Reviewing the 10 Shorthanded Goals Allowed (So Far) by the New Jersey Devils

"Shorthanded goals against? I hate 'em." (spit) So do us all. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The New Jersey Devils are definitively in the league lead when it comes to shorthanded goals allowed. They have allowed 10 in 33 games. With another one allowed in their most recent game, a 4-1 loss to Our Hated Rivals, it's not a problem that is going away. . The power play as a whole has drawn ire from the fans. The Devils are among worst teams in hockey in generating shots on net, 42.1 SF/60, and scoring goals, 13, in 5-on-4 situations according to Behind the Net. Over all situations, they have scored a mere16 goals. It would be one thing if the power play was just not racking up goals; but that they have a goal differential of only +6, the lowest in the league, in all man-advantage situations just compounds their problems.

Let me put some perspective the mark of 10 shorthanded goals against (SHGAs) by looking at the Devils' recent history. According to NHL.com, they allowed 8 in all of last season; 5 in 2009-10; 4 in 2008-09; and 7 in 2007-08. The last time they have allowed more than 10 goals was in the 2006-07 season when they allowed 11. And that was a season where every team saw more special teams play due to the enforcement of new rules on obstruction coming out of the lockout. Even then, that was 11 goals over 82 games. The Devils are right behind that local high with 49 more games to play. That makes the Devils' current total even grimmer looking.

It's such an issue that on Wednesday, Tom Gulitti asked Peter DeBoer about the issue and brought up the idea of whether two defensemen are needed on the power play. It's a good article as any, so check it out if you haven't. Here's DeBoer's explanation on why he doesn't agree that having two defensemen on the point.

"I don’t think it’s stability," DeBoer said. "If you go back and look at the shorthanded goals and the shorthanded chances, defensemen have been either more or equally as much responsible for the shorthanded problems we’ve had. So, I don’t think that’s the solution. We, obviously, aren’t sticking our head in the sand and ignoring it. We’re looking at different problems, but when you go back and you look at them, our defensemen have been equally as responsible. Look at the shorthanded goals."

The good news is that we can look at the shorthanded goals. Similar to what I've done over the summer in reviewing the goals against by each goaltender (example), I've watched all 10 shorthanded goals, put my observations in a chart, and included links to a video of each goal for your review. I did this to see if there are any patterns to these shorthanded goals against, be it a player or a type of play that yields a shorthanded goal. The review follows after the jump.

Like with the goals against review, I numbered each goal, organized them by date, described the goal against, named a player at fault if warranted, the result of the SHGA, and a link to the video.

The 10 Shorthanded Goals Allowed (so far) by the New Jersey Devils

SHGA # Date Opponent SHGA Description Fault Result Video
1 10/29 at Dallas Elias fires a pass to slot from the corner and Goligoski stops it. He one-touches it to Souray, who fires it the length of the rink into an empty net. N/A 1-2 to 1-3 Link
2 11/8 vs. Carolina Zubrus wins the faceoff and the puck goes to Elias at the left point. Elias falls down, which allows Sutter to take it up ice. Larsson has to cover a second Cane; so Sutter fires it in off a 2-on-1 rush. Elias 0-0 to 0-1 Link
3 11/11 vs. Washington Chimera wins a puck from Elias along boards at left point. Chimera gets past Clarkson going to the bench, torches Larsson, and stretches Brodeur before lifting his shot in. That's the basic story. User AlienDev has an much more detailed break down of this goal against in this comment. I can't disagree.
Team -
See Link
1-1 to 1-2 Link
4 11/21 at Florida 4-on-3 situation, Sykora feeds Elias the puck at the top of the right circle. He fires a shot that gets blocked by Weaver. Weiss gets loose puck and sees Garrison breaking in with Sykora hanging back. Weiss passes it in neutral zone, and Garrison gives it back once he gets a step on Elias. Weiss takes it in alone and scores.

