Return of the Ace: Zach Parise's Start to the 2011-12 Season

One of the big reasons to be hopeful in the New Jersey Devils in the 2011-12 season was the return of Zach Parise.  Last season was essentially lost for #9, as he suffered a knee injury prior to the season and played through it in October until the meniscus in his right knee was torn.  Save for one game in April, Parise would be on the sideline on injured reserve - a far cry from the original 3 months reported for the injury.   Among all of the other problems the Devils had in 2010-11, not having Parise roam around in the other team's end exacerbated at least some of them at a minimum.

Since he was out for so long, it's understandable that there would be some concern on how he would do once healthy.  This is a big season not just for the Devils to show that last season was an anomaly.  It's a big season for Parise himself. In late July, Parise re-signed with the Devils for one year at $6 million.  Given that Parise's still in the prime of his career, he's essentially playing for a contract on top of contributing to the team.   Of course, we hope that contract will be with New Jersey and for quite some time.  Regardless, how he performs will determine how lucrative future contract offers will be in the summer (or sooner for the Devils).

The 2011-12 season is important for both the player and franchise.  While it's early, how is Parise looking?

In a word: fantastic.   While his production isn't jumping off the charts (just like every other Devil) and the population size is small (keep that in mind as you read this post), I think there are plenty of reasons to appreciate Zach Parise's game already.


GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG SOG PCT
2011-12 - Zach Parise 4 2 1 3 1 0 1 0 0 18 11.1

Again, the basic stats on Parise aren't anything to write home about.  One of his two goals - and his lone power play goal - was an empty net goal.  (Sure, he's got 2 shootout goals too, but we're concerned about his production outside of the shootout.)  The only item in this chart that's interesting is his shot count.  He's got 18 shots on net, which leads the team.   However, the impressive parts of Parise's game come up through advanced statistics and other observations.

First off, I compiled C.J. Richey's scoring chances from each game for Parise.   I wanted to see how many of those 18 shots were in good spots to shoot:


EV + EV -  PP +  PP -  SH + SH -  SOG Chances Chance SOG Chance A
Game 1 5 0 2 1 0 1 3 2 2 0
Game 2 1 2 3 0 0 3 4 2 1 0
Game 3 9 2 1 0 0 0 4 3 2 5
Game 4 3 5 6 0 0 0 7 4 4 2
Total 18 9 12 1 0 4 18 11 9 7

 

As it turned out, half of his shots this season were scoring chances.  I think that's rather impressive.  It's not all about shots with Parise, though.  He's been on the ice for twice as many scoring chances for NJ than against NJ at even strength, which is also quite good.  His presence on the power play has been a positive; and he's not getting exploited on the PK.   Parise's also been racking up assists on chances with his teammates.   From this alone, I can conclude that Parise has been very positive factor for his line and the team's offense.


Corsi Fenwick
Game 1 4 4
Game 2 -3 -1
Game 3 14 16
Game 4 -8 -7
Total 7 12

 

In terms of Corsi and Fenwick, which I pulled from Time on Ice's scripts linked in the above chart, which both count shooting attempts to approximate possession, Parise has been a net positive so far this season.  He's a combined +7 in Corsi and +12 in Fenwick.  The Elias line wrecked the Kings' match up in game 3, and so Parise's +14 in Corsi and +16 in Fenwick really drive those totals.  They struggled in their last game against Nashville, where Parise was -8 in Corsi and -7 in Fenwick.  Nevertheless, Parise has been driving the play forward for the most part.

What's impressive about that comes from who Parise has been up against at even strength. 


