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Did the Devils Play in Close Games? Not Last Year

The Devils that were perennial playoff contenders were great at playing in close situations, backed by world class goaltending that kept them in games. Last year, however, they forgot all of that, and did not play many close minutes at all.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils
Many times, goalies need to be on point to keep their teams in close games. Blackwood will hopefully do that this upcoming season.
Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

We are all aware that last season, the New Jersey Devils were not all that competitive. They put together almost no winning streaks or long point streaks, as I pointed out a few weeks ago, and were an easy out for many teams seeking a playoff position in the second half of the season.

However, while being able to finish games is an important sign of a competitive team, another way one can look at the competitiveness of a team is to look at how often they were playing games that were close, tied or within one goal. Any game of that nature can generally swing one way or another at any time. The Devils clearly did not win a lot of close games last year, as they did not win a lot of games period, but were they in a lot of close games but just didn’t come out on top? Or, were they consistently down by 2+ goals and not playing particularly close games as compared to the rest of the league? Thanks to Natural Stat Trick, we can take a look. Here are a couple charts with some close data over the last three seasons, showing the total time on ice when tied or within one, and specifically how many minutes they were up 1 goal and down 1 goal.

So as you can see, the Devils really and truly were noncompetitive this past season, and perhaps historically so. They were dead last in the league in the amount of minutes they played in tie games. The 29th ranked team in tied minutes played, Columbus, had over 100 minutes more that they played in tie games than New Jersey did. That is stark. They were also dead last in minutes played when the game was within 1 in either direction. And again, this is by a fairly large amount of minutes as well. The 28th ranked team in that category, Philadelphia, had over 100 more minutes played when the game was within 1 in either direction than the Devils did.

The numbers don’t look as crazy in the second chart, but are not particularly encouraging as well. The Devils ranked 27th in the league in minutes played when up a goal. At least they were not dead last in that category as well, that is a good sign. They were high on the list in minutes played when down a goal, however, coming in 9th in that category. Of course, that is the one category I just tracked where you don’t want to be high in the rankings, but oh well.

The crazy part is that the 2016-17 Devils, who I tracked on there as well, were equally as bad as this past season’s team, and they played in way more tied situations. That team ranked 7th in minutes played when the game was tied, playing close to 400 more minutes in those scenarios than the 2018-19 Devils did. That is significant. That team might have been bad and finished in the bottom of the division, but played in many close situations and things could have potentially turned out different had they been able to capitalize in those close scenarios. This past season, however, those opportunities were just not there. This team was not even playing in tie games like that of three years ago. They were just losing.

This really all goes to show you just what the Devils of 2019-20 are building upon. They not only were major losers last season, but did so without playing close minutes all that often. They were dead last in playing in tied games, and in games that were within 1 goal either way. And most of the time, that way was when they were down a goal. If they are to make the huge jump we all want them to make, and end up in a playoff position, or at least as a playoff bubble team, they will have to improve really significantly over last season. The competitiveness was just not there for the majority of the year.