The New Jersey Devils Have Been Successful at Shootouts, But Will It Continue in 2012-13?

Ilya Kovalchuk went 11-for-14 in shootouts last season, contributing quite a bit of the team's shootout success in 2011-12. Can the Devils repeat it, even if Kovalchuk likely doesn't score on about 79% of his shooting attempts next season? (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

The shootout was instituted for the first time in the National Hockey League in the 2005-06 season to decide tied games after regulation and overtime. There has been no shortage of criticism, with purists decrying the shootout as just a "skills competition" and a "gimmick." There's been legitimate concerns with it's value as both teams get a point in the standings if the game does go beyond regulation, making games decided by a shootout worth three points as opposed to two in the standings. Me? I like the shootout as it's a fair way to decide games in the regular season without extending games into perpetuity. They highlight the important skills of the game: shooting and goaltending. I actually find them exciting. The thousands upon thousands of fans who get up and cheer every goal and every win from it like any other suggests that I'm not the only one. No matter how you feel about it, it's been a staple of the league, they mean something in the standings, and I doubt it's going anywhere.

The 2011-12 season was the seventh to have the shootout in place. New Jersey Devils fans became quite familiar with it as the Devils participated in 16 shootouts. They also became quite pleased with it as the Devils won 12 of those 16 games. That's 12 additional points earned, some of them coming in games where they may have not deserved it. No team in the NHL was as successful in 2011-12 as the Devils led the league in shootout wins, goals (28), and shooting percentage (57.1%). They were great. It also begs the question, can they do it again?

My gut reaction is "not quite." They may be above average, but I feel it's asking a lot to sustain those numbers. However, I wanted to find some evidence to really answer those questions. Therefore, I decided to look at the team's shootout results from each of these past 7 seasons from NHL.com. Please continue on after the jump to find out how successful the Devils have been and whether we should expect a repeat of last season's success.

Here are the team's season-by-season shootout results from NHL.com. The "% Season" is the percentage of the season that went into the shootout. I've ranked the team's shooting and save percentage relative to the league, too.
Season SO GP % Season SO W SO L SO GF SO SF SO S% S% Rank SO GA SO SA SO Sv% Sv% Rank
2005-06 13 15.85% 9 4 18 45 40.00% 8 12 45 73.33% 5
2006-07 18 21.95% 10 8 25 62 40.32% 6 23 66 65.15% 14
2007-08 12 14.63% 8 4 15 42 35.71% 12 11 43 74.42% 4
2008-09 8 9.76% 6 2 12 25 48.00% 2 8 28 71.43% 9
2009-10 11 13.41% 6 5 12 32 37.50% 8 12 34 64.71% 22
2010-11 5 6.10% 3 2 6 19 31.58% 13 5 20 75.00% 9
2011-12 16 19.51% 12 4 28 49 57.14% 1 14 46 69.57% 11
Total 83 14.46% 54 29 116 274 42.34% 1 85 282 69.86% 8

The Devils have been very successful in the shootout ever since it became a part of the regular season. They've never had a losing record and they've only had one stat fall below the league median out of the last seven seasons: the team's shootout save percentage. In fact, the Devils have been the best team all-time in shooting percentage in the shootout as well as in shootout wins. This gives us hope that the Devils won't suddenly become an awful team in the shootout.

Additionally, the Devils look really good compared with the rest of the league. The NHL maintains season-by-season league stats for the shootout, so it's easy to put these numbers in perspective. I won't delve into each season but for the most part, 12-14% of the season goes into shootouts and shooters score at a percentage of about 33%. With the exception of 2010-11, the Devils have been well above the league average in shootout shooting percentage. Zach Parise and Patrik Elias have been good overall and adding Ilya Kovalchuk would help in that regard. On the flipside, the Devils have been ahead of the league average in shootout save percentage (about 66-67%) except for the 2006-07 and 2009-10 seasons. Martin Brodeur's been quite good at shootouts over his career. Not as good as, say, Henrik Lundqvist or Marc-Andre Fleury but still good. If the Devils can stay ahead of the average in both stats, then they'll be quite fine in 2012-13. How far they are ahead of them will determine whether we see a great winning percentage like in 2008-09 or 2011-12 or a just above average result like in 2006-07 or 2009-10.

