Recently, with the general skid that the New Jersey Devils have been on in the month of December, there has been a lot of talk about the team not being able to finish their scoring opportunities. They have had many of them in a lot of these losses, but they are unable to outscore their opposition despite having more chances. This hasn’t happened in every game, but it indeed has in too many of them. Both Bryce Salvador and Ken Daneyko brought this up numerous times during last night’s broadcast, that the team is getting quality chances, but not finishing them. Daneyko was especially hammering it home after Evgeni Malkin scored the opening goal after the Devils were dominating the game to that point.
With that in mind, I wanted to see who among the forward group was scoring fewer actual goals in comparison to expected goals. MoneyPuck tracks both and puts them in a friendly chart, so I will be using that when discussing these numbers. However, I will be making my own chart below as, on my small work Chromebook, I cannot view the entire thing to take a screenshot for this post. I am only looking at forwards on the team who have at least 200 all purpose minutes so far this season. Finally, I wrote this as last night’s game was going on (Hughes just tied it up 1-1 as I am filling out the chart), so these numbers don’t include the game last night.
So it is a pretty interesting dynamic that we see here. Three of the top four goal scorers for this forward group, Hughes, Hischier, and Bratt, have a positive differential. That means they have scored more goals than they have been expected to score. Only Mercer, among those four, has a negative differential, meaning that he is not capitalizing on enough of his opportunities. However, for the majority of the rest of the group, the remaining 8 guys, it is a different story. Among the bottom 8, only Yegor Sharangovitch has a positive differential, but only minimally so. Jesper Boqvist is even, having scored 3 goals and having been expected to score 3 goals. Otherwise, everyone else is in the negative. Of course, Erik Haula’s numbers are off-the-charts negative, but anyone who has watched him this season would know that offhand. Look up snakebitten in a dictionary (even though no one uses those anymore), and you will see a picture of Erik Haula.
Now, if you add up the differential for all 12 forwards, you will find that this group should have scored 11.6 more goals than they have so far this season, again not including last night (game just went 2-1, which figures. Can the Devils stay out of the box?). That is obviously fairly significant. 11-12 more goals across 35 games is a solid 1 goal for every 3 games played. While they would not have needed those during the heater, an extra goal every third game in December could have led to some better results, without question. And of course, the group is still in the red even if you remove Haula and his ridiculous -7.4 differential. If you want to make the argument that he just angered the hockey gods in some way and should not be a part of this, I would not disagree with you in any way. So even when you remove him, the other 11 forwards combine for a -4.2 differential. Again, depending on when and where those four goals are scored, that could mean a couple of extra points right now for the Devils in the standings. And considering how close the Metro is right now, that would be pretty nice.
So in reality, it looks like NJ has really burned through most of that luck they had built up during the heater, and you could claim they’ve actually gone a little the other way, into unlucky territory, at least where that goal differential I just mentioned is concerned. Going into last night’s game, they had a PDO of 1.003 according to Natural Stat Trick, so in terms of that tracker, they were back to luck neutral more or less. One month of bad, unlucky hockey has done that. Their shooting percentage is now the definition of league average, as they are 16th in the NHL in 5v5 shooting percentage, sitting at 8.36%. The good news is, well, they shouldn’t see much more in terms of negative regression back to the mean. You could argue they’re at it, or that they’re even a little unlucky now. This doesn’t include the other indicators of luck, like injuries and records in one goal games, but in these markers, unless the whole team shot an albatross like Erik Haula clearly did, they should be able to finish their chances and score more goals. I mean, they did just go up 3-2 heading into the second intermission as I am watching this Pitt game, so I am hopeful to see a quality third period after I finish this, perhaps with some more NJD goals…and fewer NJD penalties (don’t hate me if they blew it in the third).