A Review of the New Jersey Devils' Zone Exits, 20 Games In

Maddie Meyer

"I got the puck out of the zone"-McDonagh "Yea, but not with possession, which is what matters" -Jagr. Successful zone exits maintain possession, which leads to shots and goals. How successful have the Devils been at doing that? Let's take a look and compare the Devils to six other franchises and see how they hold up. Is there a relationship between zone exits and overall play? Let's try and find out.

This is a look at New Jersey Devils skaters zone exits data from Game 1 until this point in the season. You’ll see four new columns from the individual game reports. These are for Games Played (B), Possession Exits Per Games Played (R), Defensive Zone Turnovers per Games Played (S), and Quality of Competition (T). These are added to illustrate which players have been most consistent and most productive. All other columns are the same.

You’ll see the chart from the first 10 games followed by the data from Game 1 through Game 20. I post smaller charts when discussing the defensemen and forwards so it’s easier to focus, but it’s all there should you want to look at it as a whole.

Terms You’ll See:

OS%: Overall Zone Exit Success Percentage

PE%: Possession Exit %

TofTm% QoC: Average Time on Ice of 5-on-5 opponents CF%: Corsi For %

All Quality of Competition and Corsi figures are pulled from Extraskater.

Oh, I deleted Rostislav Olesz from these reports since he deleted himself from the Devils organization.

Below you'll see the totals chart for the first ten games. You can read my summary for that here. I have them broken down by position after that.

1wkkved_medium

And now here's the Defensemen totals through the first 20 games.

Devils_def_totals

Defensemen:

Leading the blue line in both OS% and PE% is Adam Larsson at 86% and 47.8% respectively. Larsson also has the second lowest rate of turnovers per game at 1.06. Anton Volchenkov is the least prone to turnovers at 0.88 per game. Of course, Volchenkov’s PE% is terrible at 35.5%. His OS% is 3rd on the team at 81%. His lack of turnovers, low PE%, yet modest OS% concludes that Volchenkov is what we know him to be: a conservative, defensive-defenseman. However, only Eric Gelinas is facing easier competition than Volchenkov.

Andy Greene and Bryce Salvador have been facing the toughest competition this season, and both have been putting up similar numbers, albeit Greene has been doing for longer due to Salvador’s injury. Greene has a PE% of 43.1%, and OS% of 78.4%. It’s too early to make any conclusions on Salvador, but Greene appears to be doing just fine against the opponents top lines night in and night out.

Eric Gelinas is playing like you’d expect a rookie to play. He has the 2nd lowest OS%, ahead of only Peter Harrold, but his PE% is much higher than Harrold’s at 42.7%. Speaking of Harrold, his PE% is only 38%, and he’s been playing against tougher competition than Larsson, Gelinas, Volchenkov, and Fayne. He also has the recognition for leading the team in turnovers per game at 1.93.

Mark Fayne has the lowest PE% of the defensemen, as well as only a 73.5 OS%. Marek Zidlicky is 2nd on the blue line in PE%, faces the 2nd highest QoC, commits the 2nd highest turnover rate per game, and has a 78.7 OS%. Considering the amount of turnovers Zid makes, 46.7% for his possession exits is better than I thought they’d be. Of course, it’s dropped considerably from the first 10 games of the season—a full 7%.

Devils_fwd_totals

Forwards:

Among Devils forwards playing the most difficult minutes, Patrik Elias leads the way, followed closely by Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, and Jaromir Jagr. Elias’s PE% is lower than you’d think at 45.7%, which is a drop from 56.1% over his first 8 games, but the other three are above 54.1%, 52.9%, and 58.7%, which is great. That top line of Zubrus, Zajac, and Jagr has started to look really good recently, which means Elias can settle in on the 2nd line and, hopefully, pick up the play of whoever plays with him. More impressive, is that Zubrus and Jagr’s production has actually increased at the same time the level of competition has. That’s great stuff from the two of them.

Andrei Loktionov leads the way at 63.3 PE%, but is middle of the pack in terms of the competition he faces. I’ll delve more into Loki in the passing summary, as I feel his game is way more offensive than anything going on in his own zone, but it’s promising to see him maintain a high PE% against moderate opposition levels. Loki did drop from a 70.7 PE% from his first 9 games, but that wasn’t sustainable. Let’s hope he can keep above 60%.

A pleasant surprise was Steve Bernier’s 51.4 PE% while playing against competition similar to Loki. If the 3rd line center and 3rd/4th line wing are maintain possession more often than not against their competition, chances are the bottom six may be outplaying the opponent’s bottom six.

Unless, of course, Steven Gionta is on the ice. Gionta is the only forward higher in OS% and PE% than Mattias Tedenby. Zone exits are not kind to the two of them. Ryan Carter doesn’t have a great PE% either, but his OS% is several points higher than Gionta’s, so at least Carter is clearing the zone when he tries to. Carter has improved since the beginning of the season as well, whereas Gionta has declined. Jacob Josefson should be centering that fourth line and even though he’s only played 6 games, his stats are far superior.

Adam Henrique has improved from earlier this season. He is playing against strong competition, not the strongest the opposition has, but he’s not playing against slouches. His 46.4 PE% is a 5% improvement over the first 10 games, which is very impressive. Ryane Clowe (6 games played) started out seeing a fairly high level of competition. Unfortunately, his 40.4 PE% is quite poor. I hope he comes back healthy and becomes the player he used to be in San Jose again, otherwise it could be a long 5 years. But, after Brian Rolston’s contract, we can survive anything, right?

Oh, Cam Janssen’s OS% is 100 and his PE% is 38.5…just in case, you know, anyone wanted to know.

