On paper, this week had all the makings of being a rough one for the New Jersey Devils this season. The 2021-22 New Jersey Devils are Bad. Their opponents: the second place team in the Central Division (St. Louis), the team with the best record in the league (Colorado), the team who ran up eight goals on them back in December (Winnipeg), and the only team to shut out the Devils so far this season (Anaheim). However, the Devils managed to pull off an overtime win against St. Louis and a big comeback win over Colorado. What is more is that the Devils played rather well in those games. Why? There were multiple factors to it. One of the factors in both games was the schedule. In both games, the Devils had an advantage. A rest advantage.
The realities of logistics, travel, COVID-19-driven postponements, and the Contract Bargaining Agreement means that not everyone’s 82-game season will be equal. There are games where one team was off the night prior and their opponent did play the night before. That is a rest advantage. Likewise, there are games where one team played the night before and their opponent did not. That is a rest disadvantage. There are even a handful of games where both teams played the night before they played each other. This is just one of many factors that can help determine who wins or loses a game.
In this week, the Devils had the fortune of having the rest advantage over St. Louis and Colorado. Both the Blues and Avalanche played the New York Islanders the day before they played the Devils. With those two wins, the 2021-22 Devils have further shown that they have taken advantage of the rest advantage. Conversly, their record with a rest disadvantage has not been so good.
The 2021-22 Devils and Rest Advantages and Disadvantages So Far
I am writing this prior to the Winnipeg game, a game where both teams did not play at all the day before they faced each other. A game where no one had a rest advantage. The 2021-22 Devils have played in 36 games where there was no rest advantage so far. They have had 10 games where the Devils had a rest advantage, 9 games where the Devils had a rest disadvantage, and two games where both teams played the night before - a double disadvantage. Here is how it has broken down by results:
- No Rest Advantage: 36 GP, 12-21-3
- Rest Advantage: 10 GP, 7-3-0
- Rest Disadvantage: 9 GP, 2-6-1
- Double Disadvantage: 2 GP, 0-1-1
Working from the bottom up, the two double disadvantage games so far was the 3-4 shootout loss to Our Hated Rivals back on November 14, 2021 and the second game in the home-and-home with Toronto back at the start of February. You know, the 1-7 beating after the third-period collapse on January 31.
For the rest disadvantage games, the record implies that the Devils have followed the disadvantage. However, the Devils’ performances in those games were not so bad. Three of those six regulation losses were by one goal (December 19 against Pittsburgh, 2-3; January 23 against Los Angeles, 2-3; March 1 at Columbus, 3-4) and a fourth was by two goals (December 11 at Islanders, 2-4). Only two games were real ugly, bad losses: the December 3 loss at Winnipeg where the Devils gave up 3, scored 4, and then gave up 5 in a 4-8 loss; and the February 25 loss at Chicago where the Devils were tied 4-4 with 10 minutes left and lost 5-8. The point is that those nine games were not all decisive losses. A couple extra saves and/or goals and the Devils could have pulled out a decent record.
The record is obviously more positive for the games where the Devils have had a rest advantage. Winning 70% of them is always a plus. The two wins earlier this week were in support of that. This group of ten games also includes three of the Devils’ four games where they scored 7 goals (the fourth: a rest disadvantage game at Montreal on February 8, 7-1): the 7-3 win over Florida on November 9, the 7-4 win over Carolina on January 22, and the 7-2 win over Vancouver on February 28. The other two wins were the infamous October 19 game where the Devils beat Seattle 4-2 and lost The Big Deal to an injury, and a 2-1 OT win over Buffalo. The losses included a close one to Nashville (December 10, 2-3) and two more decisive losses (October 26 against Calgary, 3-5; January 25 against Dallas, 1-5). Still, it is nice to see a Bad Devils team actually take advantage of an actual situational advantage.
Games without a rest advantage for either team are the meat and potatoes of the Devils’ season. As you would expect from a Bad hockey team, their record has been bad throughout them: 12-21-3. I am not going to go into too much further detail into specific games as that group covers 36 games. Now 37 after last night’s game.
