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Game Preview #62: New Jersey Devils at Arizona Coyotes

After a loss to Adin Hill and the NHL’s skills competition, the Devils are up against a College team tonight. What was that? An NHL team? But this is a University building, what are you talking about? Learn more about tonight’s matchup with the Arizona Coyotes in this Devils game preview.

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NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Arizona Coyotes
Chronic backpain
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Matchup: The New Jersey Devils at the Arizona Coyotes. Coyotes SBN Blog: Five For Howling

The Time: 7:00 PM ET

The Broadcast: BSAZ, MSGSN



The Coyotes are tanking hard for Bedard (or whatever the phrase is this year). However, the tank isn’t going quite as well as the Coyotes management might have hoped for. Standings-wise, they are 28th overall in the NHL and 7th in the Central division. Not bad, you might think — The Athletic does have them with the fifth higherst probability of getting Bedard, MoneyPuck has them fourth — but for a team who are over the sallary cap floor only due to having the contracts of Jakub Voracek, Shea Weber, Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little on the books (players that will never play again and combine for just shy of $27 000 000) you could be forgiven for thinking that they should never be able to win a hockey game ever again. Especially considering their roster, where they have nine guys I’ve never heard of. But win they do (on occasion), as they are 4-4-2 in their last ten for NHL-0.500.

The Arizona powerplay is 25th in the NHL, the penalty kill is 26th. From NaturalStattrick, at 5-on-5 their goals-for percentage is 29th, their expected-goals-for percentage is 30th, corsi-for percentage is 30th, high-danger chances-for percentage is 30th. Yeah, just terrible all around.

The Mullett

It were remiss for me not to mention that the Coyotes are playing in a college arena. After not paying their taxes they were kicked out of their old building. They were given a lifeline by Arizona State University, letting them play in their stadium (if we can honestly call it that). It is tiny, with a capacity of 5000 seats. And the jokes write themselves.

To be fair, opposition players have said that they have found it enjoyable to play in a different evnironment, but I think it’s pretty embarrassing for an NHL franchise to stoop so low. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how the Devils react tonight.

The Roster

The above is the Coytoes’ roster from The Athletic. It is not fully updated, as Arizona traded Bjugstad to the Oilers and Stetcher and Richie to the Flames (for Ritchie’s brother, no less). But these are, in the grand scheme of things, pretty insignificant moves. For the Vegas preview the other day I focused on the main stars on Vegas and sort of ignored the depth guys. That same strategy does nore really work here, because I would end up mentioning Keller and Schmaltz — who are legitimate players — and ignore the rest. Nonetheless, these guys are on 0.95 and 0.91 point per game paces, respectively, and have scored 14 and 6 points in their last 10 games. Keller, then, seems to be the hot-hand. See his moving-average game-score for over the season, from HockeyStatCards:

He’s clearly playing the best hockey of his season, so the Devils have to be aware of that. Other than Keller and Schmaltz, Lawson Crouse and Matias Maccelli are the only (remaining) Coyotes above 0.5 points per game, with 0.56 and 0.68 each. Again, there is just not a lot here.

Looking at this roster, this is a game the Devils simply have to win, no matter what. Carolina destroyed them 6-1 a couple nights ago, and I want to see New Jersey do something similar. As far as I see it, there is only one possible obstacle:


The only reason Arizona ever win any games is because their goaltenders stand on their heads. Check out this graphic from HockeyViz, which shows goaltending sequencing for all 32 NHL teams: goals allowed compared to expected, and the impact of this on standings points.

What this shows is that the Coyotes have gained somewhere in the range of 13 points solely due to their goaltending, the third most in the NHL. Arizona has a total 51 points, meaning 25.5% of those come from goalie sequencing. The numbers for Boston and the Islanders are somewhere in the 17.5% and 29% range, respectively, so Arizona’s goaltender-reliance is second only to a New York team with two elite goaltenders in Sorokin and Varlamov.

From HockeyReference, in terms of point shares — the number of standings points contributed by individual players — the two Arizona goalies Karel Vejmelka and Connor Ingram are first and fifth, respectively on the Coyotes (hilariously, numbers three and four, Jakob Chychrun and Shayne Gostisbehere, were traded at the trade deadline as Arizona strips its roster). Again, reliant.

I am not sure who of the two will start tonight for Arizona, but both guys are capable of very strong performances. A couple of weeks ago, Ingram shut out the Tampa Bay Lightning in a 1-0 shootout win, making 47 saves. That is the epitome of a goalie doing everything (I guess short of taking the winning penalty shot as well). During late January/early February, Vejmelka had a run of three wins on the bounce having save percentages of 0.972, 1.000, and 0.943. Clearly, then, these guys can balance well on their heads, whoever is in net.

