Heading into the game last night against St. Louis, the New Jersey Devils had the best power play in the NHL. Considering that this is a team that usually struggles on the power play, this has been a true treat to behold. Through 9 games, the Devils were rocking a 44.7 PP%, far and away the best percentage in the NHL and over 10% better than the second-best team in the league, Vancouver. This is clearly a number that is unsustainable over 82 games. However, even with regression, which is sure to come, this squad is establishing itself as one of the premier power play groups in the entire NHL, one that teams will not want to see on the ice at any time.
In truth, without such a dominant power play so far, the Devils would not have the great record they have. There have been some serious holes on this team. Just look at the team’s card from JFresh from earlier this week:
They are winning games via the power play and strong finishing. That’s mostly been it, folks. Their 5v5 numbers have not been amazing, and their goaltending has been flat-out awful. They have one of the worst goal shares in the league at 5 on 5, their expected goals has been mediocre, and their penalty kill isn’t too good at this point. But that power play, wow. When you convert at close to a 50% clip, you’re going to win more games than not, almost no matter what else happens.
Now, what has been driving this incredible power play rate? Let’s look at some numbers from Natural Stat Trick. Before last night’s games, there were 165 skaters who had played at least 25 minutes on the power play so far this year. Numbers are all rates over 60 minutes as some teams have gotten more power plays than others.
For the Devils, these are the only four skaters who had achieved at least 25 power play minutes through 9 games. I was a little surprised to not see more Devils crack that 25-minute mark, but a few of the others are a little below the mark. Nico Hischier is at 22:16, Timo Meier is at 21:36, and Dougie Hamilton is at 17:42. But for the sake of this chart, I am leaving them off as dropping down the minutes requirement to 15 adds a ton of more skaters, which makes the chart rather unruly to analyze.
These top 4 power play guys for the Devils are the top 4 in the league when it comes to goals for per 60. And it really isn’t even close. The three forwards there are all above 25 goals per 60 power play minutes, and Luke Hughes is over 20. Meanwhile, no other skater in the entire NHL is above 19. The next best is Adam Fox at 18.52 GF/60. That is how incredibly dominant this group has been, when Bratt is 7.77 points higher than the fourth-best in the entire NHL. If you go down 7.77% from Adam Fox at #4, you get all the way to 38th place on the list. But that same number only goes from 4 to 1 on the list thanks to how effective this PP unit has been.
Their ranks at Corsi For per 60 and expected goals per 60 are lower, but still very, very good. All three of the forwards on that list rank in the top 16 in expected goals per 60, and remember, that is out of 165 skaters. So while their goals for are certainly bloated and will regress over 82 games, it isn’t like they will regress to mediocre or even poor numbers. This is still a group that is playing incredibly well, worthy of a solid dozen goals across 60 minutes of power play time. For reference, last season, the top Devils power play unit was around 9 and a half expected goals per 60 power play minutes. This season, they are up 3 goals per 60 on their performance from last year just in terms of what is expected. That is a fantastic jump.
And I think that even though Luke Hughes has the worst numbers on that list, he still deserves special mention here. He is a rookie, and this season is truly his first extended time playing in the NHL, last year’s playoff run not counting. Despite that, he is being given heavy power play time and is putting up incredibly strong numbers when compared to the NHL as a whole. Here is his early season player card from Andy & Rono showing just how strong his power play impact has been:
His 5v5 numbers have been decent, and considering he is 20 years old and a rookie defenseman who still has a ton of room for growth, you have to like them, but they don’t hold a candle to how well he has played on the power play. He is playing there like one of the top power play defensemen in the NHL. Again, as an age 20 rookie. Even with regression imminent for his GF numbers, his 9.68 xGF/60 is excellent, better than what anyone had on NJ last season. He might not have the absolute bomb of a shot that Dougie has, but he is still extremely effective on the power play and is well deserving of the nearly 4 minutes per game on the power play that he has been receiving so far.
In the end, will the Devils power play come back down to earth eventually? Of course. They are not going to convert at close to a 50% rate for the season. But so far in this young season, New Jersey’s power play has been exceptional, and it really has been the sole reason for the team’s early success. They do not go 6-2-1 through the first 9 games without that 44.7% success rate, as it really has been the sole area of dominance this team has showcased so far. If this team was struggling on the power play as well, they would be lucky to be NHL 500 at this point, never mind second in the Metro with a nice little early season cushion. Let’s just hope that when this power play does return to earth, they will have figured out their 5v5 play, and especially their goaltending, in order to make up for it.