1st  H2H TOI
2nd H2H TOI
3rd H2H TOI
4th H2H TOI
5th H2H TOI
Game 1 van Reimsdyk (4.3) Jagr (3.8) Giroux (3.8) Meszaros (2.8) Coburn (2.8)
Game 2 Skinner (8.1) LaRose (6.7) Faulk (6.5) Pitkanen (6.4) Staal (6.1)
Game 3 Johnson (9.8) Gagne (9.6) Kopitar (9.6) Scuderi (9.3) Williams (8.7)
Game 4 Legwand (12.4) Weber (11.9) Suter (11.4) Kostitsyn (10.7) Wilson (10.7)

 

These are the top 5 players Parise has played against at evens in each game according to Time on Ice's head to head ice time scripts.   Parise, Patrik Elias, and mostly Petr Sykora has gone up against the other team's top line and a pairing in their top four, if not their top pairing. Those were difficult match-ups and Parise found some measure of success against them either by possession and/or scoring chances.  The most recent game didn't look good in either respect, but Parise wasn't rendered totally ineffective against Nashville's top line and arguably one of the best defensive pairings in the entire league.

In general, Parise is getting plenty of ice time in all situations.  According to NHL.com, he's averaging 21:45 per game, the third highest average on the team. That breaks down to 14:33/game at evens, 2:32/game of shorthanded time, and 4:39/game on the power play.   No one should be surprised that he gets plenty of even strength and power play time. He's one of the team's top attacking forwards.   What's new is his penalty killing role.  He's never averaged more than 53 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game in his career.   Given that he's only been on the ice for 4 shorthanded chances on a team that has surrendered 17 shorthanded situations, I think it's fair to say he's been pretty good.  Peter DeBoer has placed his faith into Parise as an all-situations kind of player, and Parise has proved him right so far.

DeBoer has done more than use Parise in all-situations, though.  He's been using him and his linemates in tough spots.  We know his most common competition at evens hasn't been weak, but check out Matthew Ventolo's post on the team's zone starts and finishes.  Parise is below 40% in offensive zone starts at even strength, which means DeBoer is giving him and his line more difficult spots to start their shifts. Let me put it this way: The team's top shooter and a positive possession hasn't regularly enjoyed favorable zone starts so far this season.  That makes Parise's accomplishments so far even more impressive.  For example, his on-ice Corsi is way better than the 4.72 value currently listed at Behind the Net. After adjustment for zone starts, it's 12.27.  That is simply ridiculous.

Of course, the small population size of 4 games really contributes to a lot of this.  He'll get more offensive zone starts, the chances will break in all sorts of ways from game to game, and he may not face the other team's top line or defensive pairing so much.   Nevertheless, this is all indicative that Parise is playing like what we like to see from Parise.  In past seasons when he was healthy, he was a possession machine who fired quite a lot of shots and regularly saw decent-to-strong competition.  I wouldn't be surprised if he remains a positive player throughout the season and sees similar if not better competition.  The positive wrinkle is that Parise's responsibilities may have grown into this comeback season to include regular time on the PK and getting tougher zone starts (I wonder if that'll continue once Travis Zajac returns). We shall see how he looks by all metrics as the season goes on, but so far, it's been a fine start.

That all said, let's me close with this observation.  One of the most notable things you can notice from Parise's play in prior seasons was how he skated.  Parise would be in constant motion on offense, roaming around the net, to the corner, to the slot, and wherever else he felt he needed to be.   Parise doesn't score too many goals from distance, but he doesn't have to because he gets into close positions so often. He just gets around the defense and pops up in a great spot to get the puck.  I don't know it all works, to be honest, but it does.  Should the attack die, Parise is hustling just as much to backcheck or make a play in the neutral zone.  Parise from 2007-08 through 2009-10 was just a dynamic player because of his skating alone. 

In the four games in this season, I'm seeing the exact kind of skating from #9.   It was like he never had a knee injury.   Between that and the positives among the advanced stats so far, the points will come for the left winger.   It's early, but I believe the Devils' ace forward is back to his old self.  Let's hope the good times keep on rolling.

What do you think of Parise's performance so far this season? Are you also convinced that he's back to being the player we all know and love; or do you need more time to make that judgment?  Do you think he'll continue to see the other team's top line and/or defenders?  How do you see his season playing out?  Please leave your answers and other thoughts on Parise's season so far in the comments.  Thanks for reading.

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