New Jersey Devils Shot Location - Have the Last 24 Games Been Different?

The last 24 games for the New Jersey Devils have been, well indescribable. A record of 20-2-2, and taking 42 out of a possible 48 points (0.875 points percentage) is just unheard of. Everything is going right for the Devils: The team has been scoring in clutch moments, the defense has been solid, and the goaltending has been strong. Their best players have been exactly that. Their veterans have been contributing, and the rookies are molding into some fine young players. Seriously, I could go on and on about how good this team is playing.

Anyway, I've done this a couple times this season, so I thought now would be a good time for a revisit. With the help of some websites, I've been keeping track of each Devils game and where they shoot the puck on goal in all situations. I devised an image where I broke down the offensive zone into 10 areas. I've summed those numbers per area, calculating the shooting percentage and average shots per game.

The last time I did this was during All-Star Weekend. It was shortly after John showed the improved shooting percentage of the team for January. There was some debate on whether the team shot differently (in terms of 'where' on the ice) between current coach Jacques Lemaire and former coach John MacLean. It turns out that the Devils shot the puck in basically the same location between both coaches. It was defensively where Lemaire has made the difference. 

So what about now? How do the season numbers look after 65 games? How do they compare between offense and defense. The Devils are still a minus-29 in goal differential for the record. How about this recent stretch of games? How has the team been shooting (again, in terms of location), during this 20-2-2 run? Where has the opposition shot as well? How does this compare to the overall season numbers? These are answered and more after the jump...

Here's a more detailed explanation of the shot zones and the image:

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 - UPDATE -  or lame dump in goals.

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.

Rink_10_medium_medium

via assets.sbnation.com

I've compiled and summed up the numbers using espn.com's gamecast like this one. Occasionally there is a missing shot or the shots overlap and it's difficult to get an accurate number, so I use nhl.com's ice tracker as a back up. Usually, the two sites are one in the same - I use espn's because it easier to work with.

First, here's the overall season numbers for the Devils offense and the opposition's offense (Devils defense):

Shotlocation65gp_medium

As you can see, the Devils opposition still has a better shooting percentage by over 2%. After 65 games, that dismal first half of the season is still deflating the numbers. The opposition has a better percentage in seven zones. In terms of close to the net (Zones, 1, 2, 3, & 4), the Devils shoot 11.8% (95 goals on 806 shots) where the other teams shoot 15.5%(129 goals on 830). The defense lets up slightly more shots in that area than the offense gets. When the defense gives the opposition possession of the puck near the net, chances are good they are going to score. We saw this yesterday against the Islanders - a loose puck buried on the powerplay and a turnover by Mark Fayne late in the third period.  It's

One area where the Devils offense outdo there opponents is at long distance shots. In zones 9 and 10, the Devils shoot have scores 15 goals on 398 shots (3.4%), compared to 8 goals on 311 shots (2.6%). On tough angle shots along the boards (Zones, 5, 7, & 9), the numbers are fairly even, yet the Devils have taken over 100 more shots in those areas. I'm all for throwing pucks at the net, but shooting from a better angle may help. Sure the Devils are winning games, but they are mostly 2-1 games. In fact, the Devils haven't scored more than two goals in game play in the last six games.

In terms of good angle shooting (Zones 1, 4, 8, & 10), they Devils shoot 11.3% (96 goals on 846 shots). That's more than their opposition (837 shots), but not in goals (122 goals) - a percentage of 14.6%.

Yet, as I said, the first half of this season has really deflated these numbers. I really don't have to prove this because have all witnessed the change. Yet, I saw something that I thought I do (because I have slightly the same data) to show the drastic change. Gabe  at Behindthenethockey.com (and behindthenet.ca) put up a post this morning on shot and Fenwick percentages in which he concentrated on Montreal and Toronto. It's pretty good, I suggest checking it out. In the post, he showed by  a graph - a 10 game running average of the team's and opponent's shooting percentage at 5-on-5. You can see why they have been playing well so recently.

