Note: Being unavailable Friday night into Saturday morning, I wrote this up for the Devils’ first 7 games of the season, so the Colorado game is not included. If the Devils played a strong game, consider these stats as only being better by the time you read this. If they were miserable, then think of these stats as a baseline for how they will play against worse teams, not the reigning champs. My guess is that they can still pull positive possession and xGF% against Colorado, although unless they get, at worst, league-average goaltending, they will have trouble beating them.
The New Jersey Devils have started out to somewhat of a frustrating start. Analytically, they are playing the best hockey of any team in the league, and that is basically without debate. The team, however, is hovering around mediocrity with their record thanks to exceptionally poor goaltending on average. There have been some decent goaltending games, but on the whole, the Devils’ netminders have significantly underperformed league average goaltending, and that is something that skaters are unable to overcome much of the time, no matter how good they are playing. You cannot score 5+ goals on a nightly basis, and even if they did, you feel like they’d still give up 6 some nights.
But there is a ton to be excited about thanks to this start, and so I wanted to just spend this time highlighting some stats that show just how dominant this team has been in some areas of the game to start the season. All stats will come from Natural Stat Trick. And remember, these stats are all taken before last night’s games, the Devils game included, so they do not include the team’s 8th game, only the first 7.
No one has an OZFO% under 40%
This one is a rather wild thing to think about. The Devils have been so good at tilting the ice in their favor that the lowest skater in terms of offensive zone faceoff percentage, Michael McLeod, is still at 40% OZFO%. In fact, only 3 skaters on the entire team have an OZFO% under 50%: Mcleod, Nathan Bastian, and Jonas Siegenthaler. That’s it. Everyone else is over 50%, and 9 skaters are actually over 60%. You would normally call anyone with a OZFO% above 60% as being sheltered, but you cannot really do that right now for New Jersey when 9 out of 21 skaters are over that number. They are just playing so well at possession and at preventing much defensive zone time that everyone is getting a quality amount of offensive zone draws, even the fourth line. This is clearly unsustainable over 82 games, but even with some expected negative regression, this team will still most likely remain a strong possession team this year, and thus will have way more offensive zone draws than defensive.
The Devils are over 52% CF in every single game, and in fact, are over 60% in 6 out of 7
The Devils have had positive possession in each of their first 7 games this year, an incredible feat. What is even more incredible, however, is that in 6 of those 7 games, they have had over 60% possession. Only in the San Jose game was that number under 60%, and even then, it was still at 52.81%. If they ended the season with a 52.81 CF%, we would definitely not be upset with that. That usually ends up being top 10 in the league, even if not top 5, and most teams who end in the top 10 in CF% make the playoffs. It is a good spot to be, yet for this team, it was the worst game they had in possession and it was not even close. The next lowest CF% they had in their first seven games was the second Detroit game where they ended at 61.62 CF%. And that, of course, is a dominant number, and it was their second-lowest. Their best possession was in the two games against Anaheim and the Isles where they ended each game with a 71.43 CF%. That they have two games already over 70% CF% is pretty insane and speaks to how well they’ve dominated possession and control of the puck in this young season.
The Devils are over 60% xGF% in all of their first 7
This goes with #2, but actually is even more impressive. The Devils were over 60% in expected goals for percentage in each of their first 7 games. Their worst game on this front was again the San Jose game where they ended at a 62.10 xGF%. This is, obviously, an impressive number by itself, but it becomes even better when you realize it is the lowest number they had in a game in their first 7. In fact, four of their first seven games saw them end the game at over 70% in xGF%. Let me repeat that: the Devils had over 70% expected Goals For in four of their first seven games. So if 10 goals were scored in each of those games, the Devils would have been expected to score 7 of them in four games, and score 6 of them in the other 3. Truly incredible stuff. The fact that they were 4-3-0 after 7 games despite this just goes to show how poorly goaltending has been.
They have a historically low 0.924 PDO
Going off of that last point, despite all of these positives that show a truly dominant team on the ice, the Devils have a crazy low 0.924 PDO. This is a measure of luck in most cases, but here, it also doubles as a measure of how bad goaltending has been. PDO adds together a team’s shooting and save percentages. The Devils, through 7 games, had a save percentage at 84.62%, clearly the worst in the NHL. They were 1 of only 5 teams to have a team save percentage below 90%, and were the only team below 85%. That is going to crater any team’s PDO, almost regardless of shooting percentage. Their shooting percentage was 7.76%, which 22nd in the league, so it wasn’t like they were super lucky with shooting either, but that doesn’t even compare to the save percentage situation. But in reality, any sort of positive regression towards the mean here, for both save and shooting percentages, but especially with save percentage, would do wonders for this team. How often has a team had a 0.924 PDO and still had a winning record? I can’t think many, if ever, but the Devils had it through 7 games. It is not a sustainable situation, and given how strong the skating has been, you have to think that this number moves in a good direction for this team sooner than later.
And there you have it! Those are four really interesting statistics to show how interesting and, in most ways, good this start of the season has been for New Jersey. They are dominating the ice everywhere except in their own crease, where they are giving most of it back. Any sort of positive regression from goaltending, and this team could be really dangerous. No matter what, they will certainly continue to be fun to watch.