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Down Late, the Devils Can’t Tilt the Ice

The Devils have been horrible at starting games. Really bad. But even when down going into the third period, they don’t push the attack like they should.

Vegas Golden Knights v New Jersey Devils Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New Jersey Devils have been taking a lot of criticism lately. And it is 100% deserved, this isn’t a defense post at all. One of the areas that gets a lot of attention from fans has been the team’s slow starts to games. The Devils have been awful, for the most part, in the first period. It seems like every single game, they are down 2 goals heading into the second period. They managed to score first against Vegas the other night, but still did not take a lead into the first intermission. Although, that seemed like a win considering what has usually gone on.

However, something that hasn’t gotten as much sunlight as the first period woes are what’s going on in the third period. And that is mainly because at that time, the Devils are already down and are attempting a comeback, so the damage has been done. They also have scored way more goals in the third than they have in the first, so that also has kept attention focused elsewhere. But in reality, at least across the last few games, this team has not been good in the third period, and despite being down, are not tilting the ice in their favor, something you think should be happening given score effects.

To elaborate, in the third period, if a team is down, especially multiple goals, the ice tends to start to tilt in their favor. This is because they have to go all out offensively to try and tie the game, and thus play more aggressively. This is combined with the leading team playing more defensively to try and hold onto their lead, which leads to more players back and not enough forward. So, the ice inevitably tilts to the team losing. They may give up a goal because the leading team exploits the lack of defense and gets a rush attempt that leads to a goal, or something similar, but in reality the team down should be getting more shot attempts off than the team winning because of how they should be approaching the rest of the game.

Yet despite being down in the third period, at least across the last three games, and down multiple goals, the Devils have not been tilting the ice at all. Here are the 5v5 Corsi charts from the last three games, thanks to Natural Stat Trick:

Last Saturday, against the Isles, going into the third down 3-2:

Tuesday, against Philadelphia, down 5-1:

Thursday, against Vegas, down 2-1:

The most egregious of these, in terms of Corsi and tilting the ice, is ironically the one game they scored goals in the final frame, the Vegas game. However, neither of those were scored at even strength, so it makes sense. Looking at that line, it’s clear that in the third period on Thursday, despite being down for the entire period, the Devils got eaten alive at 5 on 5 play. Vegas crushed them in terms of generating attempts, and in fact the Devils had the ice tilted against them despite losing the game. And the numbers bear that out: NJ was out-attempted 13-4 at full strength in the third period. Despite being down the entire time. That is awful.

The other two games were bad, but in terms of specifically third period Corsi and tilting the ice, weren’t as egregious. In the Philly game, the Devils actually won the third period Corsi battle, but just barely, out-attempting Philadelphia 15-13. But being that they were heading into the period down 5-1, they did nothing to tilt the ice and try to catch up. They can only claim that hey, at least the ice wasn’t tilted against us. And when you’re down 4 goals already, who cares? In the Isles game, the third period ended tied, 11-11 in terms of Corsi attempts. And again, the Devils entered that third period losing the game, so they were unable to tilt the ice and try to tie the game up, they were at best only able to keep the ice from tilting against them. A bad sign for a losing team.

If New Jersey is going to continue to get off to bad starts in hockey games and enter the third period losing, they need to get better at going all out offensively and tilting the ice in their favor. Score effects dictate this is what should be happening already, but at least recently, it has not been. At 5 on 5, the Devils have not been good over the last few third periods in terms of generating attempts for and trying to tie games up. And the results have been exactly what you would expect given that fact: 3 losses, zero 5 on 5 goals for. If the first period woes are going to continue, then the third period philosophy and game plan have to change, because it isn’t working now.