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New Jersey Devils Have Improved in Third Periods Under Nasreddine So Far

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On November 25 and after their 22nd game of the season, I wrote a post about how the third period plagued the New Jersey Devils. One head coach and 22 games later, this post takes another look at third period and has found signs of improvement.

Colorado Avalanche v New Jersey Devils
“Third periods have been better under me?” Yes, Alain Nasreddine, they have been.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

During the broadcast of last Tuesday’s game between the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, play-by-play announcer Steve Cangialosi stated at the beginning of the third period that the Devils have been better in third periods as of late. I immediately picked up on that comment. Back before Thanksgiving, I explained that the Devils have been really bad in third periods so far in 2019-20. They did not just blow some big leads for losses, they were playing poorly in general and only made one comeback in the third period. However, that post was made 18 games before Cangialosi said what he said. The previous head coach was fired 14 games earlier and Taylor Hall played his last game as a Devil 11 games earlier. Maybe the Devils have improved in third periods since that post? Maybe Steve Cangialosi was right? I looked into it prior to the Tampa Bay game yesterday and I can say that he was. The Devils have made some improvements in their third periods since November 23, 2019. There is still room for improvement, but there are signs of progress.

Third Period Results in the Last 22 Games

I decided to capture all of the third period results and on-ice data from Natural Stat Trick between November 26, 2019 and January 11, 2020 for two reasons. The first was because I am writing this before the Devils host Tampa Bay on Sunday night. The second was because that time period covers 22 games - the same number of games the Devils played when I put the last post together. Since this post is an update, here are the results of those games.

Devils Third Period Results from 11/26/2019 to 1/11/2020
Devils Third Period Results from 11/26/2019 to 1/11/2020
Natural Stat Trick

The Devils went 8-11-3 in this 22 game set; there is more red in this chart than green. The big thick line represents the change over in coaches. John Hynes was fired hours before the Devils’ game against Las Vegas on December 3. Alain Nasreddine was named as the interim head coach and he has been behind the bench ever since.

The results are a mixed bag from the standpoint of the third period. Let us go through the negative findings. The Devils have seen the third period cause them to lose some games a number of times in this set. They were tied going into the final frame against Minnesota and lost on November 26. They did blow leads on December 3 against Las Vegas and December 27 against Toronto to eventually lose both games. Most of all, if the Devils went into the third period down by two more goals, then they would go on to lose the game. They did not even take any of those games into overtime. Only once did they go into the third period losing and came out of it with a victory.

There were some positives in this set of 22 games. They also blew a one-goal lead in Ottawa on December 29, but they salvaged the game by winning in overtime. They also turned tied games going into the third with two wins: December 14 in Arizona (Nasreddine’s first win) and January 2 on Long Island. They had a comeback win - their second of the season - by tying it up against Boston on December 31 and prevailing in a shootout. Most interesting, if the Devils out-scored their opposition in the third period, then they went on to win. This only happened seven times out of these 22 games but they still happened. Lastly, the Devils have not blown any multiple goal leads going into the third period. Granted, they only had two in this set and four so far this season. There have been no repeats of that meltdown against Winnipeg in Game #1. That is something, at least.

Third Period Performances in the Last 22 Games

Results are important but they do not really get into how the team actually performed in third periods. As with the last post, I pulled the Corsi, shots, and expected goals data from the third periods in these 22 games for both 5-on-5 and all situation state of play. While leads and deficits skew these numbers on a given night, a more complete picture of how the team performs is painted over multiple games. Since the last post covered the team’s first 22 games, here are those numbers over the last 22 games. It may not be ideal but it is at least an even comparison. I even included totals for both sets of games:

Devils 5-on-5 and All Situation Corsi, shots, and expected goals in third periods in 2019-20 in Games #23 through #44
Devils 5-on-5 and All Situation Corsi, shots, and expected goals in third periods in 2019-20 in Games #23 through #44
Natural Stat Trick

This table justifies Cangialosi’s statement and anyone else who felt the Devils have performed better in third periods over the past month or so. In the team’s first 22 games, the Devils were out-scored by a large margin. They were out-attempted overall, out-performed in expected goals, and just out-shooting their opposition by a little bit. This is true in both 5-on-5 situations only and in all situations (which does include empty net goals). As we know the Devils did not often go into the third period in those first 22 games with leads (just eight times), it suggests that the Devils have underperformed. They were not pushing the play forward in the hopes of a comeback. They were not attacking more frequently. They were not that good.

It has been more productive in the past 22 games. The Devils have cut down on the number of goals allowed, even when including empty net goals. They have been out-scored but it is by a smaller margin. The Devils have out-attempted their opponents, out-shot them, and out-done them in expected goals by larger margins too. While it is not true in every single game (e.g. the Washington game on January 11), we can say that the Devils have improved in their performances in third periods over the last 22 games. The run of play has been in their favor more often. This is a good thing and maybe an encouraging sign as the Devils head further into the second half of their season.