Devils-Specific Considerations

Timo? Please?

Timo was a full-participant in practice yesterday, playing alongside Hughes and Bratt and in the bumper on the first-unit powerplay. Good signs, but no confirmation of whether he will be in the lineup tonight or not.

I’m getting restless. GIVE US TIMO!!!

New Guy #2

On an otherwise quiet trade deadline day for GM Tom Fitzgerald, Curtis Lazar was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks. He has not joined the team yet, so won’t play tonight. I am very pleased with this trade, as I think Lazar brings a lot of strong qualities to the Devils. When looking at Lazar’s stats, he is does not do much offensively, but he has really strong defensive metrics. Take a look (HockeyViz):

He supresses a lot of dangerous offense, with a nice big black hole around his crease. He is a net positive in penalties. And the red blob in front of the opponent’s net suggests that he is willing to get to the danger areas, as does this (also HockeyViz):

He doesn’t have a lot (or any) finish, but he certainly has the scent of a strong, veteran, playoff guy (he went to the Cup finals with Boston in 2019, so he has experience). He is an above average penalty killer. Nominally a winger, but he can play center and is above-average at faceoffs. His contract runs for two more years after this one at an AAV of 1 million. Not much to dislike here, I think. Great move. It will be interesting to see whether he plays on the third or fourth line. Speaking of which,


The BMW line has had goals in each of the last three games for the Devils: Miles Wood against Vegas and Nathan Bastian against Philadelphia and LA. Per MoneyPuck, of forward lines to have played at least 150 minutes together — of which there are 98 — the Devils’ BMW line of Nathan Bastian, Michael McLeod and Miles Wood are, wait for it, the second best in terms of goals-for percentage. Other lines that are up there?

#1 Mangiapane-Backlund-Coleman

#3 Perfetti-Scheifele-Wheeler

#5 Tkachuk-Barkov-Verhaeghe

#6 Bunting-Matthews-Nylander

#8 Eichel-Stephenson-Stone

#10 Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

This is what is known as elite company. As the Arizona part of this preview was pretty limited, I wanted to take a bit of a closer look at how they are getting such amazing results despite the poor xG numbers. The following stats are from NaturalStattrick’s Line Tool.

The unit is slightly below average in the run of play with a expected goals for percentage of 49.61%. However, this is perhaps not overly surprising, given that they have an offensive zone start percentage of 39.15%. In fact, I would say that it is impressive that a fourth line is that close to even despite starting a large majority of their shifts in the D-zone. As we saw above, when the BMW boys are on the ice, the Devils score 76.92% of the goals. They also get an enormous proportion of the high-danger goals, with 71.43%. This number, too, is above where one would expect it to be, given that they have 57.47% of the high-danger chances — impressively above 50%, of course, but not quite 70%.

The main driver of their sucess is their PDO, the combinaiton of on-ice save percentage and shooting percentage. What the PDO of 1.054 entails is that, if the BMW line were on for 100 shots for and against of any combination, they would be a net 5.4 goals better off than average. PDO almost always regresses back to the mean: if a player or line or team is at a PDO largely different from 1.00, either above or below, this is expected to regress back towards 1.00 over the season. The following graph shows this regression effect.

What this shows is that, for a given number of shots for and against combined, PDO will regress back towards 1.00 by a percentage given on the y-axis. For instance, the y-value at 1000 shots is roughly 85%. If a team has a PDO of 1.03 through 1000 shots, this team is expected to have a PDO of 1.0045 for the rest of the season (from 0.03 to 0.0045 is a change of 85% = (0.03 - 0.0045)/0.03). For the BMW boys, their PDO of 1.054 is through 121 shots for and 106 shots against for 227 shots total, meaning PDO is expected to regress by 95% or so. Hence, the BMW line is expected to be at a PDO of 1.0027 for the rest of the year, basically imperceptibly different from 1.00. This, of course, is just an average across all teams, so it is possible that they can resist this statistical gravity, but the point remains that the BMW line’s extremely strong outcomes across the season are heavily luck-driven.

Note that I still believe that the BMW line can be valuable: their run-of play numbers are strong given their defensive responsibility. I just wanted to discuss how their scoring success might not be sustainable.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of tonight’s matchup? Have you got any more-up-to-date-than-mine information about the Timo man? Who are you afraid of on the Coyotes? Who should the Devils be looking to take advantage of? You may think that I am being quite dismissive of the Coyotes as a legitimate threat, and you’d be completely correct. The question is, am I right in this stance? Let me know in the comments below, and thank you, as always, for reading and supporting the site!