There have been many negatives to start this season for the New Jersey Devils, but with that most important win Thursday night against the team that needed to be beaten, it feels like optimism should reign a little bit, at least before today’s game, as a loss might get rid of that optimistic sentiment.
In that regard, someone who has started off the season pretty well has been Blake Coleman, although the way he was playing in the preseason, it is not really a surprise, but more a continuation of the success he has been showing for a solid month now. The winger has 4 points, 3 of them goals, and the one to open the Devils’ scoring against New York was absolutely vital to stabilize that game. It might have been a lucky goal, but the success there is more about getting himself in that position to shoot that, instead of the fact that Georgiev should have saved it. How many other players would not have gotten that takeaway, or not gotten that shot off?
However, the luck of that goal does underscore the fact that Coleman has been lucky with his shots overall. He is rocking a 21.4% shooting percentage over 14 shots this season, while his career average is only at a more modest 9.7%. That will come down, especially as we will not be seeing many of those miraculous one arm goals while lying on the ice like we saw in the season opener. So in terms of pure goal production, it would not be prudent to expect a similar pace.
Otherwise, however, he has had a solid start, as the numbers do show. Look at some of them here, thanks to Natural Stat Trick, with team ranks. All data at 5v5.
Now as you can see from the ranks, he is not like the superstar player and dominant so far, but again, I am not trying to say that, just that he has had a solid start. And those numbers would back that up. A strong positive relative Corsi, even stronger relative expected goals for percentage, a boosted goals for percentage thanks to his shooting percentage, and a solid high danger percentage. For someone expected to be a middle six player, you will take those numbers every day of the week and twice on gameday. He is doing what he can to drive play forward when he is out there, and his generating both goal opportunities and high danger chances.
Interestingly enough, his numbers look eerily similar to two other players, two guys who are expected to perform well in the middle six, and who have perhaps too often been maligned by Devils fans, me included. Check out Coleman’s numbers again, this time compared to the other guys. Again, all data at 5v5.
Tell me these players aren’t all performing similarly well? First off, they all have Corsi numbers similarly positive and over 51 and a half percent. Coleman and player 2 are really similar with expected goals for and high danger chances, while player 3 is a little better in both of those areas. However, all three currently have elevated shooting percentages that will come down over time. It probably will not affect them too much, but can have some impact.
So who are these guys? Player 2 is Travis Zajac and player 3 is Pavel Zacha.
The three of these guys have been doing a pretty solid job during 5 on 5 action, playing quality hockey in the middle 6 of this offense. Given the shuffling of lines to generate something, they have all played with various linemates, Zacha even getting time on the fourth line. But Zajac and Coleman have played a lot together on the second line, which has benefitted them both positively. Zacha has played some with Simmonds and Hughes, and at other times with Bratt and Gusev. The way he has been moving around the ice, and the way his numbers back up that quality play, he has done well for all of those guys.
Now, obviously they did not do enough to help turn any of those first 6 defeats into victories. Again, I am not trying to say that they are playing all-star level hockey here. But as role players not on the top line, they have done quality work overall, and if that continues moving forward, and others areas of the Devils improve, especially goaltending, then positive things could happen. Given the team has a game in a couple of hours, it will be interesting to see if Coleman and these guys can continue giving the team quality play, and if it will lead to more positive outcomes like we saw on Thursday.