What the Stats Say About the New Jersey Devils' Power Play of the Last Four Seasons

Behind the Net is a wonderful resource for those interested in hockey statistics.  One of the many interesting stats compiled are team stats by game situation.    While looking at the 5-on-5 situations for the past four New Jersey Devils seasons, I decided to take a look at the team's stats for 5-on-4 situations in those same past four seasons. 

After all, the Devils' power play was particularly bad in this past season.  They only converted on 14.4% of all of their power plays, the third worst success rate in the league.  I'm not sure whether that's the best way to   It's something I brought up several times already.  Issues such as that the Devils don't draw a lot of penalties (they finished the season in opportunities with 237); their streak in December was just that - a streak; and problems seen with just getting the puck into the zone.  However, let's take a step back and see how this with recent Devils seasons as well as the league. We can say it's bad as much as we want; but with perspective on how bad it was, we can hopefully make clearer judgments about what specifically has been bad about it.

This can be done by looking at the stats 5-on-4. A vast majority of a team's power plays in a given season will be at 5-on-4, so I'm focusing on those numbers to get a sense of how bad the Devils have been on the power play.  Unfortunately, the numbers for the Devils in each of the last four seasons are disappointingly similar - which results it's own conclusions.

The following numbers comes from the .xls file available on the front page of Behind the Net:

Devils_5on4_team_stats_2007-2011

There are five stats here, and most of them are bad.  Let's go through them one by one.

TOI stands for Time on Ice and as you can see, it's not very high. The Devils have been declining in 5-on-4 ice time both in the stat itself and in rank. This shouldn't be so surprising since the Devils do get very few power play opportunities. Nevertheless, it further highlights a major issue with the power play: they aren't even in this situation a lot of the time.   That alone makes it difficult to get goals.

GF stands for goals for and this past season was awful. Only 27 goals were scored with a one-man advantage.  I was honestly shocked to find that the Devils weren't dead last in the league in this category; Florida was worse with 26.   Still, a mere 27 goals scored is a big drop off from the last three seasons, where they cracked 40 or more goals.   The rankings for those three prior seasons indicate the Devils were never a prolific team on the power play relative to the rest of the league. Nevertheless, they were far more productive than the 2010-11 Devils power play.

GF/60 represents goals for per 60 minutes, which takes time on ice into account for goals scored.   Here, the 2009-10 Devils stick out in a good way. Their 47 goals scored combined with a relatively low ice time gives them a great looking rate.   It suggests that if that team got more opportunities, then they would have scored more.  Unfortunately, that season appears to be an outlier. Last season's team and 2007-08 were just ahead of last; and the 2008-09 power play was more productive in GF/60 is only on the cusp of being out of the bottom third in the league.

SF/60 represents shots for per 60 minutes, which may be a better arbiter of how a power play performs than scoring goals. Gabe Desjardens argued this at Behind the Net. After all, if there's some luck involved in scoring, then shouldn't the judgment of performance include the process of getting goals?  The whole point of a power play is to score, true; but without getting shots to the net, then it's not going to happen.  Teams generally take time with a man advantage to set up a "good" shot (e.g. open look, a slapshot/one-timer from a particular player, getting in close, etc.); so those teams that have a high SF/60 should .  

The Devils should hopefully agree since they look much better here.  In 2007-08 and especially 2008-09, the Devils were very successful at getting rubber on net with a man advantage. Relative to the rest of the league, they haven't been so bad at getting shots on net.  With 3 of the 4 seasons having the Devils around 50-51 shots for 60, it may not be so surprising to see the Devils finish there again next season.  They may want to look to improve here to keep up with the rest of the league, though. Especially to compensate for the final stat here:

S%, or shooting percentage, tells a lot here.  The Devils have been very bad relative to the rest of the league at shooting percentage for 3 out of those 4 seasons.  The lone exception came in 2009-10, which is a big reason why the Devils put in 47 goals despite their shooting rate dropping significantly.  Just like the team's shooting percentage in 5-on-5 cratered, the Devils sank to a new low at 5-on-4; which helps explain part of the drop of 20 goals.

The second biggest conclusion is that these stats suggest that past season's power play was the result perfect storm.  The Devils got relatively little power play time compared to the last three seasons, so that undercuts chances to get goals at 5-on-4 right from the start.  The 2007-08 Devils also had a poor shooting percentage and a similar SF/60; but they got to 43 goals because they had more time to get there.  Last season's team didn't bombard their opponents with the puck as much as the 2008-09 Devils; and they were awful shooters unlike the 2009-10 Devils.  Throw it all together and it begs the question: Is it really any wonder last season's power play was pitiful?

The biggest conclusion is that in none of these seasons could the power play be described as good across the board.   In 2008-09, the Devils were great at firing pucks on net and it was necessary for them to do so since their shooting percentage was that low at 5-on-4.  In 2009-10, the Devils' shooting.  Nevertheless, the Devils have had multiple coaches, multiple changes in personnel, and multiple changes in schemes and yet they have remained well below half of the league in terms of getting goals.  We may want to blame the coaching staff or the players for the team's continued struggles in this area, but when it happens for multiple seasons, it suggests to me the problem is too complex to be solved with a few changes.

Sure, we could wish for a perfect storm of a different kind: the Devils getting more opportunities (more TOI), take more shots (higher SF/60), and somehow magically be firing pucks at a higher percentage.  Maybe that's all it would take for the Devils to finally have a power play that doesn't make fans wish penalties can be declined in games.  The main point is that this has been a problem for several years, it's going to be the next head coach's problem in 2011-12, and history is not on his side.  What will it take to solve it? How and when it will happen?  What should be changed?  Honestly, I don't know.  Perhaps you have some suggestions, and if so, please leave your comments. 

Given recent history, I wouldn't hold my breath for the next head coach to immediately fix them, if at all.

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