The Devils are a team that is rolling in a big way right now. Winners of 12 of their last 13 games, New Jersey has gone from a perennial underachiever and a team with an embittered fanbase primed for disappointment to perhaps the story of the season so far in the NHL. The league is buzzing about the New Jersey Devils, a state of affairs that has rarely been the case, even in the team’s glory years. The Devils are playing a fast, exciting brand of hockey, their home arena is now rocking for regular season games in November, and a success-starved fanbase is soaking in the feeling of rooting for a team that is consistently turning in great performances and stacking up wins.
The Devils are in the unfamiliar territory of leading their division, even putting a slight bit of daylight between them and their closest pursuers. The Devils are sitting at 24 points (12-3-0) on the year with the Islanders at 20 points and the Rangers and Hurricanes at 19 points. The Devils even have games in hand on the Islanders (1) and Rangers (2). Leaguewide, the Devils are sitting in third place overall, behind only the scorching hot Vegas Golden Knights (13-3-0, 26 points) and Boston Bruins (14-2-0, 28 points). Even without the team leading the league, the 12-3-0 start is extremely impressive, and their 10 regulation wins are just one behind Boston (11) for the league lead with a game in hand.
Now with the team almost 20% of the way through the season at the 15-game mark, we can step back and see where this opening stretch lands in comparison to other Devils seasons. In terms of standings points, this is tied for the best opening 15-game stretch for a season in franchise history. Only the 1993-94 Devils equaled the 24-point output through 15 games that this team has generated. Going through the franchise’s history with the help of Stathead, here’s where the Devils land in a number of categories versus all 47 other Devils (and Rockies/Scouts) teams through 15 games:
- Wins: 12 (T-1st)
- Points: 24 (T-1st)
- Goals: 55 (T-8th)
- Goals Against: 38 (T-13th)
- Goal Differential: +17 (4th)
- Shots on Goal: 556 (1st)
- Shots Against: 366 (7th)
- Shot Differential: +190 (1st)
- Power Play Goals: 10 (T-27th)
- Power Play Goals Against: 10 (T-14th)
- Save Percentage: .896 (21st)
- Shooting Percentage: 9.9% (20th)
- PDO (Sv% + Sh%): 995 (19th)
Put short, the Devils are putting up what one could argue, if they were so inclined, the best opening stretch in the history of the franchise. Only three Devils teams have had a better goal differential at the 15-game mark than this one, and each of those teams were the beneficiary of friendly percentages with PDO values of 1020 or higher. This team has also not gotten much benefit from special teams as they only net a +1 on the PP/PK when combining PPGs and SHGs. They are doing all of their damage at even-strength, and they are mostly just overwhelming teams to get those results, rather than being particularly opportunistic. How will this team stack up against other big time Devils teams when the dust settles? I don’t know, but they are performing just about as well as they possibly could right now.
The Devils, one could argue, have been slightly unlucky in their opening 15 games, with their goalies putting up a not particularly good .896 so far (22nd in the NHL) and the shooters putting up a pretty pedestrian 9.9% shooting percentage (19th in the NHL) in turn. The two teams in front of the Devils, Boston and Vegas, have each been getting stellar goaltending (ranked 1st and 2nd in the category) and are converting their shots at top-ten rates. Now, the Devils were not expected to have particularly good goaltending, so maybe “unlucky” isn’t the exact right word to describe their situation, at least on that half of the ledger, but the bottom line is the Devils are reeling off wins in a way that teams almost never do without the percentages firmly on their side.
Putting their opening 15 games in a leaguewide historical context, we can see that they sit in pretty rare air even there. The 12 wins in 15 games have only been eclipsed by 12 teams since the Devils franchise arrived in the league in 1975, with that many teams having gotten to 13 wins in the opening 15 games. Two of those 13-win teams happen to be the two ahead of the Devils in the standings right now. The Devils are one of only 31 teams in the last 48 seasons to put up 12+ wins. Among the 167 teams to win 10 of their opening 15 games in a season since 1975 (again via the great Stathead), the Devils are tied for third in total shot differential, with only the 1975-76 Sabres and 2013-14 Sharks ahead of them in that category. The Devils are one of only 10 teams among those 167 to clear that 10-win bar with a sub-1000 PDO (and one of only two among the teams with 12+ wins).
So, what does this mean for the Devils going forward in 2022-23? Well, it’s certainly not a bad thing. The Devils are off to one of the better starts in the standings in the last 50 years, and most signs point to it being unlikely to be a total mirage. Even if they fall off the breakneck pace they’ve established for themselves territorially, they have plenty of breathing room in that current xG/shot share and have already banked a huge number of points early in the season as well. There is a long way to go (67 games left, it turns out), but the team is playing a brand of hockey that can be parlayed into sustainable success, and they’ve also shown evidence of being able to will themselves to some victories when they don’t have that dominant ‘A’ game, which is another good sign in itself. Past results are no guarantee of future success, but the Devils are playing some pretty damn impressive hockey right now. Here’s hoping they can keep this level of play going and let us enjoy the ride.