It has been stated that victory has a thousand fathers. The New Jersey Devils have racked up eleven wins between October 25 and November 17. They have won in various fashions and score situations. They have grinded out close, one-score games. They have blown out opponents. They have come from behind to win. They have blown leads and yet pulled out a victory. They went to overtime three times and left all three times with game winning goals. Other than the final result, one of the more consistent factors in their winning streak has been their success on the power play. Last season, it was a point of pain. During this winning streak, it has been a significant contributor with power play goals in nine out of all eleven wins. That is a reason to take a closer look at how the Devils’ power play has been performing during this winning streak.
Power Play Goals That Mostly Mattered
The New Jersey Devils have scored nine power play goals during their eleven-game (and counting!) winning streak They have converted one power play in every one of their eleven wins except for the 4-3 win in Edmonton on November 3 and the 3-2 OT win in Toronto on November 17. The nine goals were not just goals scored to boost up a score. Several of these power play goals have been crucial to the team keeping the fire burning on their heater. Here is a list of all nine power play goals and their contributions at the time in each game:
- 10/25: 6-2 win in Detroit - The power play goal was scored by Jesper Bratt, memorably interrupting a breast mammogram PSA by Bill Spaulding. The goal was scored 43 seconds in to the second period and turned a 2-1 game into a 3-1 game. This PPG helped the Devils pull away for a big win that ended up starting this winning streak.
- 10/28: 1-0 win over Colorado - The third period power play goal by Jack Hughes at 2:59 was the only goal in the game. This game was the definition of a defensive struggle as both teams allowed a relatively small amount of offense compared to what they could do. Therefore, any goal would be massive. The Big Deal provided it and it was all that was needed. Of all nine PPGs, this is one of the three that directly kept the winning going. It was also the second one.
- 10/30: 7-1 win over Columbus - Of all nine PPGs, this one would be the least valuable. All it did was turn a 4-1 game (made in the final minute of the second period) into a 5-1 game at 3:46 into the third period. It was a rare conversion by the Devils’ second power play unit and an even rarer scorer: Jonas Siegenthaler. He jumped up a long way to put home a rebound in the blowout win.
- 11/01: 5-2 win in Vancouver - The New Jersey Devils started off poorly in this one. Pucks were going astray. Passes were missing. Vancouver was attacking. The Devils were held shotless. Until a perfect tic-tac-toe play from Hughes to Bratt to Nico Hischier re-directing a puck past Thatcher Demko to open the game’s scoring at 4:36 into the first period. The Devils scored on their first shot of the game, and gave themselves some breathing room as they sorted out their own performance. Which they did.
- 11/05: 4-3 OT win in Calgary - Calgary was no stranger to being physical and/or dirty in this game. The tough reputation of the Flames took a hit when the coach and players whined after the game about Elias Lindholm being called for interference on John Marino. Which was a hit away from the puck in open ice in a 3-on-3 situation. Lindholm could have held up a sign that said, “I AM COMMITTING A PENALTY,” to make it more obvious. On the ensuring 4-on-3, it took a bit over a minute but Dougie Hamilton set-up Fabian Zetterlund in the right dot for a hammer of a one-timer to win the game. Like the Colorado game, this PPG directly led to a win.
- 11/08: 3-2 win over Calgary - In the runback game against the Flames, the Devils were out-performed as a whole in the run of play for the first time this season. They were able to make a game of it with a good second period and Dougie Hamilton sailing in a long shot for a power play goal at 16:37 in the second period. This broke a 1-1 tie at the time and gave the Devils the lead going into the third period. While that lead did not last, it was important at the time to give the Devils some space in case Calgary struck again - which they did in the third period. Thanks to the PPG, that was an equalizer and not a go-ahead goal.
- 11/10: 4-3 OT win over Ottawa - This overtime featured New Jersey killing a 3-on-4 with Akira Schmid in net. They survived that. After that, Thomas Chabot tripped up Jack Hughes to deny him a potential breakaway within the final minute of overtime. It did not take long for the Devils to punish this penalty by Chabot, who earlier rammed his knee into Vitek Vanecek’s head. Faceoff was won by Hischier, puck went to Hughes, pass to Hamilton, Hamilton deked, Hamilton shot it, Hischier touched it into the net with 33 seconds left in overtime. Another PPG to win a hockey game. A third win directly made from a PPG.