Elias
Sykora

3-2 to 3-3 Link
5 11/26 vs. NY Islanders Kovalchuk takes puck behind the net and heads out to lead a breakout. He cuts into the middle where Grabner greets him. Kovalchuk tries to handle the puck around him, but Grabner's stickcheck knocks it loose away from Kovalchuk. Grabner takes it in the slot and beats Brodeur. Kovalchuk 2-2 to 2-3 Link
6 11/30 at Colorado Sykora attempts to pass it to Zubrus at the blueline to enter the zone. Quincey gets a piece of it and it sails to Winnik. Winnik immediately chips it into the neutral zone where Quincey and McClement can break ahead of the Devils. The puck heads towards the corner and Larsson just catches up to Quincey as he fires a pass to a wide open McClement (ahead of Zubrus) in the slot. Sykora 1-4 to 1-5 Link
7 12/3 at Winnipeg Jets clear the puck and Hedberg plays it behind his net. Hedberg sees Kovalchuk coming down the boards but misses him with the pass. It goes right to Little, who sees Burmistrov inside the right circle. Pass-shot-score. Hedberg 2-1 to 2-2 Link
8 12/8 vs. Ottawa 4-on-3 situation in name only. Senators win puck in their own corner and fire it down the ice. Several skaters hustle back with Auld being pulled to make it 4-on-4. Phillips takes down Tallinder in corner so Alfredsson chips it up boards. Spezza chips it further to Alfredsson back at the point. Alfredsson's shot gets through traffic and is stopped by Hedberg. Rebound goes right to Winchester who pops it in. N/A 4-3 to 4-4 Link
9 12/13 at Florida Play leads to a center-ice faceoff. Devils win it and Fayne gets the puck. He makes a simple pass to Tallinder. Tallinder moves up and then turns toward the center of the ice. Versteeg stickchecks Tallinder, knocking the puck loose. Versteeg takes it and scores on an ensuing breakaway Tallinder 0-1 to 0-2 Link
10 12/20 vs. NY Rangers Puck is dumped in poorly by (I think) Zubrus. Bickell gets to it first (way ahead of Sykora) and fires it hard around boards. It eludes Zajac and Kovalchuk can't block it at sideboards at the point. Puck sails to neutral zone for Hagelin to take it, Boyle joins him to make it a 2-on-1. Hagelin keeps it and fires it in. Zubrus 1-2 to 1-3 Link

Commentary & Additional Observations

In terms of the damage done by these shorthanded goals, here's how the results break down:

  • 3 SHGAs had no real effect on the game; as the Devils would have lost anyway. #1 was an ENG in the dying seconds of the game; #6 just made an already lopsided affair more lopsided. #10 turned out to be an insurance goal.
  • 1 SHGA opened up the game's scoring, #2. The Devils would come back from this game to win.
  • 1 SHGA extended a lead for the opposition, #9. The Devils would also come back from this game to win it in a shootout.
  • 3 SHGAs ruined a Devils' lead, tying up the game: #4, #7, and #8. The Devils would go on to lose two of those games, winning one through a shootout.
  • 2 SHGAs turned out to be eventual game winning goals: #3 and #5.

The latter two categories represent half of the SHGAs this season, making this problem stand out even more. Among those five goals, #8 was a weird one in that the Senators got an equal number of skaters out there by pulling the goaltender. The play never would have happened without Chris Phillips illegally taking down Henrik Tallinder, Daniel Alfredsson's shot finding it's way through multiple bodies, and a rebound bouncing to the exact spot . That goal bothered me when it happened, but in retrospect, it's not as worrisome. Just a play gone awry.

It also stands out from all of the other non-empty-net SHGAs in that it didn't come off a turnover. Sure, the Sens sent the puck up ice off a loose puck, but there was an actual set-up by the team in New Jersey's zone. A frantic one, but it was more structured than all of the rest. All the other eight SHGAs have come off some sort of turnover. I've tried my best to assign blame as to who caused the turnover in the fault column. Here's a summary of the eight.

  • SHGAs #6 and #10 were the result of a bad decision entering the zone. For the former, Peter Sykora's pass to Dainius Zubrus over the blueline wasn't smart as Zubrus really wasn't open. For the latter, Zubrus' (not Kurtis Foster, if I have this right) dump-in was poor and a head-scratcher as the Devils had no chance to get it.
  • SHGAs #5 and #8 was just poor puck protection by Ilya Kovalchuk and Tallinder, respectively. They got stick-checked, the opposition stole it and scored on a breakaway.
  • SHGA #7 was a giveaway by Johan Hedberg behind the net. It's more awful when you consider that a soft pass was necessary and Hedberg botched that.
  • SHGA #4 was a turnover of a different type: a blocked shot. Patrik Elias shot was denied by a defender and the puck just bounced right to where Stephen Weiss could take it up. that's a bad bounce. Though, it's Sykora's fault because of his lax coverage allowed that rush up ice and Weiss getting the puck in all alone.
  • SHGA #3 was a team effort, a compilation of mistakes that led to the puck going astray (the tipping point was Elias losing it at the boards) and onto Jason Chimera's stick. AlienDev's breakdown is must-read on it.
  • SHGA #2 is more or less a blooper. Elias just falls down as the puck hits his skate. It's still a turnover, though, as the Devils won the faceoff and Elias could have, you know, played it with his stick first.

