In terms of high event hockey, perhaps no one lives in that domain and plays it better than Toronto. Toronto has the most Corsi events for in the entire league right now, sitting at 1988 events for, and gives up the 8th most Corsi events against, right now at 1775 events against. Toronto is not a team that relies on being stingy to win games. They will let you get your attempts, but will get more themselves and win games because of it.
The New Jersey Devils, of course, have essentially never been this type of hockey team. Some of the better Devils teams of the past relied on some stingy defense and preventing Corsi attempts against to get their wins. That wasn’t always true, but playing high event has not usually been a Devils thing.
Last night, after the first twenty minutes of hockey, that looked to be true once again on all fronts. After the first period, the Devils were getting absolutely mauled out there on the ice, with 28 Corsi attempts against to only 11 attempts for. The ice was tilted sharply against them, and that seemed to make sense. I mean, the Devils have the second least number of Corsi attempts for in the league right now, with 1481 attempts for, over 500 attempts less than what Toronto has. Only that team from Manhattan has less attempts for. Given that, how could they keep up with a high flying, high event team that wins games like Toronto?
For the final 40 minutes of the game, however, the Devils kind of figured it out. And in the second period especially, they figured it out by beating Toronto at their own game. All in all, there were 35 attempts in the second period, and the Devils produced 19 of them, for a 54.29% Corsi. After an abysmal first period, they figured out how to play high event, and did so successfully, producing more attempts than Toronto, and outscoring them in the period 3-1. They saw what Toronto does best, and said we can do that too, and managed to do just that.
The third period, then, saw some more success at even strength, but not in the high event fashion of the second. The Devils again won the period from a possession standpoint, but between the 2 teams, there were only 19 total Corsi events in the third. The Devils had 10 of those, for a 52.63% Corsi. Of course, Toronto had the only goal of the period to stretch the game to overtime, but it was not like the first period where the Devils were just getting manhandled and managed to hang on. It was an even period, one where Toronto needed a lot of events early to tie the game, but did not manage more than 9 over the course of the twenty minutes. The Devils, after playing in a high flying manner successfully in the second, decided to clamp things down in the third, and while they did blow the lead, overall did not play a terrible period.
The best line for NJ in terms of winning this high flying possession game was the trio of Travis Zajac, Blake Coleman, and Nikita Gusev. Zajac had a relative Corsi of 15.11%, while Coleman and Gusev were both even better, Coleman at 20.33% and Gusev at 25.33%. Gusev was on the ice at 5v5 for 17 attempts for versus only 11 attempts against, a great night for sure. On defense, the best possession pair was Damon Severson and Mirco Mueller, not usually the pairing you want to see out there. Of course Severson did blow the game, but he did have a relative Corsi up at 21.06% at 5v5, while Mueller was at 17.76%.
The interesting thing is that beyond those five guys, who all clearly had success in the possession game last night, only one other Devil had a positive relative Corsi last night. Sami Vatanen was a +2.53% in relative Corsi last night, and that was with a negative Corsi overall, at 45%. Everyone else on the team had a negative relative Corsi, and got pretty well beat in possession by Toronto. So while the Devils as a team did have a great second period playing high event hockey successfully, and that did take a whole team effort, only the line of Zajac-Coleman-Gusev and the pairing of Severson-Mueller really were able to figure it out over 60 minutes.
Moving forward, I am not sure that the Devils can really find success in a sustained fashion while getting stuck playing the high event style it did against Toronto. It worked for them in the second period last night, but in the long haul they probably cannot sustain that kind of success. However, showing the ability to do that, even if just in a short burst, is a positive, and something this team can perhaps build upon heading into January.