Last year, as a playoff team, the New Jersey Devils lived by high danger chances. The Devils have not been a strong possession team since the 2013-14 season, and it was no different last year despite the playoff berth. The Devils were 21st in the league in CF% last season, sitting at 48.59%. When specifically talking about the high danger areas of the ice, however, things changed significantly. Their HDCF% was much better, sitting at 6th in the league with a positive 52.97%. That led to a 50.79% goals for percentage when specifically looking at goals from the high danger area. Considering how tight that year was in terms of making the playoffs, that positive goal differential at high danger was arguably the difference between a playoff berth and just missing out. CJ had an article about this about halfway through the year last year that showcased the team’s high danger situation well.
This past year, with the team ending in a considerably worse position than the year before, of course the numbers will look worse for New Jersey. However, the poor overall possession numbers and relatively stronger high danger numbers are still prevalent, showing a continuity under John Hynes. Their CF% was trash, sitting at 3rd worst in the league at 46.88%. However, their HDCF% was considerably better, at 51.12%. That was thanks to being very stingy on defense in the high danger areas. They were the 4th best team in the league this past year at high danger Corsi attempts against, allowing 634 of them at 5v5 action. Their high danger attempts for were not great, only ranking 25th in the NHL in that regard, but it was their stinginess at allowing high danger attempts against that was the positive. There is no doubt that on many different occasions, Mackenzie Blackwood, Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider were all hung out to dry by the skaters in front of them, but that did not happen too often with high danger chances, at least compared to other teams.
Perhaps the interesting part is that this year, that positive differential in high danger chances did not help them where it really matters: in goals. Remember, in 2017-18, their really good HDCF% led to a positive goal differential in high danger areas. In 2018-19, this did not transfer. At 5 on 5, the Devils scored 79 goals from the high danger area; however, they allowed 99 goals against from the high danger area. That was a miserable HDGF% of 44.38%, 5th worst in the NHL. That is a large discrepancy between the team’s HDCF% and HDGF%. A 51.12% high danger Corsi percentage is quality, but a 44.12% high danger goal percentage is awful.
The reasons for this discrepancy could be many, but the most obvious thought is poor goaltending, of which the Devils absolutely had their fair share of, and perhaps especially when it came to high danger save percentage. Of the 56 goalies this season that had at least 1000 5v5 minutes of ice time, Blackwood was ranked 44th with a high danger save percentage of 0.802, Schneider was 48th with a 0.794 HDSV%, and Kinkaid was 51st with a HDSV% of 0.791. Those were not good percentages, and all three of them rightfully ranked near the bottom of the list. The Devils managed to limit high danger attempts against, but all three goalies were not good at preventing those attempts from hitting twine. This led to NJ having 0.795 high danger save percentage overall, good for 4th worst in the league.
With Hynes receiving the contract extension, there is a decent chance that this trend of poor overall possession but strong high danger possession will continue. For the Devils to turn that into a real positive, realistically, Blackwood will need to improve his save percentage on high danger attempts. He is still young, and obviously the team would love him to be the answer for the future, improving to be a consistent above average goaltender in the league for a decade. That is considering that he is the guy next year, of course, not a certainty. Schneider did have a good resurgence this year, and does have 3 years left on his deal at $6 million per. He will probably split starts with Blackwood next year to some degree if no one else is brought in, but if Blackwood continues to improve, the definite hope here, then he should end the year with more starts.
In truth, playing for strong high danger percentages could work in a good way if done right, if that is something Hynes cares about. The best goalie over 1000 minutes this season at 5v5 had a high danger save percentage of only 0.889 (Halak). If you can get a good amount of high danger chances, and avoid allowing a lot against, you have a potentially good formula for winning hockey. It did not work out this year obviously, but the trend of good high danger possession in tandem with poor overall possession has been true two years in a row now, so we could see it again for NJ next year. If so, with some improvements, especially in terms of goaltending, and perhaps finding more high danger attempts for which could happen with the addition of the first overall pick and whoever comes in free agency, it could lead to more goals and more wins.