With the NHL having an extended Christmas break, it was a perfect time for the New Jersey Devils to rest and reset after an absolutely miserable month of December. And a not really good November either. If they want to enter 2021 playing inspired hockey, and not end up with more bottom 5 finishes in the league, they will hopefully be using this break to adjust, reset, and improve. But how does a team improve when they are seemingly just bad at everything, as they were showing us recently? Honestly, that is a good question, but for the sake of argument, I went and looked at a few stats that I thought were pretty telling, stats that they will need to improve upon if they want to start finding themselves in the win column more often. Info comes from Natural Stat Trick.
Note: obviously I could spend the entire article discussing how they need to improve their power play, that one is so obvious. Instead, I’ll look elsewhere, as we all know they should just decline all penalties at this point.
Scoring Goals in High Danger Areas
So believe it or not, the Devils do actually do some good things on the ice. It’s hard to notice that sometimes, but it’s true. For example, the team ranks 5th in the NHL in high danger Corsi For percentage. Their HDCF% sits at 54% even, a really good number. That means that New Jersey is getting more shot attempts from high danger areas like the slot and in front of the net than their opponents. And at 54%, the gap between them and their opponents is fairly large.
However, the praise stops there, because despite producing more high danger attempts, the Devils are atrocious at converting those into goals, and instead are pretty bad at both scoring and allowing high danger goals. The team’s high danger goals for percentage, or HDGF%, is currently at 46.58%, ranking the team 24th in the NHL in that category. Considering their HDCF%, that’s really bad. It’s thanks to having allowed 39 high danger goals against, 5th worst in the league, and having only scored 34. Considering their 54% high danger Corsi, there is no way that they should be in the hole 5 goals when it comes to high danger. It should be the other way around, and a ten goal swing would’ve meant at least a few more wins so far this season.
Therefore, one improvement the team needs to make is to focus on actually converting their high danger chances. The team is good at creating those chances but horrible at scoring on them. They have to change that latter part, and do so quickly.
Whenever there is a tough or important faceoff that needs to be won, the coaching staff throws out Michael McLeod, as he is the best on the team. And that’s true, he is the best. His faceoff percentage also happens to be sitting at 48.41% right now. So the best faceoff man on the team is not even that close to a 50% win percentage on draws. That is bad. Nico Hischier is down at 40.59%, and Dawson Mercer is the absolute worst, with a faceoff win percentage of 27.92% across 140 attempts. Yikes. So basically, the majority of the time out there, the Devils are instantly giving up possession of the puck to the opposition, which is not good. Yes, in the long run it might not mean too much, and it doesn’t, but across an 82 game season, it does lead to an extra goal or two against, or for if the team is good. This can be from quick, designed plays off the faceoff to deflections from bombs at the point. They happen, and you’ve seen them happen. With the way the Devils do on faceoffs, undoubtedly those goals are being scored against them way more than they are scoring them, leading to more losses across 82 games. That has to improve.
Shore Up the Defensive Zone
The Devils rank 12th in the NHL in CF% at 51.03%. They produce more attempts than their opposition does. Despite this, they have allowed 69 goals against at 5v5, third most in the league. Only Buffalo and Seattle have been worse on that front. To go along with that, the Devils have only produced 55 goals for in that setting, again despite having a positive CF%. Over time, generating more attempts should lead to more goals than what the other team can score, but it is not happening in New Jersey. A lot of this is because the Devils are down so much and so the other team plays more defensively, but as I noted not all that long ago, even when down, the Devils are not all that good at tilting the ice in their favor, so that isn’t even a major factor.
Simply put, the Devils need to be better in their own end at 5 on 5 play. They are letting up too many goals. Whatever system Lindy Ruff is running defensively, it is really poor, and it leads to lots of goals against. That has to change, and it has to change ASAP. If the Devils end the season giving up the third most goals at 5 on 5, they will continue to be a bad team, period.
And there you have it, three small but important areas that the Devils should be looking to improve upon while they have off and can reflect and make adjustments. Now, improving on these three things might not be enough to turn it around completely, I doubt it would, but it would be a huge step in the right direction. Couple this with, perhaps, a more competent power play, and you might have something here.