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Success in Tough Buildings: A Closer Look at the 2022-23 Devils Road Games

Road games have been a source of many wins for the 2022-23 New Jersey Devils. This post looks at split stats between home and road games to find out why the Devils have won so many games away from the Rock.

NHL: JAN 14 Devils at Kings
The Devils have won a lot on the road this season. Why?
Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Regardless of how the New Jersey Devils ended their five-game road trip in Seattle last night, the Devils secured a successful trip prior to Thursday’s game. They went into that one with a five-game winning streak with four games won on the road and three of those four in regulation with at least four goals scored against a goaltender. Prior to the Seattle game, the Devils had the best road record in the NHL at 18-2-1. That is a point percentage of 88.1%, which is ludicrous, impressive, and awe-inspiring. It includes the franchise’s first sweep of all three California teams in their building since 2001, a sweep through Western Canada (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary) and Eastern Canada (Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto). The 2022-23 Devils’ turnaround compared with the past two seasons is driven by their success away from home.

This success has led to a question asked by the People Who Matter and others: Why? Why is this team so, so, so successful on the road?

I am not exactly certain about the “why.” However, let us go into the “how” and we can figure out some possible reasons why the Devils are so good. And whether it can last.

Road & Home Differences for NHL Teams

There are some legitimate issues for road teams that home teams do not necessarily face.

  1. Road teams are typically traveling. Sure, some home teams are playing after a game elsewhere. But generally the visitor is usually playing a bunch of road games before or after the game. The players are coming from hotels, going to or from flights or buses fairly quickly before and after a game, and not practicing in a familiar environment if they can even get a practice in. It is not an easy environment, and extended trips can take a toll.
  2. A road team is only going to go to the same place one or two times. There really is not a chance for familiarity to be built up beyond a few players or personnel that sticks with a team. Even little things such as the locker rooms, how the arena is set up are things to adjust to.
  3. But the real legitimate issue is how players are substituted when there is a stoppage in play. Road teams have to put their players on the ice first for stoppages. Home teams can put their players out last. This is known as the “last change” and home teams can and do look for certain matchups. The exception for this is a stoppage by icing. Whoever ices it cannot change players regardless.

That third point carries the most weight in a game. It also has not seemingly stopped the Devils from being wildly successful on the road. However, we can see that it has had an impact on how the team has performed.

5-on-5 Home & Road Splits for the Devils

While the home and road records are enough for most to say whether a team is good at home and on the road, the records only tell us the results of games. We need to look at other stats to get a sense for how a team has performed on the ice. On-ice rate stats for teams in 5-on-5 play - the most common situation in hockey - are a good way to get an idea of how a team is performing. Since the Devils have played about the same number of home games and road games this season, let us look at a split in their on-ice rate stats.

This is easy since Natural Stat Trick has a filter for just such a thing. Prior to Wednesday’s games, I recorded the Devils’ own on-ice rate and their ranking out of 32 teams. If a stat ranked in the top 10, then I highlighted in the cell green. There is a lot of green.

Devils Home & Road 5-on-5 Splits Prior to Games on January 18, 2023
Devils Home & Road 5-on-5 Splits Prior to Games on January 18, 2023
Natural Stat Trick

At first glance, you can easily see that the Devils have been one of the best 5-on-5 teams in hockey this season. Whether they are at home or on the road, they have been out-attempting, out-shooting, out-changing, out-expected scoring, and out-scoring their opponents in 5-on-5 by significant margins. That the Devils rank so highly in these stats both at home and on the road supports the idea that the Devils are legitimately great in 5-on-5 play this season. Seeing all of this green is a very good thing.

A second glance shows a big gap in terms of their fortunes in 5-on-5 play. A gap that may explain why the home record is not nearly as strong as their road record. The answer is in the team shooting percentage (Sh%) and the team save percentage (Sv%). That explains the difference in Goals For percentage between the road and home data as well as the 13th best GA/60 rate at home. At the Rock, the Devils’ skaters have been shooting a little bit below the league median and their goaltenders have not been so hot. Away from the Rock, they are finishing plenty of shots and their goaltenders have been very hot.

