On Tuesday night, the New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars were uncharacteristically in a low-scoring hockey game. It was 1-1 within the final minute of a high-tempo goalie duel that was the second period. The Devils iced the puck with 18 seconds left. Joe Pavelski proceeded to win the defensive zone faceoff. Nico Hischier blocked an attempt from Jason Robertson, leading the puck to go to the corner. Robertson would win the puck back in the corner and found Miro Heiskanen open at the center point. Heiskanen unloaded a hard shot that went bar down - and out of the net. Roope Hintz was able to get in front of the defense and poke in the loose puck past an unaware Akira Schmid. The goal made it 1-2 with three seconds officially left on the clock in the period. It was a gut punch and one the Devils would not recover from in a 1-4 loss to Dallas, which included two late empty net goals.
It was more than a gut punch, it was a familiar one. The Devils not only were winless in three straight with that result, but they gave up late goals in periods in their previous two games as well. And a very memorable one allowed late to Nashville that led to an overtime loss at home instead of the 3-2 win they were ten seconds away from earning. It is enough for the People Who Matter to ask the question: Is this an actual problem with the 2022-23 New Jersey Devils? I dug through the data of 29 games and can tell you that the answer is: Yes, it is. The headline also told you that answer, but I wanted to be clear.
(Note: This post does not include last night’s game. Which did not have a late period goal in it.)
How Late is a Late Period Goal Allowed?
Of course, your definition of a late period goal may be different than mine. I take a very wide approach to what is a late goal. I use the final five minutes of a period as being “late” in the period. By that point, the majority of the period has been played but there is still enough time left for coaches to use all their players and/or shorten their bench. The desperation to get something late, especially if the team is losing, picks up as the clock winds down. There is still enough time left on the clock for a power play to be called and possibly even killed. And enough time for coaches to pull their goaltenders given that more and more of them are not just waiting until 1:40 left in the third to do so. Such as Devils head coach Lindy Ruff.
You may pick a more narrow definition, such as the final two minutes. This would really focus on the ends of periods where the team mentalities and coaching strategies may shift from what they were doing prior. Whether that is to play safer, play more aggressive, or something else depending on the state of the game. If you feel that way, that is fine. Rather than setting a definition, I am going to acknowledge both sides of the spectrum for setting the scope.
How Many Late Period Goals Have the Devils Allowed?
Here is the count of how many goals the Devils have allowed this season within timeframe from the final five minutes down to the final minute of any given period. This does include empty net goals; the Devils have allowed three this season. Keep in mind that the Devils have allowed 71 total goals after their loss to Dallas and prior to their game against Philadelphia.
- Goals Allowed (GAs) within the Final Five Minutes of a Period: 23 (32.39% of total allowed this season)
- GAs within the Final Four Minutes of a Period: 20 (28.17% of total allowed this season)
- GAs within the Final Three Minutes of a Period: 15 (21.13% of total allowed this season)
- GAs within the Final Two Minutes of a Period: 9 (12.68% of total allowed this season)
- GAs Allowed within the Final Minute of a Period: 6 (8.45% of total allowed this season)
Feel free to go with the number you so choose for however you define lateness. I will stick with the five-minute time period for the remainder of this post.
While I do not have this data for all other 31 teams in the NHL, I am confident this is sufficient enough to state that the Devils have a Problem. Nearly a third of their goals allowed this season have happened within the final five minutes of a given period, which is a quarter left in a regulation period. If it was closer to a quarter - you know, the final five minutes of a period is a quarter of the period - then I would be less inclined to say it is anything but a recent set of bad coincidences. It is not, so I am inclined to agree that it is a Problem.
Worse, the event of the Devils giving up one in the final period is not just a recent occurrence either. It certainly has happened a lot this month with 10 out of 23 of these final five minutes goals taking place in December. That also means this has been happening earlier in the season. Since the beginning of the season, in fact. I am including empty net goals, so that number is juiced a little bit but seeing as those ENGs usually securing a game’s result, they do mean something. Which is the whole point of paying attention to late goals to begin with.
