This season so far, the New Jersey Devils have been one of the better teams in the league when it comes to the high danger areas, both offensively and defensively. On offense, as of Thursday, the Devils ranked 3rd in the NHL with 77 high danger goals for at 5 on 5, and in the same scenario ranked 6th in the NHL by allowing only 53 high danger goals against. That +24 differential is fantastic, and gives the team an overall HDGF% at 59.23%, good for 5th in the NHL. They are winning games and accruing points thanks to their ability to generally dominate play in the high danger area, both on offense and defense.
However, given that knowledge, you would expect that this would be an area of focus in terms of shooting. The team obviously does well in the gritty areas in front of the net, and they should highlight that and focus on generating offense there while continuing to make sure opposing teams are not getting many shots off from that area on the other end.
In truth, however, it seems that while their high danger defense is on point, they are not focusing so much on generating more high danger shots on offense. Check out this chart from MoneyPuck which shows both shots for and shots against in the high danger areas.
As you can see, defensively, they do a good job of limiting shots against. They allow only 2.13 shots against per 60 minutes, fairly near the bottom of the graph there, which is a good sign. They aren’t in the league of Carolina or Vegas, and maybe not even Minnesota, but they are in the next tier with the likes of Washington, Los Angeles, and Boston. That will work in terms of winning the battle in the high danger areas.
Offensively, however, they are simply mediocre. They average 2.52 high danger shots for per 60, which is near the middle of the league. Of course, once again Carolina is the gold standard here, sitting at 3.24 high danger shots per 60. Then, you still have Pittsburgh, Florida, San Jose, and Toronto all over 3.0. That the Devils are down near 2.5 is not great in comparison.
The frustrating thing about that is the Devils’ high danger success despite only being middle of the pack in terms of shots. Again, the team ranks 3rd in the NHL in terms of high danger goals for. But around half of the league shoots more than they do in the high danger area. This seems like a rather big discrepancy. I obviously am not in team meetings and I am not seeing what they do when they watch film and dissect game plans, but it seems like a rather obvious connection to me. The team scores a lot of high danger goals, let’s try to focus on getting off more shots from the area and continue to exploit that advantage.
Now, obviously in the long run this is not some major change that would have enormous consequences. If they increase their high danger shots per 60 up to 3, it isn’t some massive change. An extra half shot per game is not life changing. But over a full season or even a half season, it would undoubtedly lead to more goals for. Adding 41 high danger shots per season, in an area where you are going to have a relatively high shooting percentage thanks to the team’s success and thanks to the difficulty of saving shots from the area in general, will lead to a good amount more goals. And that will lead to more wins. Maybe not a ton more wins, but several more might be in play. If they made this change for the rest of the season, could it lead to an extra win or two? It is definitely possible, and those extra points could be vital in a very tight playoff race at the top of the Metro.