These last two weeks have been rather atrocious for the New Jersey Devils, as we all sadly know. It seems like an eternity since this team was delightfully competitive, winning games no one thought they should win before the season started, and staying in literally every single game they were in. It was a blast from the past honestly, and one that every Devils fan wants back permanently.
Fast forward these last two weeks, and the wheels have fallen off completely. Since my post two weeks ago, the Devils have gone a miserable 1-7-0, with the last loss on Thursday night being the icing on that particularly awful cake. In many of those games they were at least competitive on the scoreboard, but have been largely unable to finish, and also have not been playing with a lead all that often, another bad sign.
And of course, they haven’t been playing with a lead because they have been giving up a lot more goals than they did before this awful stretch began. Interestingly enough, my post from two weeks ago was timed fairly well, although I wish it weren’t and the team was still winning. I wrote back then about how the team’s actual goals against per 60 5 on 5 minutes was significantly better than their expected goals against per 60. Up until then, the Devils were allowing a remarkable 1.49 goals per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time, best in the league by a decent margin. However, their xGA/60 at the time was nowhere near 1.49, but was instead at 2.34, a middling number at best. To remind you, here was the chart from two weeks ago, with data taken before the games of Friday, 2/19:
The Devils were expected to give up 2 and a third goals per 60 minutes at 5 on 5 play, but were instead giving up around 1 and a half. That is a major difference, and as I wrote, the Devils needed to continue to play strong defense to make reality match expectations.
Sadly, that did not happen, and instead, expectations have bitten the team hard, and they have crashed back into reality. Two weeks ago, the Devils ranked first in the league in GA/60 at 5 on 5. Now, they rank 9th in the league with a GA/60 at 2.18. Over the last 8 games, the Devils have given up 30 goals, almost 4 goals per game. Among those, 22 have come at 5 on 5 play. That is obviously very poor in comparison to what they were doing before this terrible 8 game stretch, and has dropped the team considerably in their actual GA/60. In two short weeks, the team has gone from having the best GA/60 at even strength to barely remaining in the top 10. To compare from two weeks ago, here is the chart heading into the Devils’ game today, showing the top 10 teams in the League in GA/60 at 5 on 5 action, thanks to Natural Stat Trick:
Comparing to the first chart, you can see how NJ has just fallen into expectations. They were performing above expectations by 0.85 goals against two weeks ago, and now they are only at +0.12, much closer to expectations. Teams two weeks ago that were playing close to expectations are still largely the same. Montreal was nearer expectations but on the positive side, now they are on the negative side but still near expectations, and thus are ranked 4th. The Isles were basically even with expectations two weeks ago, and are now performing slightly above them, but still close. Same with Dallas and Vegas. The one team to really break away from expectations have been Tampa, who is now up to preventing 0.62 goals per 60 above expectations. They should come back to expectations at some point like NJ has, although their offense can probably make up for that and they won’t go 1-7-0 in an eight game stretch.
However, not all is negative. Remember, two weeks ago, the Devils’ xGA/60 was sitting at 2.34. Now, it is at 2.30, a slight improvement. So even though the team has been falling back to expectations rather hard, those expectations have actually slightly improved. Also, New Jersey is now quite close to their expectations, close enough that you might consider it within the margin of error. They are only off by 0.12 from their expectations when it comes to GA/60. This means that soon enough, perhaps starting today, the Devils should even out and start producing better than they have been over much of the past two weeks. And despite their precipitous fall, they still rank in the top 10 in goals against at even strength. That is a great sign. Once things level out for the team, and they begin playing better and at expectations, they could definitely remain a top 10 team in allowing goals against at 5v5, even if near the bottom of the top 10. If their xGA/60 improves a little more and comes close to the 2.18 where their actual GA/60 is now, that would cement that even more, and that is a definite possibility. I don’t expect Mackenzie Blackwood to be chased from many games this season.
Overall, these past two weeks have been bad for the Devils, and everyone knows it. They’ve taken themselves out of the playoff race rather quickly, and it would take a monumental effort to get back in it, almost like a 7-1-0 reversal of what just took place over the last 8 games. However, because of the poor play, particularly at 5v5 defense, the Devils have evened out where it comes to expectations, and should not continue to decline at the crazy rate they have been. At least compared to expectations, the team has come close to leveling out, and should start to progress forward very soon, hopefully today.