It’s Possibly Worse Than You Think
There is more surprising information to go over. Information that I regret to inform you as true.
- The Devils have allowed 23 goals within the final five minutes of 13 different games.
- The Devils are 6-5-2 in all 13 games they have allowed multiple goals.
- There have been seven games where the Devils have allowed more than one late goal in a period. Yes, this has happened in bunches every so often.
- There have been seven multiple-late-goal allowed games so far this season: 2 to Detroit on October 15, 3 to Washington on October 24, 2 to Vancouver on November 1, 2 to Toronto on November 17, 2 to Nashville on December 1, 3 to the Islanders on December 9, and 3 to Dallas on December 13.
- The Devils are 2-4-1 whenever they let up multiple late goals in periods in those seven games.
- Only that game against Dallas on December 13 involved an empty net goal. The previous empty net goal allowed was way back on October 13 in Philadelphia.
- The longest time period between the Devils allowing a late period goal in games: six games, from November 3 to November 15. The Devils won all of those games. And the two games that bookended that run.
- Of the 23 late period goals, five were power play goals, one was a 5-on-6 goal (the equalizer by Nashville on December 1), and three were empty net goals. The other 14 were all 5-on-5 goals.
- Five of the late period goals were in the first period. Nine were in the second period. Nine were in the third period, which does include all empty net goals.
- Eight has happened in October, five happened in November, and ten (and counting) has happened in this month.
This all points to the facts that this is a recent issue and a legitimate one. I am sure the Devils are not alone in this but given that the team has hit a snag, the fact that is happened ten times already this month is a worrying sign. The fact that they have had seven games with multiple late goals allowed and only won two of those games is concerning. That most of them were not on the power play or empty net goals, so the majority of these are in 5-on-5 hockey - a situation that has otherwise been splendid for the Devils as a whole this season. That it has cost them in five of their six regulation losses and both of their overtime losses this season points to this being a costly problem.
Of course, not all goals allowed are the same, right? No. Some were consolation goals and had no real impact on the game, such as both of Bo Horvat’s power play goals on November 1. However, more of these have been costly than you might think. Let me go over each.
- The two goals allowed to Detroit within the final five (and three) minutes of the second period turned a 2-2 game into a 2-4 deficit that yielded “Fire Lindy” chants and saw the team float to a sad 2-5 loss. That’s two.
- The one goal allowed to San Jose was shortly after the Devils made it 2-0. Kevin Labanc’s goal at 16:15 meant the Devils had to hold in a goaltending duel, which Mackenzie Blackwood did prevail in. Still costly in that it changed the state of the game quite a bit. That’s three.
- Of the three goals allowed to Washington, the power play goal from Ovechkin to make it 1-4 was the only one I would call costly as it put the game out of reach for the Devils in the second period. Nic Jensen’s goal on the next shift just extended the lead and Protas’ late goal in the third just put a bow on the game. Now it’s four.
- The two goals allowed to Toronto in regulation on November 17 were both within the final five minutes of their periods. Matthews converted a power play to open the game’s scoring in the first period. William Nylander’s shot tied up the game at 2-2 with just over two minutes left and forced overtime. Both mattered. Fortunately, Jesper Bratt immediately answered Matthews’ goal and Yegor Sharangovich scored in overtime to take the game. At the time of the goals against, though, they were costly. Mark it six.
- Both goals allowed to Nashville on December 1 count. Colton Sissons put the Devils down two going into intermission, forcing the team to make up more. Which they did. Mikael Granlund pounded in a loose puck behind the defense in a 5-on-6 situation. Clearly costly as it sent the game into overtime with ten seconds left. I am now up to eight.
- Sedlak’s goal in the third period at 15:12 made it 3-2. That goal turned an otherwise solid third period into a crazy one where the Devils were lucky to some and escaped Philadelphia with the 3-2 win. That is nine costly Late Period Goals Allowed (LPGAs).