This is concerning because there is plenty of variation involved in these percentages. It is possible that the Devils could use a bit more puck luck and saves at home. They could be better than a 8% shooting team and the goalies could stop 91% or more of the pucks they face. It is also possible that the Devils are unsustainably hot on the road in those respects and when -not if - those drop, then the road record may also take a hit. I cannot say which one is closer to the true talent of the team when they take a shot or the true talent of the goaltenders. If or when the team hits some snags on the road, I would not be shocked that their on-ice rates are still good but the “finish” and the stops are not as frequent. I would also not be shocked if next season’s team does not win 18 out of their first 21 road games next season even if the play remains the same.

A deeper look at this chart shows the real impact of those differences between home and road teams. This is why I included a “R-H Delta,” which is the difference between the road stat and the home stat. With the exception of shots for per 60 minutes, scoring chances for per 60 minutes, and the goal rates (which are a result of the Sh% and Sv% I just wrote about), the Devils generated less offense and allowed their opposition to generate more offense on the road than at home. If you want to see what the impact of differences between home and road game looks like as numbers, then this chart shows the impact on the Devils’ this season. Some are rather significant such as a swing of nearly 9 attempts per game or a drop in 5.6% in expected goals for percentage.

Yet, look at the ranks associated with those stats. At home, the Devils have the second best CF/60 rate; that rate dropped by nearly five attempts per game in road games; and the Devils still have the fourth best CF/60 rate in the NHL in road games. The Devils’ xGF% took a big hit as a result of unfavorable changes to their xGF/60 and xGA/60 rates - and they rank second in both home and road xGF percentages. The Devils on the road have good but less impressive 54-55% in scoring chance and high danger scoring chance differentials compared with - and still rank in the top three in the NHL in those stats regardless if they were at the Rock or not. The major point here is that those “home ice advantages” have a legitimate impact. That the Devils suffered a downgrade and still rank as high as they do on the road points to the fact that most of the NHL suffers at 5-on-5 hockey in road games - and quite possibly more than the Devils have this season.

For as critical as we can be with how the Devils can tend to get caught activating defensemen into bad pinches, how they can make some catastrophic errors with turnovers and lax coverage, and how they have shifts or periods where the goalie has to bail them out, the big picture has been a very good one for the Devils regardless where they play. They may be worse on the road but remain better than the vast majority of the league in 5-on-5 hockey. Combine that with a hot team shooting percentage and an even hotter team save percentage, and the result is a lot of road wins.

Special Teams Home & Road Splits for the Devils

Of course, I cannot just leave it with 5-on-5 hockey alone. Special teams can and does help decide games. There have been nights where the Devils got going thanks to a good power play goal or the Devils preserved a game because of some excellent penalty killing. Likewise, there have been moments to forget from the special teams units too. What is the difference between home and road games for the Devils’ power play and penalty kill.

Again, Natural Stat Trick has filters for easy separation between home and away stats (I use expected goals just as a rule of thumb for what their process is generating) as does There is an unfortunate lack of green on this chart. And even some red cells, which indicate a bottom-ten ranking (23rd or worse).

Devils Home & Road Special Teams Splits Prior to Games on January 18, 2023
Devils Home & Road Special Teams Splits Prior to Games on January 18, 2023
Natural Stat Trick &

Oddly, the Devils’ special teams have been more successful at home than on the road. Not by much for the power play on the surface given a success rate difference of just 0.5%. However, the Devils have been decent at scoring PPGs and getting power plays at all at home compared with their road power play scoring and opportunities. The Devils are still driving play overall this season in 5-on-5 regardless of where the game is, but this has not led to a similar amount of power play opportunities. The oddness of this split increases for me because the expected goals model points to the road power play efforts being significantly better in terms of generating shots that could score. More scoring chances and the like. Yet, they are not going in. Which adds even more to the strangeness. The team’s power play shooting percentage on the road is one of the lowest in the NHL. Even though the Devils’ road 5-on-5 shooting percentage is a top-ten percentage in the NHL this season.

