The last two games for the New Jersey Devils have highlighted something: the Devils need to own the high danger areas of the ice in order to win hockey games. On the season, the Devils have actually been very good in this area. As of yesterday, they ranked 3rd in the league in high danger Corsi at 5 on 5, sitting at 55.79%. Only Boston and Calgary have better numbers in that area, and that is a real positive. However, given the team’s poor goaltending, and their need to get good looks to produce points up close, this becomes a vital proposition in order for this team to win more of its games.
Let’s check out how this worked out for them the previous two games. Against New York, the Devils had the advantage in high danger chances, ending the game with a 52.94% HDCF. It isn’t as good as their season average, but it was enough to take a commanding lead in the second period, one they would not relinquish. Check out the heat map of the game thanks to Natural Stat Trick:
So what you can also see is that while the Devils won the high danger battle overall, New York still had valuable chances in front of the NJ net, and potted two goals at 5 on 5 from that area. It was a harbinger of things to come in the following game against Toronto.
Thursday night, unlike against New York, the Devils got absolutely smacked around in high danger areas. In the first period alone, the Devils gave up 8 high danger chances against and managed a grand total of 0 chances for. They managed to get it together somewhat after that, keeping even with Toronto in the second and third periods, but overall it was a disaster of a game on this front. The Devils ended the game with a 27.78 HDCF% while Toronto was at 72.22%. This is a massive discrepancy, one that the heat map from Natural Stat Trick shows very well. Check it out:
This map shows just how bad the Devils were, in particular, about defending the slot. Toronto might not have gotten a goal at 5v5 from this area, but it was not from lack of attempts. That huge red dot in front of NJ’s net is atrocious and shows a complete breakdown in defense in that area. Meanwhile, the Devils have almost no heat in front of Toronto’s net. They managed a goal there just to the right of the net, but this was against the grain of what happened in this game. Teams will not win many games with high danger heat maps like this, and while the Devils certainly lost that game against Toronto for other reasons (short handed goals of course), this is a bad sign and something that cannot continue if the team wants to play strong down the stretch and take some positive confidence into the offseason.
This season, we have hit on goaltending harder than any other position on this team, and rightly so. To say that goaltending for this team has been below average would be a vast understatement. But when they are getting peppered from the slot right in front of them, and the skaters in front of net are allowing grade a chances in high danger areas, there will be goals scored regardless of who is manning the net. Throw Martin Brodeur back in there in his prime, and with that type of high danger defense, there is only so much he can do.
That being said, once again this team has been good across the season in high danger. Being north of 55% is what a team needs to be a winner. Most goals are scored in high danger areas, and controlling that part of the ice, in both zones, is a path to success. The Devils have shown that they have laid the groundwork for that success perhaps as soon as next season if they can find competent goaltending. But what the last couple of games have highlighted in particular is that high danger defense needs to be harped on night-in and night-out, otherwise there will be games like against Toronto where they get shelled in these areas and really sink their chances to win games.