- Half of the Islanders’ goals on December 9 were within the final five minutes of a period. Brock Nelson’s wraparound and Anders Lee’s goal in the first period turned a 1-0 game into a 1-2 deficit going into the intermission. Nelson’s power play one timer did not seem that costly until the Devils battled back in what would be a 4-6 loss. Which meant Nelson’s PPG ended up being the game winning goal. Call me generous but that is three costly goals, bringing up the total to twelve.
- Chris Kreider finished a 2-on-1 within the final two minutes of the first period to mar an otherwise good period from New Jersey. It did make the score 2-1. While the Devils would get the next goal, it gave Our Hated Rivals hope after and in a period where they took eleven minutes to get a shot on net. Mark it thirteen.
- Hintz’s goal did not just break a 1-1 tie. No, it became the game winning goal. Esa Lindell’s clearance after a Dougie Hamilton one-timer iced the game for Dallas. I would say that Hintz goal was absolutely costly. That puts it at 14. Your mileage may vary on an ENG being costly. I will be generous and not count it.
I would say 14 out of 23 late goals allowed in a period being costly is enough to confirm it is a Problem. Something worth exploring. Even if you disagree with one or two of them, it is still about half of the amount of the late goals allowed I am focused on. Which, for goals allowed within the final five minutes of a period, is just under a third of all of the goals they have allowed this season prior to yesterday’s game.
What Can the Devils Do About All of This?
I have five thoughts about this. Bear with me, the third one is a long one.
With 23 goals allowed within the final five minutes of periods; 10 of which happening in this month so far; and 15 of those 23 being costly; my first thought is that there is not a single player or pairing or line to really look at. Blackwood, Vitek Vanecek, Akira Schmid, and an empty net have all faced this kind of goal against. So have the other skaters. It would be easy if the Devils had a unit that was just suffering catastrophes. Then the solution would be to just use other people. But there has been too many of these goals to really focus on one player.
My second thought is to ask what the coaching staff is doing about it. Surely, Lindy Ruff and his staff are seeing the same things you and I are seeing. I cannot imagine going into a first intermission, second intermission, or a post-game talk with the team is made any easier with a late goal allowed. It can and has (and will) change what is said, what is emphasized, and how the remainder of the game is managed. It can and has (and will) impact the team on off days. If you have followed Amanda Stein on Twitter, then you may have noticed plenty of tweets from practices where Ruff or another coach is having the players play at a high intensity and/or barking at them about details. Even after a win in some cases. I would have to think these kinds of goals against absolutely grind’s a coaches gears. I will assume - a dangerous word, but I think it is worth doing here - the coaching staff is giving the team the business in some way or form about these kinds of goals. Especially after that Hintz goal.
My third thought is to actually suffer and look at all of these costly goals and hopefully find a common thread among them. Some thing(s) to take away from what happened on the ice. Here is what I noted upon re-watching the 14 goals I tabbed as “costly:”
- Damon Severson loses a puck battle in his own end after a dump-in. Vanecek knocked the puck away from Petr Vrana and right to a wide open David Perron to the right of the slot. (Video)
- Vanecek stops a shot and loses his stick in the process. The first to the rebound at the side wall is Andrew Copp, whom Yegor Sharangovich was chasing and Nico Hischier tried to help but was too late. Dylan Larkin gets a feed from the slot, who was open just ahead of Jonas Siegenthaler. He rocketed a high shot past Vanecek (and Jonas Siegenthaler). (Video)
- Devils lose an offensive zone faceoff. Puck is exited past Dougie Hamilton, who is handcuffed in the corner of the point. Labanc leads a 2-on-1. Siegenthaler is the one and sells out by going down on his stomach. Too late as Labanc fired the shot to beat Blackwood high blocker side. (Video)
- Alexander Ovechkin right circle power play goal. You should know it by now. Pass from left circle to the point man. Point man to Putin man for a one timer. Shortside if it matters. (Video)
- Devils showing a diamond on a penalty kill, so Mitch Marner sends a pass down low to Michael Bunting. Bunting turns to face the slot and slides a pass through John Marino, past Nico Hischier’s stick blade, and right to Auston Matthews’ stick blade. Matthews puts it home before Nathan Bastian could stick check him. (Video)
- Devils clear it out with a lofted puck to the Toronto zone. Toronto pushes forward. Morgan Reilly passes the puck to Matthews for the zone entry. Matthews passes it to his right to William Nylander. Before Siegenthaler can fill the lane, Nylander tries a shot from the top of the left circle - and it goes in far post past Vanecek. (Video)
