So what is to blame for the New Jersey Devils woes so far? One-third of the regular season gone by, and things haven't turned around with the team sitting at a dismal record of
8-18-2 8-19-2. Despite what you hear, it may not be who is to blame. GM Lou Lamoriello takes full responsibility for the season so far. That's fair, but he's not on the ice making botch passes and not playing defense. Ilya Kovalchuk is also pointing the finger at himself. With his stats so far, that's also a fair statement, but this is a team effort and the other 17 skaters (save Jason Arnott) have also struggled offensively. The biggest problem that has plagued this team has been scoring goals.
John has written a few posts in the past week or so involving the Devils offense. He first put up a summary of the very low shooting percentage along with some individual player numbers. He then broke down the scoring (or lack there of) during the horrible second period, and followed that up with the remaining two periods. After the first month of play, I posted a rough analysis of the Devils shot quality and shot distance.
No one needs to be a sports scientist (if it exists) or a general manger to know that in order to score goals, you have to take shots first. More importantly, these shots have to be in prime areas, at short distances, at an advantageous angle in order to score goals. Some have stated in the posts above or around the site, including myself, that maybe the fact that the Devils are last in goals-per-game yet rank 19th in shots-per-game is because they aren't shooting close to the net; perhaps at bad angles in less opportune areas to score.
Through the first 28 games, I've gone through each game and classified each shot on goal by it's location on the ice into ten zones. I did this for the Devils and their opponents (for comparison) along with the shooting percentage for each zone. Where have most of the shots come from? What area in the offensive zone do the Devils shoot best from? How have they done with sharp angle shots or long distance shots? These questions are answered after the jump.
I've created an image to illustrate the zones. The image below is a bird's eye view of half a rink where each zone is. All 10 zones are between the crease line and the blue line. Each zone is color coded. Any shot taken behind the net, in the neutral zone or further is colored black and is considered Outside ("Out" for short). Note: any goals scored beyond the blue line were empty netters.
All but four of the zones are mirrored of each other because of the symmetry of the ice. You can see the net, the circles, and the trapezoid to get a sense of orientation. There are also four tiers of distance. Zone 1 is everything around the net and between the circles. The next tier contains zones 2, 3, and 4, making up the slot between the circles and about half of the face-off circles. Zones 5, 6, 7, and 8 are along the boards towards the outside and slightly above the face-off circles. Zones 9 and 10 are shots along the blue line. I tried my best to correlate some of the zones and this image Gabe Desjardins created at PuckProspectus way back in 2009.
Here is the Devils Zone Chart:
The Devils average a hair under 30 shots-per-game and 1.78 goals-per-game. Their shooting percentage is an even 6.0%. 21.7% of the Devils shots on goal, and 60% of all the goals occur in Zone 1. This shouldn't be surprising to anyone. Most shots from this area hit the goalie or the back of the net; it looks a lot bigger from there than say, Zone 9. The majority of rebounds and deflections along with scrums in front of the net occur here. A game with a good example: All five of the Devils goals against Washington occurred in this zone. Zone 2 has the next highest shooting percentage at 7.3%. At this sharp angle close the net, the Devils managed to score just 3 goals on only 41 shots (4.9% of total SOG; 6.0% of all goals).
The rest of the zones are less than the 6.0% total shooting percentage. The Devils shoot about 10% of their shots on goal at bad angles from long distances (Zones 5 and 6 combined), with 16 and 69 shots respectively and no goals scored. Zone 7 has the second most shot total, yet the Devils put a mere 3 goals passed the opposing goalie (14.7% of total SOG; 8.0% of all goals). Zone 9, or shots at the blue line corners, tallied up 107 shots (12.75% of all shots) and just 2 goals (4% of all goals); a shooting percentage of just 1.9%.That will certainly bring down the team's percentage. A good example of a poor shooting performance is the 3-0 loss to Our Hated Rivals.
Looking at multiple zones' stats, shots that occur in Zones 1 through 4 have a total of 383 SOG with 39 goals scored (a shooting percentage of 10.2%). The next tier (Zones 5 though 8) have 5 goals scored on 262 shots (1.9%). Shots along the point also have 5 goals, yet only 172 shots (2.9%). Good angle zones (Zones 1,4,7,8,10) tallied 519 shots with 43 goals scored. The remaining zones have only 6 goals on 298 shots, which is just 2.0%.
