The Continued Third Period Struggles of the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils

The third period has been a continued point of concern for the New Jersey Devils in this season. We have seen leads as small as one goal to as many as three collapse as the Devils went on to lose. We have seen many games that could have been finished in the third period, only for a bad bounce or bad play force the game into overtime. We even nearly saw a six goal lead evaporate right before our very eyes even recently. These Devils are definitely not the shutdown team they once were. One doesn't know what you're getting on a given night in a third period with this team.

However, how bad has the Devils really been this season? Sure, we can probably pick out the meltdowns (e.g. the first Devils-Florida game) and a few other disappointments. Those games stick out but with 55 games played in this season (this post does not include the Buffalo game last night), a few games can't shadow the rest. Still, it's something worth looking into. It's not the first time it's come up. Back in November, I performed a quick summary of how the Devils have done in third periods in their first 20 games.

I've decided to update the charts to see how the Devils have performed in each third period from that point onward. I looked at the game summaries at NHL.com for each game and recorded the score going into the third, goals scored, shots recorded, penalties, and the final score. I took out penalties as I'm more interested in how many times the Devils had leads going into the third period, how many times they were blown, whether or not they gave up a game winning goal or scored it, or whether they were out-shot. I also performed splits between home and away games and months. Lastly, I also counted how many third periods the Devils played where they didn't score a goal, where they didn't allow a goal, or both.

Please set your viewing to wide and prepare for a lot of charts to determine how the Devils have performed in the third period so far this season.

All data comes from NHL.com. If you want the summary of all 55 games, then please continue on with the next section. First, the game-by-game monthly breakdown of the Devils' results in the third period.

Note: A cells for After 3rd marked green indicate the Devils won the game in the third period; a yellow cell for End of 2nd Score represents the Devils leading going into the third period and a yellow cell for After 3rd indicates the Devils maintained that lead. Everything else should be self explanatory (and if not, feel free to ask in the comments).

Game by Game Monthly Breakdown as of 2-14-2012

3rd_per_october_11-12

October was a short month for the Devils and there's not a lot to note here. The Devils earned exactly one lead going into the third period and they kept it on October 25. In all other games, they were either losing or they were tied. There were three games where they allowed the game winning goal in the third, all on their road trip to end the month. I will say that the Devils did win one game outright in the third period of their second game the season.

3rd_per_november_11-12

The last post ended with the Columbus game in November. As we can see now, that game was part of a five game streak where the Devils had a third period lead. However, they only maintained it in three games. The Florida game on 11/21 had that horrid meltdown where the Panthers completed a three goal comeback effort in regulation. The Columbus game on 11/23 had a fluke of an equalizer, so a point was dropped to the Blue Jackets in that one.

That run of five games went against the norm as the Devils were usually tied going into the third period in almost all of the other games. The end of the month was a downer, though, as the Devils lost a game in the third to the Islanders and got creamed by Colorado in a terrible blowout.

3rd_per_december_11-12

The opening of a busy December wasn't kind to the Devils in the third period. They allowed at least one goal in the first six games in the game's final regulation period. Even with leads in two of those games, one got equalized (12/6 at Toronto) and one came perilously close (12/12 at Tampa Bay). I'd love to say the Devils got better and they sort of did. They only blew one of the five leads in the third period in that month and they even won one game in the third period (12/17 at Montreal). Still, it's a mish-mash of results and as you'll see in the summary, it somehow led to their best goal differential. The major downers were the 12/20 game against the Rangers where the Devils allowed 3 to lose in the third and 12/23 against the Capitals where they made up a 3 goal lead.

3rd_per_january_11-12

January continued the muddled nature of third periods for the Devils. They won two games in the third period; saw third period leads blown in 3 out of 5 games; and yet only allowed two game winning goals in the whole month. It could have been three in the month's final game. Fortunately, a favorable bounce off a dump-in led to David Clarkson hammering a shot through Martin Biron's legs to tie it up late.

3rd_per_february_2-14-12

While February is far from over, one could argue this has been the best month for the Devils playing in the third period. The 2/2 game against Montreal saw them come from behind to win in the third and while there were scares, the Devils did manage to hold 3 out of 4 third period leads - all against hated rivals. The big concern is really in the shot count where the Devils seriously got wrecked in the 2/4 game against Philly and the 2/7 game at MSG. Shot differentials definitely were skewed from those two games alone.

Summaries of 55 Third Periods

Here's the overall summary of all of these charts, including a split between home and away games.