We know the records. What about the performances? Since 5-on-5 hockey is the most common situation in hockey and it is a situation where entire lineups are used, I collected the 5-on-5 team data for each game from Natural Stat Trick, and filtered it by those four categories. This does not include the Winnipeg game last night; that may be updated in this post later today.
What is really interesting is that despite the records following the rest advantage ‘(7-3-0) or disadvantage (2-6-1), the Devils have actually done quite well in 5-on-5 play. Much better when they have the rest advantage, of course. That is proof that the Devils have pressured tired opponents. But even with a rest disadvantage, they have not been run over and over like you would expect a more tired team. They have even collectively outscored their opponents, even with Winnipeg dropping 7 goals on them in 5-on-5 play back on December 3. Of course, running up 6 on Montreal and 5 on Chicago more than made up that shortfall. The larger point is that while the records are heavily in favor of the advantage or disadvantage, the run of play has collectively went well for the Devils in 5-on-5 hockey. That is a good thing.
This is also another area where one can lament the lack of goaltending prowess. In all four categories, the Devils collectively gave up more goals than they were collectively expected to allow. It was better in the games with rest advantages, but even there the goalies gave up three or more goals four times out of ten and the Devils had some big scoring nights to over come that (all those 7-goal games: 4 5-on-5 goals against Florida, 6 each against Carolina and Vancouver). You can see the biggest shortfalls with the 36 games without an advantage and the 2 double-disadvantage games. Also: the lack of finishing saw the Devils fall below the expected goals for mark too.
It must be stated that the schedule alone is not the arbiter of whether a team has a chance in a game or not. The quality of the players and teams, the coaches and their game plan, the variation in the sport, the results of match-ups, the ongoing streaks (if any), and the grind of the season all play a role. But the schedule does appear to have an impact, good and bad, on the the Devils season so far.
So What’s Next?
The New Jersey Devils have 24 games left to play this season. The Winnipeg game had no rest advantage for either team. The Anaheim game on Saturday also has no rest advantage. How many nights will there be where the Devils have an advantage, a disadvantage, or a double-disadvantage? By my count, here is what it looks like:
- No Rest Advantage: 16 games
- Rest Advantage: 2 games: March 26 at Washington, April 14 at Colorado
- Rest Disadvantage: 4 games: March 16 at Calgary, March 23 at Toronto, April 3 vs. Islanders, April 29 vs. Detroit
- Double Disadvantage: 2 games: March 27 at Montreal, April 24 vs. Detroit
Unfortunately, the schedule is not in favor of the Devils in their final month and half of the season. Four games will have the Devils play an opponent who did not play the night before but the Devils did. Including their final game of the season on Fan Appreciation Night. This fan does not appreciate that, but it is what it is. There are even two more games where both teams will be coming into their game after just playing one; including a game against Detroit on the week of Fan Appreciation Night. Also not appreciated by this fan. Still, the Devils are getting the short end of the stick in six of their remaining 24 games, including two in the final week of the season. They only get a rest advantage in two games coming up and both of them are road games against superior opponents. Maybe it will bode well; I certainly would not mind seeing the 2021-22 Devils somehow beating Washington twice in their building or sweeping the two-game series against Colorado.
To reiterate, I can appreciate that the 2021-22 New Jersey Devils have taken advantage of an actual advantage by their schedule. I can also appreciate that when the schedule has not been in their favor, the Devils have not been blown away most of the time - even if they lost most of those games. And I do wish the schedule was more favorable down the stretch. Nothing can really be done about that at this point other than to deal with it.
Regardless of what I think, I want to know what you think. Were you surprised to learn that the Devils have a winning record with a rest advantage and a losing record with a rest disadvantage? Were you surprised to learn that those games with a rest disadvantage were not so bad outside of a couple big losses? What do you think of the remainder of the season in this respect? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about rest advantages and disadvantages in the comments. Thank you for reading.