- Shift begins with a defensive zone faceoff for New Jersey. They lose it. Roman Josi has a shot blocked by Jesper Bratt. The blocked puck heads towards a vacant middle point. Josi catches up to it. He turns and fires the puck ahead before crossing the blueline. Hamilton tries to play it but the puck bounces off of him and drops for Colton Sissons, who is right next to him. Sissons launches a high glove side shot to beat Vanecek. (Video)
- Matt Duchene gains the zone with 18 seconds left and Saros is pulled for an extra skater. Marino blocks the shot by Duchene and the puck goes to the end boards. Ryan Graves stick-checks Duchene but the puck is still rimmed around. It gets to Ryan Johnasen just after Hischier tried to intercept the puck. Meanwhile, Mikael Granlund sets himself in front of Vanecek and Marino gets in front of him. Johansen plays it back for Filip Forsberg, who fires a shot toward the net. It gets past Graves, Marino, and is deflected down by Granlund. Vanecek stopped the shot, but Granlund was in position - behind both Marino and Graves to bury the rebound with 10 seconds left on the clock. (Video)
- A failed exit pass by Dougie Hamilton to Fabian Zetterlund leads to the Flyers retaining possession in the Devils’ zone along the sidewall. Travis Sanheim goes D-to-D to Anthony DeAngelo. DeAngelo turns and passes back to Sanheim as McLeod rushed in to deny him a shooting option. Sanheim, under pressure from Zetterlund, passes back to DeAngelo. DeAngelo draws McLeod again, skates back, and finds Sanheim at the center point. Meanwhile, MacEwen and Laughton are getting behind Hamilton and Siegenthaler. Miles Wood is off getting a stick. Sanheim found Sedlak open between Hamilton - who is now in the slot - and Zetterlund in the high slot. Zetterlund tipped the pass but it still got to Sedlak. Sedlak ripped a shot through a screen for the score. (Video)
- Siegenthaler attempts a pass to the neutral zone, which gets away from his target and goes right to Alexander Romanov. Devils were changing, so a quick pass up to Brock Nelson plays him into space on the right side of the zone. Hamilton forces Nelson to stay wide, which had Nelson go around the net. He beat Vanecek (and Siegenthaler’s stick) to the left post. (Video)
- Siegenthaler gets caught up in the Islanders zone so the Isles look to quickly transition with Nelson and Lee up ice. Marino and Fabian Zetterlund were back to defend. A quick cross and a long shot from Lee is saved. Nelson, on his butt, knocks the rebound away. Lee gets to it before Siegenthaler and plays it back Scott Mayfield. He goes D-to-D to Romanov as Michael McLeod tried to engaged. Lee, now uncovered, heads to the high slot. Romanov makes a pass as Zetterlund tries to pressure the defender. Lee takes the pass, curls, and shoots past Erik Haula, Marino, and Nelson to beat Vanecek. (Video)
- Devils now killing Alex Holtz’s hooking minor on Matt Martin. With 1:09 left on the power play, Nelson found Mat Barzal at the top of the zone. Barzal makes a pass to the right to Noah Dobson with Hischier engaging up top. Dobson attempts a shot and it is saved by Akira Schmid. The rebound is knocked away by Siegenthaler and/or Jean-Gabriel Pageau. Hischier lunges at the loose puck to clear it out, but Barzal stepped up to deny the clearance and take the puck. All this time, Nelson is all alone on the left side. Barzal settles the puck, looks, and passes down low to Pageau while Nelson moves down the right circle. Pageau turns, sees that only Siegenthaler is possibly in the way of a killer pass, makes said killer pass, and Nelson converts the power play with 57 seconds left. (Video)
- Dump in by the Devils. Rangers beat a forecheck effort from Holtz and Jesper Boqvist. Siegenthaler tried to knock the puck away from Jimmy Vesey at the blueline. Vesey protected the puck, turned, and fired a hard pass to Vincent Trocheck in stride. Hamilton is left to defend Trocheck and Chris Kreider, who also is past Siegenthaler. Trocheck beats Hamilton with the pass (who at least stayed on his skates) and Kreider buries the one-timer. (Video)
- I literally described this at the beginning of this post. (Video)
The common thread in 11 of these 14 costly late period goals allowed are a lack of attention to detail. Or, to put it another way, multiple errors that led to something truly painful happening. It is not that only one bad mistake happened and that led to a late goal allowed in a period. It is not that only one thing that did not go right or go the Devils way or caused by a lack of awareness late in a period or a minor mistake. It is that something went awry. Then another thing went awry. Then another. Then another. Then it is a goal against. Could some of these have been stopped by the goaltender? Possibly. If you feel so strongly about it, then it is just another of the mistakes made. Why are these mistakes being made? Again, a lack of attention to detail.
