With the start of this New Jersey Devils season being rockier than any of us would have wanted, it is interesting to look at the numbers and see what is happening versus what is being expected to happen on the ice. This helps us to see if the team’s play should expect a positive regression, or if they really are just struggling all around in the early going.
Take a look at this chart here that showcases both the team’s Goals For and Goals Against numbers and compares them to their expected numbers in each category. I am also throwing in Corsi here as I think possession is relevant to this discussion as well. All stats come from Natural Stat Trick and are at 5 on 5. Also, these stats were taken before last night’s game against the Isles, so these should be a little different if you are looking today.
As you can see, the team has started strong in possession, having just over a 55% Corsi rate. That is very good, even if it only ranks 7th in the league currently. If they end the season at 55%, they will easily be in the top 5 of the league in possession, so no issues there. They are doing well tilting the ice in their favor when at even strength, despite the poor first periods.
The other areas show a struggle, at least in terms of discrepancies between what is happening and what is expected to happen. The Devils are expected to score 2.96 goals per 60 minutes of 5 on 5 play, which ranks 7th in the NHL. That is a good rate and one that should lead to enough goals to be good. However, through the first few games, they had only produced an actual 1.37 goals per 60, which is barely 46% of what is expected of them. That is obviously not great. What is good is obviously that they are expected to score a lot more, so those goals should come if this team regresses towards that number over time. What is not great, however, is not being able to finish the chances you have, chances that are leading to the 2.96 expected number.
What is perhaps the worst number on that chart, however, is that the Devils are expected to give up almost 3 full goals per 60 minutes. That is poor, ranking the team 27th in the NHL. They are playing poor defensively, giving up quality chances against and not shutting down the opposition in the defensive zone. They are performing better than what is expected, only allowing 2.29 goals as opposed to the 2.96 expected, but if they regress to what is expected at all on this front, they will be giving up more goals. Combine that with their inability to score to the number expected, and that could be a disaster.
Now, it is obviously very early, and these numbers are going to be volatile. In fact, if you are looking at the numbers today instead of when I wrote this (yesterday before the Isles game), you will see numbers that could be markedly different, depending on what happened last night. This can be both good and bad. It means they have time to turn things around, and it won’t take a whole lot of good play to fix things. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is a concerning early season trend, enough that Lindy Ruff is changing the forward lines already, looking to get a winning combination. Based on their preseason performance, you would’ve thought that the opening night lines might have stayed roughly intact for longer than a few games, but alas, it was not meant to be.
It will be interesting to check in on these numbers after some more games to see if they are improving at all, or if the early-season jitters really do become a concerning trend. There are enough positives to go off of to think they will be fine, but we still want to see it happen consistently.