However, there are a number of caveats. First, the number of shootouts the Devils have played in fluctuate from season to season. While the Devils have played in 83 shootouts, the sixth most all-time in the NHL, there's no guarantee at how many they play. Last season, the Devils played in the most shootouts since 2006-07. That followed after a season where they played in the fewest amount of shootouts with 5. It's up in the air as to whether the Devils will be able to get into shootout situations, much less how they can perform in them.

Second, even their most prolific shootout seasons yields a small population size. The most they've had in a season was 18, just a bit over 20% of the season. And the Devils weren't particularly great in 2006-07 by going 10-8. In any case, a small number of games to consider means that a few events can skew everything. A few bad bounces here and there and that could mean lost points when they would have earned them in past seasons. On the contrary, some good puck luck and the Devils are picking up all kinds of extra points. Yes, over the last seven seasons, we may be able to expect the Devils to do well. After all, they lead the league in shootout wins and winning percentage (about 65%). But it's unclear whether that means for the upcoming season.

Third, the Devils hit a ridiculous high last season in shooting percentage with 57.1%. The Devils never broke 50% over a whole season before and have been varying from season to season even though they usually were ahead of the league average. To get that high of a percentage, you need some great performances. The Devils led with the trio of Kovalchuk (11-for-14, one of the best in the NHL last season), Parise (8-for-16), and Elias (6-for-12). In fact, only four other Devils took shootout attempts last season for a combined total of 7 shots. Those three crushed it. The problem is that can't happen again since Parise's on another team now.

In addition, those other two players may fall in their success rate. Kovalchuk is very good at the shootout in his career (22-for-56), but it's highly unlikely he scores on about 79% of his shootout attempts again. While Elias has a good career in shootouts (20-for-49), I don't think he's likely to match his performance since his percentages and attempts have been up and down since 2005-06. In fact, 2011-12 was his first season where he took more than 10 shootout attempts since 2006-07 and he went 2-for-11 then. Parise leaves a big hole in the shootout lineup in addition to the standard lineup, and the Devils will have to accept some risk in filling it. The only Devils skaters on the roster with more than 10 shootout attempts in their career are Marek Zidlicky (6-for-20) and Travis Zajac (5-for-14). Neither have been really brilliant, so either they'll have to have some hope for whoever becomes a regular in the three shooters. Short of some other Devil(s) getting hot, I doubt they will rank so highly in shooting percentage in this coming season despite being the team leading the league all-time in that category.

Overall, the past history leaves us some reason to feel good about the Devils in shootouts. They've participated in a lot of them relative to the rest of the league and they've often come out winners. However, I think it's unreasonable to expect the team to do as well as they did last season. It would be foolhardy for the team to rely on winning 75% of their shootouts again. One of the team's top shootout players signed elsewhere and the percentages of the other top shooters are unsustainable. In addition, it's unclear how many shootouts the team will even play in outside of a guess (14% of the season? 12%? Who knows?). And within that fraction of the season, it's unclear whether they'll have the good luck they had or whether they suffer from some bad bounces. If the Devils can maintain percentages above league average in 2012-13 and win about half of them, then I'd say that should be sufficient. I don't expect them to pick up 12 out of a possible 16 additional points again. Of course, we'll find out what will happen when the games begin.

Were you surprised to learn that the Devils have been so successful in shootouts over the last seven seasons? What do you expect out of the team going into next season and why? Who do you think should fill in Zach Parise's spot on shootouts? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils in shootouts in the comments. Thanks for reading.

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