Patrik Elias - the best shooter on the New Jersey Devils. For now at least. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Way back at the end of November, I took a look at how the New Jersey Devils were shooting so far in this now-lost 2010-11 season. The team was firing at a rate of 5.9%, 43 goals over 729 shots. All of ten of the veteran forwards on the team were shooting well below their career shooting percentages except for Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. And Langenbrunner's shooting percentage was boosted by a couple of empty net goals that month. Arnott was the only one shooting above 10%. Most of the rest were well below their career low for shooting percentage in a season. Needless to say, it was very sad.
It is now January and there was a surprising development in this month: the Devils started playing better, scoring some more goals, and winning some games. As a prelude to the Month in Review (which you should see tomorrow morning), I figured another look at it is warranted. The Devils still have the worst offense in the league. However, most of the veteran forwards have been shooting better, especially in January. Please read on after the jump
The New Jersey Devils now have scored 99 goals over 1,425 shots. The Devils are in 26th in the league in shots for and dead last in goals. Their shooting percentage as a team is now 6.9%. That in of itself is a big step forward compared to where they were two months ago. Don't get too excited, as it is still the worst team shooting percentage in the league. The next-to-last team is Ottawa with 7.4%, one of three teams below 8% in the NHL right now. The best team is Philadelphia, who has been firing pucks in at a 10.7% rate - one of 6 teams who are shooting over 10% as a team.
As with the last post, I'm focusing on veteran forwards to see where their current shooting percentage stacks up with their career season-by-season. They have a history for comparison's sake that younger players don't have. Using the splits stats data from Yahoo! Sports for each player, here's the updated chart for all 10 Devils forwards. Look, the Devils now have three forwards shooting over 10% right now.
You'll notice Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner are grayed out. Parise hasn't been active for the last 3 months due to injury, so it's pointless to focus on him. His season may be done, so he's pretty much locked into a career season low in shooting percentage unless he comes back and goes on a scoring tear. Langenbrunner was traded this month. He scored no goals for the Devils in January, so his time in New Jersey ends with a shooting percentage of 5.3%. I'm sure Dallas will benefit when he gets back within his career percentage range.
That being said, check out the dearth of yellow in the column marked for today. Only three Devils are shooting at a rate that would set a season low in their career: the injured Parise, Travis Zajac, and Ilya Kovalchuk. Zajac enjoyed a big comeback in December, but slipped a bit in January. His shooting percentage has improved significantly since that first look in November, though it remains his current career low of 9%. Everyone else is not setting new lows anymore, though a few are on the low side with respect to their career total shooting percentage.
Kovalchuk has been scoring more goals since a poor November and so his percentage has risen in each of the last two months - just like Patrik Elias. Kovalchuk peaked at 16.1% in January, one of 5 Devils forwards who have done so in this past month. That's what the green cells represent, local peaks for the season in January. Elias has also hit a local peak of 18.2%, which propels him to be the top shooter on the team right now. David Clarkson and Brian Rolston, two players who had a very bad December, also hit peaks thanks to their respective hot streaks during this past month.
There is a big outlier among those 5. Dainius Zubrus got up in there since putting in 3 goals on 13 shots. Expect that to fall in February unless he gets real hot somewhere down the line.
Speaking of falls, there was some regression between today and the end of November. Jason Arnott's shooting percentage took a hit largely due to a poor December (3.4%!). He rebounded in January enough to weaken the effect, though. Adam Mair also went into free fall since he hasn't scored any goals since his one in November. Mair is just ahead of his career low at 2.8%. Admittedly, I'm not as concerned about Mair setting any new lows as I am for, say, Kovalchuk to do so.
Since 5 out of the 8 active veterans on this chart hit big peaks in January, I'm also concerned that they'll regress a bit in February. Clarkson has cooled off as he hasn't scored any goals in his last 5 games. Rolston and Elias, currently hot now, will likely cool off eventually. Kovalchuk may take a step back. With respect to the larger season, if the veterans all revert to their pre-January shooting percentages, the Devils will revert to where they were before then. It would just be a hot streak for a few weeks as opposed to an actual, bona fide turnaround.
So the Devils have improved in terms of shooting percentage. The hope going forward is that the Devils can maintain some of these percentages at a minimum. If they can improve upon them and possibly get closer to 8% as a team in the coming month, then it's more evidence that the Devils may be playing closer to what people expected before the season began.
As far as what has caused the shooting percentages to improve, I think that's unclear. As I said in the last post, I don't think coaching can make a team shoot better. And I'm not really sure how dropping Jamie Langenbrunner for a conditional draft pick affects shooting by a player. I'm predisposed to say that the Devils definitely got some bounces going their way; some good luck, to use a word that just irks people.
The Devils also got the benefit of playing Tampa Bay, a team who is just as sieve-like (sub-90% per Behind the Net) as the Devils at 5-on-5 this season, twice and caught them for 9 goals on their goaltenders in those two games. Whatever confidence they got from those wins definitely boosted the offense in games throughout the month. If you're looking for a "Patient Zero," the Lightning appear to be it.
As I also said in the last post on this issue, this isn't to say there's nothing the Devils can do. The Devils haven't put up a lot of shots on net this season. They only average 29.1 shots per game, tied with L.A. and Toronto for the 21st highest average in the league. The Devils have only put more than 30 on net twice in January: 35 in a 2-1 loss to Philadelphia and 35 in a 3-2 overtime loss to Florida. Lemaire may not control the rate the Devils forwards score at, but he can devise plans to have them shoot more. With more shots, even when the percentages fall, the possibility of scoring still remains.
The power play is a situation where the Devils could use this help. They only potted 5 power play goals off of 34 opportunities. A conversion rate of 14.7% isn't so bad. Given that some of these opportunities have been utterly wasted with no shots on net or maybe one token save, that's still not good. Clearly, this is not the hot unit that we saw in December. Even if they don't score, the Devils need to apply some offensive pressure in those situations to get some benefit out of it.
Again: the Devils have improved in terms of shooting percentage, but they aren't anywhere near "good" just yet. They may not be able to control this, but they can control the process - which is exactly what they should be trying to improve regardless. Still, it's improved since November and it's another mark of how good January was compared the awfulness of the prior three months.
What do you think of the shooting percentages of the veteran forwards? Are you pleased with their improvement? Do you think they'll be able to maintain it? If not, who do you think will regress? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.