It is possible that penalty killing units at home are enjoying having the last change and that can make it easier to get preferred players to disrupt the Devils’ power play. However, the success rate difference does not hold that up. Sure, fewer power play goals scored but also fewer power play opportunities yield a similar result on the power play. For what it is worth, I think the power play needs improvement regardless.

It is a bit of a different story for the penalty kill. The success rates are a bit more different with the road PK being worse off in terms of success rate. They have scored more shorthanded goals; they have taken fewer shorthanded situations; and their team save percentage is only a little worse on the road compared to their PK at home. However, the team’s xGA/60 rate in penalty kill situations points to the home team being more effective at deterring the opposition’s power play. That has “helped” the PK units at home allow one fewer goal than they have on the road despite having to kill six more situations. You could file this under something that has been a bit better at home than on the road for the Devils.

From my perspective, the special team stats point to a team that could stand to make some improvements on special teams regardless of where the games are. The special teams play at home has been a bit better than they have been on the road. Both could stand to make gains elsewhere. Some are easier said than done. Looking into why the Devils are more able to generate more dangerous shots on the road on their power plays but not at home is of interest. Likewise as to why their penalty kill is allowing more choice shots to their opponents on the road than at home. I would like to see the Devils draw more calls away from the Rock, but given how they are performing in 5-on-5, I am unsure how they can really do that. Still, there is room for growth here. There is also no strong evidence among the special teams that the Devils are just a superior road team compared to their play at home.

Two Other Considerations

After looking at the team’s stats, it is fair to conclude that the Devils are an awesome 5-on-5 team that could stand to make some gains for some decent special teams play. This is true at the Rock and on the road. What other factors should we consider?

One weak criticism I recall from the Devils’ epic winning streak was their quality of opponent. This is weak because it is not as if the Devils chose this schedule. Even if Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal are not good teams, if sweeping three games in Canada was easy, then we would see it more often. I am bringing it up here because it may point to why the Devils have been able to just crush teams. The problem is in how do we consider an opponent quality? When the Devils visited Alberta back in November, the Edmonton Oilers were on their own winning streak and Calgary would go onto stumble for a bit. But now both teams occupy wild card spots in the West. Not very safe spots as there are three teams not far behind them in points with games in hand on them; but they are in a playoff spot. Does this make the Devils’ wins there better retrospectively? Or worse? Does this argument get better if we phrase it as “they ain’t played nobody?”

Rather than dwell on this, let us keep it simple. Let us take a quick look at the league standings by home record. The top ten teams in the NHL in terms of home record, as of January 18, were Boston, Toronto, Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Washington, Carolina, Pittsburgh, the Islanders, and Dallas. In that order. The Devils have not played in Boston, Winnipeg, or Tampa Bay, Dallas, or Washington yet. (Aside: Boston and Winnipeg are in April; Devils will go to Dallas next week; and Devils will first visit D.C. and Tampa Bay in March) They have won in OT in Toronto, they pulled away to a 5-2 win in Los Angeles last week, they won 5-3 in Carolina last week, they beat Pittsburgh 4-2 at the end of 2022, and they have a 4-1 win in Long Island back in October. Among those ten, only Carolina has a home win against the Devils. I think those results speak to the Devils being able to get it done in a “tough building.” Further results in those five other buildings will only support the Devils being able to prevail against good home squads. That they have also beaten mediocre and poorer teams in their houses shows the Devils are able to take care of business in a sport known for its chaos. Even if it is closer than we expect (e.g. the win in San Jose from Monday).