It's way too time consuming to compare these numbers with a number of other teams, so as I tallied up the Devils shots and goals, I also did the opposing team. The Devils faced a number of different teams this year in both conferences while playing good and bad defense throughout the season. I feel combining the opposing teams' numbers gets a good sense of where the Devils' numbers stand. This may also tell something about the team's defensive play and where they give up most of the shots and goals against, but this post is about the offense and shooting. Here's the chart:
Well, from this chart, you can a see a more evenly distributed array or goals and shooting percentage throughout the zones. Opponents shoot 10% against the Devils. They put up 23 less shots but 32 more goals. The opponents shooting percentage in Zone 1 is 21.5%, a difference of 5% from the Devils. Opponents gathered up 214 shots on goals with 46 goals (25.5% and 56.1% of the totals respectively).
Zones 2, 3, and 4 all have the same shooting percentage as well. As the angle gets better in this tier, the shots and goals both increase. Zones 7 and 8 are also in the ~7% range. Opponents don't shoot as nearly as much as the Devils do along the blue line as well. From far or poor angles, opponents shoot worse compared to good angles and close distances.
Here's the last chart; it's the difference between the Devils and their opponents (Devils minus Opponents). I highlighted in grayish/gold the zones where the Devils shot more than their opponents, yet did not outscore them (less than or equal to zero):
The Devils shoot worse than their opponents in every zone. The Devils' opponents were able to shoot less yet score more or the same amount of goals in six zones (not counting the "out" section). Zones 4, 8, and 10 are all good angle shots or in the slot (save Zone 1). One interesting thing is the last 4 zones that are furthest away from the net along the blue line, opponents take better advantage here. Opponents shoot more at bad angles (Zones 5 and 6) yet surprisingly racked up 4 more goals as well. This is tough to explain because goaltending has been a positive this season.
A large reason for these troubles could be due to the actual game plan the Devils have. They dump and chase a lot and battle along the boards to generate zone presence and shots. They don't take those quick shots from the corners also, which isn't really a bad thing. They work hard for the most part to generate a good chance (looking for the perfect play perhaps?). They have had trouble getting passes through the slot in areas in Zone 1 (where there is a decrease of 32 shots compared to the opponents, which is the same number opponents have outscored the Devils by). From this, the direction they go if they can't go towards the net is either to the blue line (Zone 9) or skate inward a rip a shot (Zone 7). They've shot 100+ from these two locations.
The problem with choosing the blue line is the lack of an offensive defenseman on the Devils line-up. The blue line may not necessarily have trouble hitting the net, but hitting the net effectively. Guys like Colin White (with a career shooting percentage of 3.1%) and Anton Volchenkov (career shooting percentage of 3.2%) are not going to help. Not every shot is going to be a bomb at 100 mph, I understand that. It's also at this point where the Devils forwards are not in good position.
These shots should be getting deflected, with rebounds, with some men up front screening the goalie, and this has been the area of trouble for the Devils. Looking at the large shot difference (positive numbers from the long distance zones yet negative in Zone 1), it's possible these shots from the point are seen by the goalie, thus no one effectively screening the goalie. If a shot is deflected and on goal, the shot would be marked from the spot of the deflection, thus depleting the initial shot from Zone 9 (which isn't happening). Another problem is rebounds. Rebounds occur closer to the net. The Devils have failed to be in the right place at the right time to pick these rebounds (further decreasing Zone 1 shots, which is happening).
I'm not saying get rid of the dump and chase and board play entirely. This is part of the game plan John MacLean has implemented and he's still the coach. It has actually worked in my opinion, at least the first half of the concept. The problem with the game plan is when the actual shooting takes place. I've seen countless times where the Devils would be in the offensive zone, yet unable to get a shot on goal or multiple chances near the net. If the puck goes to the point, I'd like to see all three forwards get away from the boards and be ready for that shot. Go to the net. Have your sticks out, fight for good position (and do so without taking a penalty cough- Jamie Langenbrunner -cough), screen the goalie if you can. If you aren't in Zone 1, you aren't going to get a shot on goal in Zone 1.
I'd like to get your opinion on this data. What do you see that I may not have mentioned? Is this due to the lack of shooting defensemen on the team? Are the forwards just not playing into their roles? Should the Devils change their offensive philosophy? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.