, and shots on goal out of recorded attempts (0/0 is no attempts at all, 0/1 is no shots on net out of 1 attempt, etc.). DNP stands for Did Not Play as the player may have been out injured or a healthy scratch. From this, it is clear that Hynes favored Hall, Stafford, and Palmieri. The only times Stafford and Palmieri did not get a shootout attempt was when they were injured. The only time Hall did not get an attempt was on February 13 when only two Devils took attempts (they won 1-0, Philly shot first); he likely would have been the third shooter. Other players have had more productive nights or took more shots; but they did not get a chance unless the shootout ran over three rounds.
It is also clear that scoring in a game does not preclude scoring in the shootout. Stafford led the team with three shootout goals: he scored on them on nights where he scored nothing. In fact, two of them came on nights when he did not get credited for a shooting attempt. That Hynes kept going to Stafford in the shootout makes it more obvious that the shootout was why he was brought into the team. As another example, look at Hall. Out of these nine games, he did not register a point in two of them - yet he scored in the shootout in those two games. On the flipside, Nico Hischier received his two shootout attempts on nights where he did not get on the scoresheet and his production did not lead to more attempts. Likewise, Brian Gibbons’ 2017 torrid run of points yielded him exactly one attempt and that was in the shootout that went to 11 skaters. The larger point is that Hynes identified a group of players on his team as shootout takers and largely stuck with them. If someone else got a chance, it was because they were not available or the shootout ran longer than three rounds.
You can also see this in the shootout order for each skater:
There was some shifting at points, but by and large, Hall went first more often than not, Stafford would usually be third, and Palmieri would be used in the top three. After scoring on a slick move that helped win them the shootout on October 27, Jesper Bratt was put into the top three for his other four attempts. But three of those took place while either Stafford or Palmieri were not in the game. On March 10, Hall was moved off the top three, presumably for not scoring on his prior three attempts so a spot opened up for Bratt there. While Bratt got some opportunities because of his goal, Brian Boyle was regularly used when the shootout did go beyond three rounds - and that’s it. Despite scoring a big goal against Our Hated Rivals on December 21, he was still #4 or #5 on the chart. He did not get more looks or movement up the list because of it. Perhaps it is because of how he scored; but we’ll get into that in Part 3.
Again: Hynes identified his crew and stuck with them for the most part. While Stafford may not be coming back, do not be surprised if Hall, Bratt, Palmieri, and Boyle take the lionshare of attempts for 2018-19. Whether that is a good thing, well, let’s get into that in Part 3 too.
When a Shooting Percentage Is Not Quite a Shooting Percentage
Sticking with the team stats, the Devils as a team did have some failings when it came to finishing a number of these attempts.
While they only outright missed the net once and one outright failure of an attempt, they did fail to finish six times when they beat the goalie. Four of those were the result of the shooter losing the puck after making a move that could/should have led to a score. One was a shot that narrowly missed after, again, making a move that would have beaten a goalie. And one was a post, specifically the right post hit by Brian Gibbons in a must-score situation in the fifth round against the Isles on January 7.
I was counting attempts where the Devils lost the puck, missed the net, and hit the post separately from shots that were saved and shots that went into the net. As I found out in yesterday’s post, this puts me at odds with the shootout stats at NHL.com. According to their team stats, the Devils scored 10 goals out of 39 attempts for a shooting percentage of 25.6%. The problem with that is with the count of 39 attempts. The Devils did not actually take 39 shots on net.
Again, the Devils lost the puck four times when trying to beat the goalie and lost it one additional time when Anton Khudobin poked the puck away from Adam Henrique on the considerably long November 22 shootout against Boston. That’s five attempts where no actual shot on goal was taken. In the 65 minutes played before the shootout, that does not get recorded. Somehow, in a shootout situation, it suddenly becomes a shooting attempt despite one not taking place. I think those should not be counted in a shooting percentage. By the way, if we take those away, the Devils’ shooting percentage gets a boost.
The fix for NHL.com is a bit easier: just call it a scoring percentage. Just rename all shootout attempts as scoring attempts and the percentage would reflect what it actually is: the percentage of attempts that became goals. Calling it a shootout shooting percentage is not accurate.
Shot Location, Moves, and Other Observations
Getting back to attempts, outside of Henrique getting poked away, I was able to identify where the shooters were trying to shoot at on their attempts. The Devils never faced a goalie more than once in the shootout last season, so I expected this to be all over the place. It did not quite turn out that way. (As with yesterday’s post, left and right are the shooter’s left and right.)
The Devils liked to go low on goaltenders. 20 of their 39 total attempts were to beat the goalie at pad level to ice level height. There was no real bias towards a direction; low right just fell behind five-hole attempts and attempts to score low on the left. The issue is that they only scored on four of those and three of them were through the legs. Credit Boyle for doing it on December 21, Stafford making it work on February 13 against Philly, and Hall for putting the Devils up in Nashville on March 10. Coincidentally, these goals were the shootout winners for the Devils and they all featured the shooter just beating the goalie with a quickly released shot - no distinguishable move at all.
While they took fewer attempts as they went up in height, the shooters were more successful going high on goalies. Again, no real clear bias in direction as four went to the left and five went to the right. It is possible that for a few of them, they did not necessarily have to hit the top corner, but they did and it was still good. The high height goals were all scored by the regulars: Stafford (twice), Hall, Boyle, and Palmieri (once each).