What about the quality of the goalies they have faced? This one is a bit more specific as the Devils may not necessarily get to face the best goaltenders in their road games. That will depend on whether the other team can play their best goalie and choose to do so among other factors outside of the Devils’ control. Still, we can do a quick scan of the best goalies in the NHL and see who the Devils have beaten on. Here is a list of the NHL’s goaltenders sorted by overall save percentage with a minimum of 15 appearances. Among the top 20, the Devils have faced Ilya Sorokin, Tristan Jarry, Igor Shesterkin (twice), Craig Anderson, Stuart Skinner, Pytor Kotchekov, and Matt Murray on the road. The Devils beat all of them and scored at least 3 goals on them too. Only Kotchekov has a win against the road Devils and one of the two times a goalie held the road Devils to fewer than three goals. (The other one: Carter Hart in the season opener.) Again, the Devils have no control over who they face; but they have prevailed against quality-in-this-season goaltenders.

We can rule out the Devils playing “weaker” opponents on the road and facing “weaker” goaltenders as a source of their road success.

Concluding Thoughts

Ultimately, there is much to take away here. Based on the data, there is no real support for something like the Devils playing more “focused” or conservatively on the road. The Devils’ road stats in 5-on-5 are generally worse than what they are at home, but the Devils are still among the best in the NHL regardless of where they play. The rates getting worse speaks to the impact of not having that last change among other benefits of being at home and that pretty much everyone in the NHL suffers away from home. The Devils’ suffering is not as significant as others. It may be the result of playing pretty much the same way, which makes sense because it has been effective. The continued winning helps the players and personnel keep doing what they have been doing. The biggest reason for their road success could very well be the basic one right in front of our faces: The Devils are just a really good team this season.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest reasons why the Devils have so much success on the road is because they are shooting hot and the goaltending has been hotter away from the Rock. As a result, they score more goals and they have kept more out of the net - two critical and obvious components to winning hockey games. This is unfortunate because it is questionable how much of this can be sustained over the next 19 road games. Because of the success of the finishing away from the Rock, management may feel that they may not need a scoring winger when they really could use one. Because of the success of the goaltending, management may feel that a Vanecek-Blackwood tandem is the way to go. The home results paint a different picture. But with the awesome road record - which has nearly secured a winning road record for the season already - driving an awesome season, the temptation to focus on that is real.

There are mitigating factors to this risk though. It is possible that the home shooting percentage and save percentages are below the team’s talent level and they may rise up. When they do, that should yield more home wins. It is also possible that the Devils may not fall apart on the road given how good they have been in 5-on-5 on the road. It is not as if they are going to start bleeding shots and play entire games over and over in their end of the rink if the shooting gets colder or the goaltending does. It may mean some of those closer games that we have seen on the road may end up being losses rather than wins. Given how much success the Devils have banked already on the road, that would not be the end of the season. A six-game slump in December certainly did not do that. Nor did a long home winless streak. The past success the Devils have earned can give the coaches reason to believe that their process is pretty good and do not need to upend major parts of it to try to fix things if and when losses happen. And, it is possible that despite the road success, management may seek upgrades at forward and goaltender anyway.

In short: The Devils are a really good team this season who has benefitted from some fortune in terms of the percentages in 5-on-5 play on the road, which has played a big role in winning 18 road games already.

I wish I could point to something more concrete than that. I wish I could point to an aspect of the Devils’ play or their game plan and say, “This is what is giving them an edge in road games.” The reality is that does not appear to be the case. The Devils were are seeing on the road are pretty much the same as we see at home. They may be a bit more disciplined, except the lack of power plays make me think the referees they keep getting are just not so willing to make calls outside of an infamously-called game in Pittsburgh. The special teams could be better, but they could be better at home too. But the answers appear to be more of what we probably already know. The Devils are one of the top 5-on-5 teams in the league this season and that has led to a lot of competitive games at worst and winning performances more often. The sticks and saves are hotter away from the Rock, and that appears to be the major difference between home and road games beyond the drop in numbers we see in road games in general for NHL teams. Sometimes, the reasons for why for something is happening is not that specific. Or even intentional. Much less sustainable. All the same, enjoy the 2022-23 Devils and their incredible success so far in the many tough buildings around the league.

Your Take

Now I want to know what you think about the Devils’ road perfornances. What do you attribute the Devils’ success on the road compared with their home results? Can the Devils maintain their run of results on the road in their remaining 19 games? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils’ play away from home in the comments. Thank you for reading.