3rd_totals_2-14-12

Overall, the Devils are still having problems. They have a third period goal differential of -28, a shot differential of -96, and they've been outshot in 30 out of 55 games (54.54%). I think it's fair to say the Devils are still struggling in third periods. It's not necessarily because the Devils usually have the lead. On the contrary, the Devils have only had leads going into the third period in 22 of their 55 games, or 40%. A majority of their games have the Devils either tied or losing heading into the third period.

Out of the 22 leads the Devils have had going into the third period, 9 of them were blown, or 40.90%. That's not a very good percentage, but at least it's not the majority. Moreover, only 2 of those 9 blown leads became regulation losses, so the Devils at least got a point out of the other 7 games. The Devils have come close to blowing third period loads in other games, so it's definitely an issue in my viewpoint. That said, knowing that the Devils haven't earned a lot of leads going into the third period makes me wonder whether the root cause is not getting leads in the first two periods more often.

Interestingly, the Devils are a bit better at this at home than away. Their shot differential is far better at -26 than -70 on the road and they've scored more goals on the road. They've also been outshot four fewer times. Yet, when it comes to allowing or scoring game winning goals in the third, there's not much of a difference. Even if the Devils are a bit better at home, the team is still struggling in the game's final twenty minutes.

3rds_by_month_2-14-12

There may be hope in the future. The Devils were rocked in November in terms of goals and they lessened the bleeding in following months. In fact, a few third period meltdowns have pumped up the GA count in a few games for each month. For example, the four goal third period by Philly alone accounts for the negative goal differential in this abbreviated February so far. However, the Devils would be wise to shape up that shot differential. February is a big anchor on the overall count because of those two nightmare third periods against Philly and the Rangers. I doubt they'll make it up in this month, they can definitely strive for better for the rest of the season. December January shows that a positive or not-so-negative shot differential is possible. The most ideal turnout would be to actually outscore the opposition in third periods. More shots and/or some good fortune would be necessary to strive for that outcome.

3rds_without_goals_2-14-12

In my opinion, this chart is the most interesting outcome of all 55 third periods so far. Quite frankly, the opposition has been pretty consistent in getting goals against. They've only been shutout in the third period 16 times this season. As you can tell from the game-by-game charts, games where the other team wouldn't get a goal got to be few and far between on some nights. The Devils have struggled to score as they were shutout in 29 out of 55 third periods.

Most of all, there have been a dearth of games where both the Devils and the opposition failed to score a goal. That has only happened in 8 periods this season. While that's not something you want to see when the Devils are losing or tied; it's a good outcome if the Devils are leading. The main point is that in the vast majority of third periods in this season, there have been goals and they are usually goals against. That's not good at all. Neither are is the third period goal differential of -28, the third period shot differential of -96, or that they've only got 22 leads going into the third period and they blew 9 of them.

It's clear to me that the third period performances in general are something the Devils have to work. They need to do this not only to keep getting results in the regular season, but also in the post season. Either they need to get leads more often in the third, figure out a way to get more goals (this will likely require shooting more), or find a ways to stop the bleeding of goals against. Sure, there will be games where the opposition just gets lucky or turns it up to knock the Devils down, like the games against Boston this season. There will be games where the opposition equalizes off a fluke or a bad bounce like in the recent game against St. Louis. As we know, the issues are deeper than just a few games. Therefore, they must be addressed.

How can the Devils do that? Honestly, I'm not too sure. Part of the solution has to be the coaching. Peter DeBoer and his staff have to do a better job adjusting tactics as the game flows. If a match-up has worked in the first two periods, then he has to work to keep it unless they're getting beat. If the Devils do have a lead, then he has to get players out there with the mentality to attack if only to slow down their attack. If not, then they need to press forward and avoid getting suckered by the other team.

It's more than just the coaches, the players have to have the mentality to tighten up in the third period. After all, they're the ones on the ice and can have an effect on the game. They can ill afford to lose focus, especially in close games. They have to press to do more than just dump in pucks poorly or foul up passes in the neutral or offensive zones. If they get pinned back on defense and have a chance to clear it, then they need to fire it hard along the sides to at least make it hard for the pointman to keep it in. In recent games, the third period gameplan involves some level of "rely on the goaltender." That has to be replaced with "support the goaltender," which means getting to loose pucks, getting some goal support, and so forth. It sounds cliche, but these efforts would help.

Anyway, while I'm not sure on some possible solution, perhaps you have plenty of them. What do you think the Devils need to do to improve their play in the third period? What's the most important area you want to see the Devils improve (e.g. getting more leads into the third, reducing goals against, etc.)? Do you think the Devils can improve at this point of the season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about their third period play this season in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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