- 11/12: 4-2 win over Arizona - The PPG was more or less an insurance goal. Not long after Jesper Boqvist broke the tie with his first goal of the season, the Devils got a power play going against an Arizona team willing to give up a lot of them that night. While the power play units did not create much, Hamilton fired in a long-shot that went through traffic and in to make it 4-2 at 14:15 into the second period. Arizona did not respond and the two-goal cushion gave the Devils the right to play out the third rather than hope that the visitors would tie it up.
- 11/15: 5-1 win in Montreal - Similar to the Vancouver game, the PPG opened the scoring in this one. After a first period where the Devils had to rely on Vanecek to perform well to keep it at 0-0, it did not take long for the Devils to get on the board in the second period. Once again, it was Jack Hughes. From the right circle, he opened the game’s scoring at 3:57 into the second period. The Devils built on that 1-0 lead and never lost a lead in what would be a decisive win to make the winning streak then ten games long. (It is now eleven of course.)
Out of all nine power play goals, only two ended up being insurance goals to extend leads. I would argue the one against Arizona was more valuable than the one in Vancouver. Technically, the first PPG on this list could be included however that goal ended up being the GWG for that game. Two PPGs ended up being the first goals of the game, with the Vancouver PPG having the special trait of being from the Devils’ first shot of the game. Three PPGs directly won the game they were scored in, with two coming in overtime of all places. No matter what you think about the Devils’ power play, this winning streak would not be possible without their conversions.
More than Just Goals, the Power Play Process During this Winning Streak
I would put to you that the Devils’ power play during this hot streak has been good. I would agree it could be better. For example, generating just six shots against Arizona was lackluster, even with a power play goal scored that night. System wise, I have observed that the team is still prone to aggressive penalty killers and stout defenses at the blueline on their breakouts. Even in games where they get a power play, it has dulled their potential offense given how much the team makes in 5-on-5. Further, the second power play unit is still just a mish-mash of players with skills that could fit on a power play (e.g. Damon Severson, Dawson Mercer) and those that do not (e.g. the currently goalless Erik Haula, Miles Wood). Look at that list above and you will see Hughes, Hischier, Hamilton, and Bratt among scorers. They are all on the first unit. Zetterlund replaced Bratt in OT in Calgary prior to his goal. Only Siegenthaler scored while on the second unit and that was in a blowout game over Columbus. The second unit does not really provide much of a threat. There are issues that can be addressed on the Devils’ power play.
Even with those issues and some not-so-effective nights for the man advantage, the Devils’ power play has done well during the 11-game winning streak. According to NHL.com, they have converted 9 out of 36 opportunities. That is a conversion rate of 25% and tied for the eleventh-best rate in the NHL between October 25 and November 17. Only seven teams have scored more power play goals than nine in this time frame. We can say that the Devils’ power play during this run has been effective even if it is not the very best.
We can also say the Devils are not necessarily getting a ton of advantages. There have been some nights where they get a lot (8 by Arizona) and others where they just had two opportunities (e.g. the recent wins in Montreal and Toronto). The team has averaged 3.27 opportunities per game during this eleven-game stretch, which puts them around the middle of the NHL in this timeframe. I honestly expected it to be more given how much the Devils have attacked in 5-on-5. It is what it is.
However, the on-ice rate stats at Natural Stat Trick reveal that as much as I can gripe (and have griped) about some power plays, the Devils’ process is just as solid as their success rate. Enough to make me think I should gripe less often. Here are the main power play rate (per 60 minutes) stats from NST with ranks from October 25, 2022 to November 17, 2022:
- Shot Attempts (Corsi): 115.03 - 8th in the NHL
- Shots on Net: 55.38 - 16th in the NHL
- Scoring Chances: 73.49 - 3rd in the NHL
- High Danger Scoring Chances: 26.63 - 11th in the NHL
- Expected Goals For: 8.71 - 9th in the NHL
- Actual Goals For: 9.59 - 9th in the NHL
- Team Shooting Percentage: 17.31% - 10th in the NHL
The Devils’ power play has ranked quite well across the board. Sure, the SF/60 rate is at the league median, but that is more than acceptable given how often the Devils are attempting shots and how often they are firing from dangerous locations. All of those shots from the inside-halves of the two circles are scoring chances and that is where the wingers in the Devils’ 1-3-1 prefer to set up. Throw in actual passes to the bumper in the middle and the occasional attempt by the player down low, and that is how the Devils power play has generated a high amount of scoring chances and a not-as-high-but-still-good amount of high danger chances.
