In their first preseason game against Washington, the New Jersey Devils showed some positive signs. Their goal scorers were able to score, and putting up 5 goals is always a good sign for a team that has needed a boost in offensive production for years.
One of the negatives, however, was that they were dominated in terms of the run of play. Check out the 5v5 gameflow chart from Natural Stat Trick:
It wasn’t like the Devils had a big lead and that led to game scenarios where they would play back more and allow Washington to control the run of play. The game was always within 1 goal either way, so there was no reason to sit back. And even then, the Devils ended up with a CF% of 40% at 5 on 5. That is very low.
Of course, this is only one game, and a preseason game at that. The Devils did not ice a full, optimal roster on purpose, and that matters. In reality, this most likely means little. However, it does make you think, is this a harbinger of things to come this season? How have Lindy Ruff’s teams been with possession?
Well, in terms of that last question, we can take a look! Going all the way back to 2007-08, here are the teams that Ruff was the head coach for, what their 5v5 Corsi was, how that ranked in the NHL that season, and that team’s record that season to give you some perspective. Info from Natural Stat Trick:
So for the majority, Ruff’s teams were very mediocre with respect to possession. Only two teams there were ranked near the bottom of the league, and the one of those, the 2013 Sabres, Ruff was fired after 17 games, so a lot of that wasn’t even him at the helm. The one real poor possession team was the 2016-17 Stars, and he got fired after that season. Most of the other seasons, his teams have hovered near the middle of the pack, with the exception being the Stars from 2014-16 which did quite well.
Last year’s Devils fit right in with his usual profile, ranking 13th in the league and coming in near that 50% neutral number. And considering that the team’s roster has a lot of continuity coming into this year, and you would think that the changes are mostly upgrades, like with Dougie Hamilton and Tomas Tatar, this number should be a pretty decent floor. The first preseason game showed us otherwise, but I am in the camp that this was an outlier, just a one game thing where the roster was piecemeal, as it should be in preseason when coaches are evaluating different players in different situations. Let’s see how this goes throughout the preseason, however, just to get an idea of what the team’s possession game might look like heading into the regular season. An upgraded team this year could lead to better possession, which would help win games, and would especially help relieve some pressure off the goaltending duo.