The Devils still have room for improvement, though. They still only made it to the third period with a lead eight times in these past 22 games. They have yet to go into a third period down by more than one goal and at least take the game into overtime. They went into four third periods down just one goal and only went beyond regulation (and won) one of them. While the on-ice numbers of the past 22 games were better than the first 22 games, they will need to keep it up for the Devils to have a realistic shot of closing the negative goal differential by season’s end. On November 25, I wrote that third periods plagued the Devils. Now, I would say that third periods are a lesser issue for the team.

Third Periods under the Different Coaches

I can understand that the split between first 22 games and the previous 22 games is not an interesting comparison. What is more interesting is the difference in coaches. Have the Devils have been better in third periods under Nasreddine? It seems that way. Is it true? Let us find out by re-framing the data to compare third periods under John Hynes and Alain Nasreddine. It is not an even comparison as Hynes had 26 games with New Jersey and Nasreddine coached his 18th game against Washington. Still, signs of progress may be clear after 18 games.

First, here is a chart summarizing the score situations going into third periods and within the third period for the team this season, the team under Hynes, and the team under Nasreddine.

New Jersey Devils score situations going into the third period and within the third period between John Hynes and Alain Nasreddine.
New Jersey Devils score situations going into the third period and within the third period between John Hynes and Alain Nasreddine.
Natural Stat Trick

The results have not been too dissimilar. Regardless of coach, if the Devils are down by two more goals going into the third period, then they do not win it. If they are down by one, then it has been rare that they picked up a win. If the Devils are tied going into the third period, then the Devils lose more of than not. If they are leading, then they usually win but it is not a guarantee. And the majority of the time, the Devils are not going into the third period with any kind of a lead. As Nasreddine has coached fewer games, his ratio of wins to occurrences looks better than Hynes’ ratio for each category. Still, it does not appear that the Devils really turned a corner from this perspective.

The same can be written about the results in the third periods themselves. When the Devils out-scored their opposition in the third, then they win. This has been true under both Hynes and Nasreddine. The issue is that it has happened in only a quarter of their games this season (last night’s game excluded). When the Devils get out-scored in the third period, which happened in half of their games, the Devils lost the majority of those games. If the third period score is tied, then the Devils are often lost the game because they were either losing before they entered the third period or they lost it after regulation. The only big difference between the coaches is here. Hynes has managed to win three games in the seven times this happened to him. In the four times it has happened to Nasreddine, they lost all four times: two because the Devils were losing going into the third and two because of post-regulation losses.

Between the two, it seems to me the bigger issue is with those first two periods. While the Devils have not made many comebacks within the third, that they have only been leading going into 15 out of 44 third periods is more significant in my view. It is disconcerting to see the Devils only out-score their opponents in third periods 25% of the time this season. Yet, the first two periods have appeared to set up the Devils for failure more often than not. If the team is truly playing better under Nasreddine overall, then maybe that will also improve in the future. We’ll see.

Second, here is a chart summarizing the on-ice stats in third periods with Hynes and with Nasreddine. As the two coaches have not coached the same number of games, I have also calculated their their for percentages (higher is better, 50% is break-even). The data is from the performance chart in this post and in the last post, which I pulled from Natural Stat Trick.

Third period performances by the Devils with Hynes and Nasreddine as of January 11, 2020
Third period performances by the Devils with Hynes and Nasreddine as of January 11, 2020
Natural Stat Trick

The difference between the two coaches is stark. The Devils were heavily out-scored under Hynes. It has been much better under Nasreddine; especially in 5-on-5 hockey. The team has went from being below breakeven in shooting attempts (Corsi) under Hynes to being at least a percentage point above it under Nasreddine. The shots for and expected goals percentages have seen big jumps under Nasreddine too. The only exception here is for shooting attempts over all situations. The Devils had a better proportion of them under Hynes than Nasreddine. It is a very slight difference, though. It was not the case before the Washington game. And those improved performances have helped the goal differential trend in the right direction. While the Devils have been out-scored over all situations in third periods under Nasreddine, a differential -4 is a lot better than Hynes’ differential of -19. Even with that one exception, it is clear that the Devils have performed better on the ice in third periods under Nasreddine than Hynes. The results could improve over time should the Devils keep it up.

Your Take

Steve Cangialosi was right to say what he said on the broadcast last week. The Devils have improved in third periods in recent weeks. The difference between the first 22 games and previous 22 games is clear in that progress has been made among the performances. When comparing performances between the Devils under Hynes and the Devils under Nasreddine, the difference is even clearer. The results of third periods have not fully reflected that, but the Devils are at least heading in a better direction. They are not getting severely outscored under Nasreddine or in their last 22 games. They have yet to see a two-plus goal lead blow up in the third period. If they can out-score their opponents in the third period, then they have won the game. There is still room for improvement in third period play; but there may be more areas of opportunity in the first and second periods as the Devils do not often go into the third period with any kind of lead.

It may not seem like much given how this season is going, but I think any kind of progress is worth discussing and detailing. (And it is true regardless of what happened last night.) Now I want to know what you think about the Devils and third periods this season. What did you learn from this post? Does this make you think the Devils have improved under Nasreddine? (This covers the third period, this will deserve a more complete look once Nasreddine coaches at least eight more games.) Are you less fearful of the Devils taking a lead into third period? Can the Devils do even better and, if so, how would you like to see it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils and how they have played in third periods in the past month or so in the comments. Thank you for reading.