What I do have is the shooting percentages for both the Devils and their opposition for every game this season, not per game for 5-on-5. Still It was simple to put together because I had the data and I thought I would show it for you:

Running10averageshooting__medium

As you can see, right around the middle of the season, things started to change. The percentages for the opposition skyrocketed...right around the time MacLean was fired (33 games). There was about a 15 game span where the running average was just insane. Things peaked for the Devils about 10 games after. I would note that the Devils seem to be "coming back to Earth" after the last 4 or 5 games. Also note the extremely low percentages for the opposition lately. The reason? Johan Hedberg and Martin Brodeur have been titanium walls. You can see from this graph how it effects the chart from above and the percentages.

So this leaves us to the last 24 games. Have things been that good in terms shot location? Have the Devils been shooting different in terms of location in this run compared to the whole season? Because I'm comparing the so-far 65 game season to the last 24 games, I'll show the per game numbers (percentages don't change). First the Devils offense:

Shotlocation65gpvsl24offense_medium

Really? Huh... 

First, notice the total shots per game. For the season, the team averages 28.7 shots per game. During this stretch, they shoot two less shots per game. I would think that's due to taking a lead and playing sound defense when needed. Usually when Ilya Kovalchuk would score the go ahead goal, the team would ride the win. Yes there has been the occasional game where the Devils would continue to play well and get shots on goal - which means they are not sitting back completely, but they aren't taking any major offensive risks either.

Since the two shot decrease, they do shoot less in most zones. The area where they do not is from the point. In Zones 9 and 10, they average about 6.12 shots per game (at 3.8%), whereas in the last 24 games, they average 6.42 (at 5.8%). Speaking of percentages, a 3% difference is the big change here (and the goals). I couldn't believe that the Devils are shooting 13.3% in Zone 8, a advantageous angle to shoot at. Overall though, the Devils in this stretch shoot at about the same rate as they do for the entire season. They do shoot slightly more from further way though, yet the pucks are just going in the net for them in the last five weeks.


Shotlocation65gpvsl24defense_medium

One shot does make a difference. Compared to the overall season and the last 24 games, the defense allows one shot less and one whole goal less per game. Also notice the drastic drop in opponent shooting percentage - 6.2% is like December-Devils bad. The Devils have given their opponents more shots from sharp angles (specifically Zone 5..and they actually shoot better there) and from the point. It shows the Devils are keeping teams to the outside in more recent games, which has really affected the opposition's percentages. However, they do shoot at the same rate in Zone 4 and better in Zone 2.

In Zone 1 however, the opposition has suffered Devils goalies have really been stars here (at 11.7%). Even close to the net (Zones 1 through 4), opponents only shoot 11.8%. These shooting percentages in these zones is just plain reedonkulous. If you want one reason why the last 24 games have been the way they are, this is a good indication on why saying Moose and Marty is the reason.

Conclusion

Over the entire course of the season so far, the Devils still have a fairly low shooting percentage. They have more shots from further away compared to their opponents as well. They do shoot slightly more (not better mind you) from good angle shots. Even with the last 24 games, and with not many games left to play, it seems the opposition will have better numbers at the end of the season overall and per zone. This is because of the extremely low numbers from the first half of season.

From the 10 game running average graph, you can see how the numbers are victims. A look at the Devils numbers, it does seem that their run of high percentage games is coming to an end. Comparing the overall season numbers with the last 24 games, things don't change that much. For both the Devils and their opponents in this stretch, they shoot slightly more from the point. Opponents also shoot at sharper angles.

So during this stretch - the 20-2-2 run - the Devils are just seeing pucks go in at a much better rate. They even shoot from a little further away. I don't think one player can change that so much, but most of Ilya Kovalchuk's goals have been from medium range areas. It's possible they have found a strategy in this?  I honestly don't know, since their percentage around the net is just as good, even better. Maybe it's something very simple - It's just that the pucks are going in now, and they weren't before - luck.

In terms of defense though, the goalies are a big reason for this run. The defense has done a great job keeping the opponents to the outside and making them shoot from not very smart areas. But even when the other team gets into close areas around the net, the percentages are down. The goalies have been that good. And the fact that the Devils have two they can trust in is a fantastic thing.

So what do you think about all the information I have thrown at you? Did you see something in the numbers I may have overlooked (or underlooked)? Do you see something different? What do you think about this run in terms or shot location? What have you noticed? Let us know in the comments; Thanks for reading.

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