It's these eight SHGAs that have me concerned more than anything else. A late desperation play or a long empty net goal is just unfortunate. However, these could have been prevented. Even SHGA #4 could have been avoided if Elias didn't force a shot in 4-on-3 situation. While the Devils' power play has shown they can keep pucks in play and on their sticks for half of the advantage, it's a real issue if a turnover leads to disaster so often. Sure, the Devils have had some bad breaks - SHGA #2 and what started #4 - however, that still leaves a majority of errors that end up costing the Devils. That needs to be addressed.

Incidentally, I find it interesting that the location of the SHGAs - turnovers or otherwise - are all over the place. Some have been at the point, some have came about from an error in the neutral zone, and two were even in the Devils' end of the rink. Also: the parties that I've faulted are also multiple. Kovalchuk may stick out in a lot of people's minds for turnovers since SHGA #5 was a really awful one, but he's been as complicit for as many SHGAs as Tallinder and Hedberg: one. Incidentally, Elias and Sykora have been involved in more of them this season. Yet, they don't get the same criticism.

It's those last two findings that justify DeBoer's point about how putting two defensemen on the point won't necessarily make a difference. Where the Devils have been mostly screwing up is in keeping control of the puck. Whether that's at the point, in their own end, or somewhere in between. We've seen defensemen and forwards alike make these errors. Most of the errors on this list are by forwards, but if shots were considered, then we'd see more defensemen - at least Adam Larsson. Replacing Kovalchuk on the point with a defenseman may or may not help them from an offensive point of view, but it's not necessarily going to lead to fewer shorthanded goals. Neither is the acquisition of Kurtis Foster unless he's very adept at handling the puck and making decisions from the point.

I will say that the Devils coaches have at least made some personnel changes, possibly in response to this issue. When Kovalchuk was injured, Elias was moved to the point. That experiment was a failure at both ends and so we don't see #26 up top anymore unless the play breaks down. Larsson has been playing at even strength almost exclusively in recent games after several giveaways. It hasn't made the problem go away, but it's a sign that the coaches are trying to do something about it with the roster they have.

However, if we're going to be honest with ourselves, this isn't Adam Oates fault. The lack of offensive success, such as a SF/60 rate that dropped from 49.6 last season to 42.1 this season along with a lack of goals, certainly falls on him to a degree; but not the SHGAs. In my view, it's not Peter DeBoer's fault or Larry Robinson's fault or anyone else's but the players themselves. The most frustrating part of a review like this is that you watch the videos and you wonder, "Why on Earth are you making this decision?" As noted, the majority of these 10 SHGAs have come off turnovers. There wouldn't be so many turnovers if a player didn't hold the puck in a precarious position, they didn't force a shot, or put the puck in a position where their teammates can't get it. It all comes down to decision making and puck control; only the guys on the ice can do something about that. The coaches can do video sessions, drill the players, and motivate them as much as they want; but when the game is in play, it all comes down to what the player is thinking, how they react, and what they decide to do with or without the puck. When a bad decision is made, that's how the Devils have got into this mess. Therefore, the players have to be at least be more cautious with the puck.

Keep in mind, I've only looked at goals. The cause for many of the shorthanded shots against would be turnovers like the ones that happened on these goals. How bad is that problem? Martin Brodeur has faced 21 shots and Johan Hedberg has faced 12 shots in shorthanded situations. Keep in mind: Brodeur only faced 29 shorthanded shots and Hedberg has only faced 15 in all of last season. Moreover, a shorthanded shot against is usually a difficult shots to stop; since many of them are coming off a rush up ice, either all alone or on an odd-man rush. This is apparent for the SHGAs. Only one out of the nine non-empty-net SHGAs came on an actual set-up play. The rest have been breakaways or 2-on-1s. I don't care if Dominik Hasek is in net, the goalie's being hung out to dry when this happens. What makes more sense to stop having so many SHGAs? Demanding the goaltender to make those saves or stopping the cause of the opportunity? I'm choosing the latter. And only the players can really do something about that.

That's at least my takeaway from this review. Please check out the videos and see for yourself. Would you agree with my findings, and if so, why? Do you disagree with some or all of them, and if so, why? How would you go about addressing this issue? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this shorthanded goal issue in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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