Given how this year has gone for the New Jersey Devils, you might be surprised to see NJ at the top of a chart for something, but today, I will show you exactly that. In terms of goals for, the Devils are a poor team. Their 43.18 GF% ranks next to last in the NHL, better than only the tanking Detroit Red Wings. Even after the shutout against Philadelphia on Thursday night, the Devils have only 95 goals at 5v5 this season, versus 125 against. It makes sense as to why they are 30th in the league in Goals For.
On the other hand, when specifically looking at High Danger GF and GA, the Devils look significantly better. Their 54 HDGF versus 58 HDGA is good for a 48.21 HDGF%. That is obviously way better than their plain GF%. New Jersey’s HDGF% is good for 20th in the NHL. That is obviously not amazing, but compared to their 30th ranking in GF%, that is a great jump.
In fact, it is the best jump in the NHL. I made a chart here of the top 10 teams in the NHL in terms of improvement from their Goals For percentage to their High Danger Goals For percentage. The team at the top of that chart will be familiar to you, if not surprising that they’re at the top. Data from Natural Stat Trick:
So what that means is that the Devils’ HDGF% is just about 5% better than their GF%. That might not feel or sound like a huge difference, but it is the best improvement in the league, and by a lot. The team with the next best improvement from their GF% to their high danger variety is Nashville, with a 3.85% jump from GF% to HDGF%. The Devils have had over 1% better of a jump than Nashville. That is a big time difference, especially when you consider that there are a handful of teams that have worse HDGF percentages than they do GF percentages.
What does it all mean? The obvious answer is that the Devils have been much more competent up close in front of the net than they have anywhere else. And that means both in terms of offense and defense. The Devils have the 14th best shooting percentage in the league at high danger, sitting at 17.42%, and they have the 20th best high danger save percentage, at 81.70%. Again, neither of those are top of the line, but when you are discussing a team that is really pretty bad, mediocre numbers look really good by comparison. They have the 22nd ranked 5v5 shooting percentage in the NHL, and the 29th ranked save percentage. Their high danger numbers are clearly better, if not anywhere near tops in the league. And that difference is good for the best overall jump between their traditional goals for at 5v5, and the high danger variety.
The interesting part comes when discussing how the Devils should perhaps game plan knowing this data. Realistically, you never want the opposition in the high danger area, so even though the Devils have done better there, that is not something to game plan for, but to just be thankful for. However, they absolutely should be looking to get the puck towards the net more on offense. Generating attempts in the high danger area would be a huge boost, as the offense is clearly more capable from there at finishing scoring chances than they are elsewhere on the ice. Play to the team’s strengths, and try to get the puck on players’ sticks up near the net. Of course, that is not an easy thing to do, defenses play for that, but it is worth trying. At this point, why not? Who knows if they can be successful at planning for it, however.