Why were there more low shooting attempts? I think it is because their moves forced them to keep the puck low as they would often make it in close range to the crease. It is tough to lift the puck in such a tight space and right after making a motion to move the puck. Especially if the move put the puck on the shooter’s backhand. When it works, it looks great. When it does not, well, it is usually an unsuccessful attempt. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to see the Devils not sky shots in the shootout multiple times. However, the whole point is to score and it seems like the Devils shooters may do well to aim a little higher more often in 2018-19.
Speaking of types, I did look to see what kind of shots they were taking. Out of the 33 shots on net, 19 were forehand wrist shots and 14 were backhand wrist shots. I did not expect to see something like a slapshot in the Devils’ shootouts and I did not. I did not see any wind-up unless I sorely missed it in looking at all 39 attempts. In that light, seeing a mix of forehanders and backhanders is no real surprise since that’s about all you can do with just wrist shots.
I also looked at the approach to the net the Devils’ took. The majority of the attempts went to the slot or the crease. 13 of the attempts featured the shooter going fast towards the net and another 13 had the shooter take a smooth, consistently paced but not particularly fast approach. Nine went relatively slow towards their location for shooting. Only four attempts saw a noticeable change in speed. Hall and Nico Hischier each took an attempt where they started fast and slowed down in the slot - neither scored. Stafford took a slow to fast approach once that did not work and a slow to, well, not-so-fast-but-faster-than-he-started approach that did (it was his 5-hole score on February 13). The Devils shooters, as a group, leaned a bit against taking a slow approach. I’m not sure it really had an impact on whether it worked or not.
Moves, however, did - sometimes. When I say a move was made, I’m referring to an obvious, distinguishable action by the shooter to get the goalie to react. This can be a deke right before shooting, a cut-back move the puck, a shoulder shimmy, a drag with the toe of the stick, and so forth. Since I used the broadcast, I cannot really determine whether their eyes or their face or something else subtle gave the opposing a goalie a clue as far as what was going to happen. So “No move” is really no identifiable move. That said, this is what I observed - the Devils liked their moves...to a fault.
By a count of 24 to 15, the shooters collectively attempted a move before taking a shot at a goalie than not really doing so. There were a couple of cases where the puck nearly got away from the shooter as they approached the goalie, so in recovering the puck, they took a shot instead of making the move they may have wanted to make. No matter, opposing goalies saw most of those 24 moves and did not really take them. Only 11 times out of 24 they did and out of those, only four of them were goals. The Devils were a bit more successful when they weren’t trying to make a move. And before you note that goal total adds up to 9 and Hall’s only adds up to 1, he did score a goal on a move that the goalie did not take. Specifically, Hall’s first shootout goal of the season and the team’s only shootout goal against Khudobin on November 22. Hall skated in, cut to his backhand at the crease, Khudobin followed him, but the shot beat him. Alas, that would New Jersey’s only goal in that shootout. Since that was an uncommon case (1-for-13), it is not in this chart.
There are more curiosities here. The two times Stafford made the goalie bite on a move of his yielded two of his three shootout goals. Poor Jesper Bratt, he put on the most successful moves and it only yielded that one amazing goal. At least goalies bit on his moves. Brian Boyle tried to make moves and failed, but succeeded when he did make a distinguishable one. Nico Hischier had only two attempts, tried to make a move to beat the goalie, and the two goalies said “Nope.” As far as the five one-timers on this chart go (all in that Boston game), Damon Severson, Pavel Zacha, and Adam Henrique did try something whereas Travis Zajac and Will Butcher just went for shots. Khudobin denied Henrique the shot entirely; and Zajac and Butcher were stopped. Khudobin took the moves from Zacha and Severson; but he recovered to deny Zacha and Severson missed a narrow window where he had the goalie beat. If either scored, maybe we would have seen them get more opportunities where we could see if they can still use that move or not.
General Thoughts & Your Take
As a whole, it seems the Devils could be more judicious in the moves that they make. While they opted to do something more than just take a quick shot, the opposing goalies were not taking them and the Devils did not score a lot from them. But I do not think that is something as a group that the Devils can do; it may be something that has to be looked at a individual level. I think the same would apply their shot location; their preference for low shots may be a result of the moves they did attempt. That will all be done in Part 3 of this breakdown. I originally planned to put it all in here, but there’s a lot more to say about each shooter - especially the five that took more attempts than anyone else on the Devils.
At a minimum, we do know from last season that Hynes identified his main shooters and largely stuck with them. Whether or not a player scored, picked up an assist, or put most of his attempts on net appears to be immaterial to the shootout selections. Hall, Palmieri, and Stafford were Hynes’ preferred choices and that stayed true unless they were unavailable or, in one case for Hall, the shootout ended early. While Hischier and Bratt got a chance early on, Bratt’s success led to more usage whereas Hischier failing to do so relegated him to depth for shootouts. But success from Brian Boyle did not move him into the top three, so even shootout success on its own was not enough to unseat Hynes’ moves.
Lastly, just as in Part 1, it was shown that the shooting percentage for the team in shootouts is not all that accurate. By specifying when players lost pucks, hit posts, or missed the net, it gives a clearer picture of how the shooters performed as a group. In the Devils’ case, there were six lost opportunities where the puck was lost from the shooter without a shot. They only missed the net once and their lack of luck turned up on just one post shot all year. I can state that by recording it that way. I can also calculate an actual shooting percentage based on actual shots that were taken. It’s another improvement for the people at NHL.com.
In the meantime, let me know what you think of the Devils’ shootout performances by the shooters as a group from last season in the comments. Thank you for reading and not commenting about how you don’t like shootouts.