What this ultimately tells me is that I should gripe less about some lackluster advantages because the man advantages have been fruitful over all of these eleven wins. The expected goals model suggests the Devils are doing a lot of good things and the Devils are exceeding that model. Their sticks are shooting a bit hot, but the team shooting percentage not in the realm of a figure so high that few believe it will last like Arizona’s team shooting percentage of 23.81%. In other words, the Devils’ power play has been legitimately good in the run of play during the eleven-game winning streak. It is like their success rate during this time period. It is not the very best in the NHL, but definitely good enough to be worthy of praise, to be an asset to the team, to be more than just a hot streak, and definitely not a point of pain like it was under Mark Recchi.
Why I Think This is Happening
The Devils’ power play has been both productive and ef1fective over the eleven-game winning streak. It has even been crucial in at least three of those eleven wins. Why is it happening?
At first glance, it would be easy to say that the power play is just hot. The team still sets up in a 1-3-1 formation. The team still incorporates back passes for a “slingshot” breakout, looking for a carry-in. The power play success is largely driven by the first unit. Not just in points, but the rates of offense created on the ice is starkly different between first and second unit regulars. How is it any different from the last two seasons where it looked similar to this?
A couple of factors come to my mind. One is that the players have improved a bit. As talented as they are, Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt among others still had some runway left to improve. It appears that is the case. Another is that the players have been largely healthy. The only skater to miss significant time for the Devils is Ondrej Palat. Compare that to last season where Hughes, Hischier, and Dougie Hamilton missed significant time - which meant others had to step in and play in roles that may have not really fit in. A third is that Hischier has been excellent at winning draws on power play faceoffs with 38 wins out of 51 during the winning streak. A faceoff win percentage of 74.5% is great to see and some of those wins directly led to some of the PPGs scored during this heater. Those factors have helped the power play provide some power over the last four weeks.
However, I think a more interesting factor is how the 1-3-1 is being implemented for the Devils. There is more creativity on display in this season so far compared with the past two seasons. There is more movement of players compared to two straight seasons of players staying in the same area and the puck staying between three players (the back one and the two wingers). The main play is not always to set up a seam pass across the slot for a shot, although that has happened during this run such as the lone goal against Colorado. That is still a play they look for, but it is not something they are locked into doing most of the time. For example, look at the PPG in Vancouver. The cross-ice pass from Hughes to Bratt did not lead to a one-timer from Bratt. Instead, he saw Hischier - the bumper player - move in on Demko’s flank and Bratt correctly sent him a pass. Hischier one-touched it in for the score. That was not a play often seen in the last two seasons. That is a result of a “looser” power play structure, which has opened up more opportunities to attack.
You can also see the opening up of the power play beyond three guys in the individual stats per NST. Hischier actually has more shot attempts than Bratt during this run as four players have at least ten power play attempts and six power play shots on net in the eleven-game winning streak. The fifth man on the first unit, which has been Nathan Bastian as of late, is often screening a goaltender. But even he will see a puck come his way down low once in a while. Or help out on an entry. Again, something not seen a lot in past seasons. This is encouraging as a power play unit with the talents of Hughes, Bratt, Hamilton, and Hischier should be given the green light to make reads on the fly and be in some kind of motion instead of following a play or two to a ‘T.’ And that kind of freedom has opened up plenty of those spaces for goals from the wide players in the 1-3-1 and the pointman during this run of PPGs. The Devils are able to use more men on their man advantage than they did in the past and they are willing to do so. Add in better players, healthy players, and a plethora of faceoff wins as to avoid having 15-20 seconds come off the clock right after a power play begins, and you have a more successful power play. We have seen that in this eleven-game heater.
Could it be better? Sure. Should they try to be better? I think so. It is still quite good.
Going back to the initial point in this post, victories have many fathers. Not exactly a thousand, but winning a game often requires multiple kinds of successes and non-defeats. We have seen that throughout the eleven-game winning streak from the Devils controlling games in 5-on-5 hockey to coming back from deficits that lesser teams - like last season’s team - would crumble at to goaltenders playing above what their stats suggest. The power play has been absolutely a part of this run. Given its frequency of scoring, I would argue it is a larger part than perhaps some, myself included, may given credit for all of these wins. It is not everything, of course, but it is significant. The Devils’ power play has been on a kind of a heater within the larger heater we all know and love. May it stay hot for as long as it can go.
Now I turn to you, the People Who Matter. What do you make of the Devils’ power play being successful to the point of putting up a PPG in nine of their eleven wins? Were you surprised to learn that it was that often? Or that they were important? Or that the power play units were doing well despite their known issues? Do you agree with why I think it has been so good as of late? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils’ power play during the winning streak in the comments. Thank you for reading.