This is the sort of thing that I believe (or want to believe) that Ruff and other coaches stress constantly in practices and video sessions. All of those little things like knowing when to make an exit pass up the zone or chip it out, or being aware if the opposition gets behind you, or winning a battle. Sure, some of these late goals allowed involved some fortunate breaks for the scoring team. Maybe Mat Barzal does not collect Hischier’s clearing attempt so easily. Maybe Granlund does not always get that deflection that forced a rebound instead of maybe a blocked shot or a more snagable puck. Maybe Heiskanen misses the net instead of going bar down and right to where Roope Hintz could get the puck. But these fortunate breaks and bounces are the result of lost battles for pucks, decisions to clear the puck going awry, open players not being picked up. Which are what is happening due to a lost draw or allowing a less than ideal zone entry or losing a race to a puck. On these plays, it is almost an avalanche effect of one small problem yielding others until the Devils are buried. Two of the power play goals allowed, upon rewatching, makes me less inclined to find serious fault. It’s Ovechkin and Matthews, what can you do? Until I realized that taking a penalty in the first place is what you can not do.
Outside of Jonas Siegenthaler, whose name I wrote a lot more often than I anticipated, there really is no one common player on these costly LPGAs to really fault here. And even in Siegenthaler’s case, I do not think he somehow magically gets worse when the clock goes past 15:00 on the play by play log. I do not think it would be wise for Ruff & Co. to bench 71 for five minutes per period just so we can see Ryan Graves or Brendan Smith be featured in more costly late period goals.
No, I see this as more of an issue of team mentality and problem solving. Mistakes, errors, and bad bounces happen in hockey. Can the Devils recognize more quickly to stem those mistakes so they do not lead to goals late in periods? Can the Devils afford be a little less aggressive on offense to ensure players are back to avoid a late goal to give the other team life? Can the Devils afford to be a little more attentive of players without the puck when defending instead of focusing on the puck carrier and trying to win it back to start some offense? These are the questions I would think the coaching staff really has to consider if they want to reduce the alarming number of late period goals allowed.
Those who proclaim the Devils tend to get caught napping or not play to the end of periods have a point. But there is a little more to fixing all of this than just being more aware. Being aware of the issue is a good first step. The next step is determining how the players can modify their decisions in-game when periods get to their final five or fewer minutes. Especially in close-score games. The Devils absolutely have the capability of doing it. It is partially how they have won over 20 games already. Yet, they clearly need some refreshers on the subject given this has happened ten times so far this month. It will be up to the coaching staff to ensure they learn it. That would be my suggested approach for a corrective measure to the ongoing problem of late period goals.
My fourth thought is more of a preventive measure: score more goals. I know, I know. That is not a direct answer to this problem. But to reduce the number of costly late period goals allowed, building up bigger leads would really help. Vancouver scored two LPGAs and those goals did not matter because the Devils already four on the board when they happened. Derick Brassard put the game in an interesting state with a late second period goal on November 19. Which became more interesting due to the penalty taken after. And then became very less interesting (and entertaining) when Yegor Sharangovich scored a shorthanded goal. Again, the Matthews PPG was answered immediately by Bratt in that game on November 17. Scoring goals in response to goals allowed or building up big leads is a great way to not only get winning results in games, but also reduce the pain of late period goals allowed. The Devils have done a lot of that this season even when they do not allow late period goals allowed. I hope they can keep that up. The last two games notwithstanding.
