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The “Energy” of a Coaching Change

If you watched the game on Tuesday night, the first one after Hynes was fired, the one word you probably heard more than any other was “energy”. The coaching change was supposed to bring about a newfound energy to the team. Did it?

Vegas Golden Knights v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

On Tuesday night, the second night of a back-to-back and first game after the coaching change, the buzzword you heard all around the organization was “energy”. A change like that, however justified, brings new energy to the team. Even if the players liked the old coach, the fact that they feel responsible for the change gives them a jolt of energy to perform better in that initial game with the new head coach, to prove that he can do it as well. Throughout the broadcast of the game and during interviews and on social media, the buzzword was clearly energy.

Now, the initial thought I had was skeptical. As players, you had to know that Hynes’ head was going to roll soon, the way you were playing, so why did it take until after his firing to gain some energy? You are professionals after all, it is your job and you make millions doing it, does it take the actual thing happening to bring about added energy? Those were my initial thoughts anyway.

After that, however, I became more interested in seeing if it was true. I mean, despite my initial thoughts I just shared, they are human after all, and it does make some sense that a scathing rebuke of your performance, as highlighted by someone else losing their job, could motivate you to try harder, hence having more energy. Obviously the New Jersey Devils played better against Vegas than they did against Buffalo, it was an extremely low bar they set the night prior, but what did that added “energy” actually do for the team?

Well first off, let’s check the comparison between Vegas and Buffalo as opponents. Here are the charts for shot rates thanks to Sean Tierney as of Thursday morning:

So it might be hard to see Vegas’ symbol up there, but it is squished behind Nashville and Vancouver. Vegas has been the better team overall than Buffalo, with quality CF/60 numbers hovering between 58 and 59, and CA/60 numbers around 55. Buffalo has been better defensively, allowing a little under 54 CA attempts per 60 minutes, but has been fairly worse offensively, posting CF/60 numbers down between 53 and 54.

Given those numbers, without added “energy” from the coaching change, you would probably expect the Devils to have a somewhat better offensive heat map against Vegas than against Buffalo, but conversely a worse defensive heat map against Vegas as compared to Buffalo. But with some extra energy from a coaching change, perhaps everything was better overall with Nasreddine that second night? Here are the 5 on 5 heat maps from both games, thanks to Natural Stat Trick:

What you see there is what you would probably expect given who Vegas and Buffalo are. In that first game, the Devils have an absolutely horrible offensive heat map, with minimal heat in the low slot in front of the net. There are some points to the sides there, but the majority of attempts seem to be coming from the point instead of the high danger area down low. This makes sense given they did not score a goal at 5v5 that game. Against Vegas, the Devils clearly performed better offensively. The heat spot is huge in the high danger area of the low-to-high slot, with minimal heat coming from the blue line. It was a much better game offensively.

Defensively, again, it might be what you would expect to see given how Vegas and Buffalo perform. Buffalo has 5 goals up there in their 5v5 heat map, but they weren’t pounding the slot like Vegas was. Buffalo was much more spread out, and did not get the same pressure offensively, even if they did score a ton of goals. Vegas, conversely, lived in front of the net, and scored all three of their goals there. They had glorious chances throughout the night, and the heat map shows that.

So, looking at those maps, does it look like New Jersey had more “energy” in the Vegas game thanks to the coaching change? It is hard to definitively say yes. Their offensive heat map is way better, but is that solely because they were trying harder that night? How much of that is energy, and how much is simply the fact that Vegas is a worse team defensively than Buffalo is? And while Vegas only scored 3 goals at 5v5 versus Buffalo’s 5 goals, the defensive heat map for NJ was clearly worse in the Vegas game than in the Buffalo game, so where did the energy come into play there?

Now, I am not trying to say that the Devils absolutely did not play better after Hynes was fired than before. There were some real positives to take from that game Tuesday night, as John highlighted in his game recap. But considering the buzzword all throughout Tuesday evening was “energy”, I am not sure what sort of impact that actually had, and the heat maps of the games don’t really show it. If I would’ve seen a better defensive map against Vegas than against Buffalo, despite Vegas’ better offensive capabilities, I could buy in. But it’s not there. The eye test showed me a team that wanted to win more, that is absolutely certain. That team was defeated before it ever took the ice Monday night. Tuesday, they wanted that win badly. But other than that, was this newfound “energy” a real factor? What do you think about it?