If you thought the fourth thought was a bit snarky, then you may hate this fifth thought. The opposition is, regrettably, allowed to do things sometimes. Too many times fans, myself included, take an approach to hockey or sports problems as if they are like processes in a factory or in a lab or somewhere that is not competitive. We look to fix the issue by changing the processes, improving how the processes are performed, or, sometimes, eliminating processes that have not helped. That is all well and good there. But this is hockey. This is a sport. The Devils’ errors are being punished by an opponent - someone who wants to punish the Devils for their errors. We cannot control the opponent no matter what. We can look at data. We can identify potential weaknesses. But the people on the ice can have their night. Regardless of how much we say they suck - even when it is true in the case of Our Hated Rivals. This is all to say that the goal cannot be no more late period goals allowed. The other team, unfortunately, is allowed to score goals against the Devils and that will happen. As much as I would love for it to happen, there is no solution that will keep this number at 23 all the way through April 13, 2023.
Therefore, the goal (and hope) of all of this is that the Devils should really try to at least get these late period goals allowed down to a less common occurrence. To reduce it. To mitigate it. To cut back on them. They will happen and it is likely they may hurt. Making it happen fewer times than what we have seen recently will be enough to show the team has made progress. Which can only further bolster a team having a far better season than I honestly ever anticipated.
Concluding Thoughts & Your Take
I know this is a long post (as usual) and for all I know there is a new Area of Concern after last night’s game. For your convenience, here is a summary of this post:
- Depending on when you define “late” in a period of hockey (I am using the final five minutes), the Devils have allowed multiple goals in that timeframe this season. Specifically, 23 out of 71 total prior to Thursday’s game were in the final five minutes of periods. That is close to a third of all goals allowed this season happening in a quarter of regulation.
- Yes, it is an Actual Problem for the 2022-23 New Jersey Devils
- These late period goals allowed took place in 13 different games. Seven had multiple late period goals allowed. The Devils only won two of those seven games.
- The majority of late period goals allowed are even strength goals with five coming from power plays, three going into empty nets, and one being an extra-skater goal.
- Ten of these 23 goals have taken place in December. Eight in October. This is not just a recent issue.
- Of these 23 goals, 14 have been costly.
- Of those 14 costly goals, 11 have shown signs of multiple things going wrong all related to a lack of attention to detail. A missed assignment here, a missed or lost puck battle there, a bounce against, and so forth. Multiple “little things” went bad before the opposition scored.
- The coaching staff is surely not anymore happy about this than you and I are.
- There really is no particular scapegoat on these plays. Jonas Siegenthaler is the closest but I highly doubt he magically becomes a worse player late in periods. Even if he keeps appearing on these LPGAs.
- The corrective actions need to involve cutting down on the mistakes or playing such that one mistake will not necessarily lead to more mistakes.
- The preventive action is to score so many goals that it does not matter much whether a late period goal or not happens.
- The goal is not to reduce this number to zero or keep it steady at 23 for the remainder of the season, but to reduce how often it happens. The other team will make plays that will lead to goals within the final five minutes of a period. The Devils need to stop making this such a regular occurrence, especially with how the opposition are able to make these plays. That means paying more attention to detail, making those little things work out more favorably, winning those little battles, and limiting errors/mistakes/awry events from snowballing out of control.
That all stated, I want to know what you think. Were you surprised to find out it is an Actual Problem? About how often it has happened and when it has occurred? As well as which ones were costly? What other takeaways do you have from the late period goals allowed that the Devils have suffered this season? What else can they do within the current roster and staff that they have? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils’ late period goals allowed in the comments. Again, this was written before Thursday’s game against Philadelphia. But this was enough of an issue that it caused the loss in Dallas that it warrants this deeper set of thoughts. Thank you for reading.