Zone Exit Comparison: For the 20 game mark, I thought it would be good to see how the Devils compare to other teams. Up until this point, I’ve been thinking 50% PE% is a good threshold as to what constitutes a “good” rate of possession exits. We’ll see how that plays out when comparing the results for 5 other NHL teams.

Using the database I’ve been submitting my totals to (ZEN), I was able to pull reports for the Los Angeles Kings, Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers, and Pittsburgh Penguins. I’ve cleaned the data a bit and added the players’ positions to more easily compare defense and forwards. Why these teams? Well, not every team has as diligent a volunteer as these teams, so my choices were limited. Even still, I feel it’s a good mix of East and West, as well as teams that are higher and lower in the standings.

You’ll notice varying amounts of attempts for some players and the reason for that is that not all volunteers have tracked the same number of games as each other. Still, these 5 teams had the highest totals and for that I thank the people that have taken the time to stick with this project. Keeping that in mind, 6 different people (myself included) are tracking these and each person may interpret something a bit differently than the other.

Also, the way the reports pull, each exit attempt is not recorded by type, but rather by success, failure, and possession, so it’s not as detailed, but it still offers a solid idea of how well players and teams are at exiting the zone. I’ve only included players on other teams that played a minimum of 10 games. They are sorted by position and in descending order of total number of exit attempts.

So, let’s take a sobering look at how they compare in terms of zone exits.

Zone Exits Devils vs Flyers:

Phi

The Flyers have 4 defensemen within 1.5% of the 50% (Luke Schenn, Mark Streit, Andrej Meszaros, and Kimmo Timmonen), whereas the Devils have no one that close. In fact, the Devils defenseman that has the highest PE% (Adam Larsson) would be fifth on the Flyers team. The Devils would have the next 4 highest-rated PE% players (Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene, Bryce Salvador, and Eric Gelinas) before the rest of the Flyers defense corps showed up again, but it’s clear that in terms of exiting the defensive zone with possession, the Flyers top 4 outdoes their Devils counterparts.

Regarding the forwards, the Flyers have several above the 50% mark, with their highest all rating around the 55 – 56% mark (Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, Jakub Voracek, and Zac Rinaldo). The Devils have Andrei Loktionov and Jaromir Jagr scoring higher than any Flyers forward, and Dainius Zubrus scoring close to those 4, but after that there are only 3 Devils forwards at or above 50% (Jacob Josefson, Steve Bernier, and Travis Zajac), whereas the Flyers have 2 others (Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds). So, the Flyers have 6 forwards in total at or above 50% as do the Devils.

Zone Exits Devils vs Penguins:

Pitt

Kris Letang leads the Penguins defensemen with a PE% of 64.9%. That is extremely high. The rest of the Penguins blue line is mixed bag of the “just under 50%” trio of Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland, and Brooks Orpik, the 40% trio of Olli Maata, Paul Martin, and Robert Bortuzzo, and the woeful Rob Scuderi (32%). It’s obvious to us Devils fans that we haven’t had a player of Kris Letang’s offensive prowess in a long time. Once you look up and down the rosters, the Devils defensemen falls short of another Metropolitan defense corps.

Sidney Crosby stands atop the forward ranks with a sensational 72.8%. The Penguins also have 4 other players at 60% or higher, let alone 50% (Evgeni Malkin, Jussi Jokinen, Beau Bennet, and Chris Kunitz). It’s clear from this data sample that in terms of PE%, the Penguins are doing a good job throughout the majority of their lineup. The Devils simply are not as clean with their breakout as the Penguins appear to be.

Zone Exits Devils vs Lightning:

Tbl

The Lightning have one defenseman (Matt Carle, 54%) above the threshold. Other than that, their defensemen are inefficient to say the least. Andrej Sustr (47.3%) is competent, but the next highest defenseman is Victor Hedman at 42.6%. It quickly goes down from there to resemble the unattractive numbers posted by the Devils blue line.

The Lightning appear to be solid at their zone exits, although this is more of a smaller sample size than the other teams. From what data is here, however, shows a very good team at keeping possession when exiting the zone. I would venture a guess that these numbers will not stay this high across the board over the next 20 games.

Zone Exits Devils vs Kings:

La

Now we hop over to the Western Conference. The LA Kings have a defense grouping that is dominant at exiting the zone with possession—Willie Mitchell’s existence aside. Jake Muzzin, Drew Doughty, and Slava Voynov are all between 61.3 – 62%. Alec Martinez is at 55%, and even their 5th and 6th best options on defense related to zone exits would be near the top of the Devils blue line.

Of the forwards, Anze Kopitar, Kyle Clifford, Justin Williams, and Trevor Lewis all boast PE% above 60%. Collectively, the Kings forwards appear to be just as successful as the Lightning forwards, with a larger sample size as well. The Devils look less and less impressive as we look at other teams.

Zone Exits Devils vs Blues:

Stl

Each of the Blues’ top 6 D has a PE% rate of 52.2% or higher. Of the Blues’ top 6 forwards with the most exit attempts, the lowest PE% rate is 60.7%. That says enough, honestly.

Zone Exits Devils vs Stars:

Dallas

Sergei Gonchar apparently still has some game left in him; 74% is ridiculously efficient. Trevor Daley (68.1%) and Alex Goligoski (62.1%) round out the top trio for the Stars. It has to be pointed out that the 3 Dallas defensemen with the highest PE% have, on average, 15 – 20 fewer attempts than Jordie Benn, Stephane Robidas, and Brenden Dillon. It’s not a huge sampling, but I just had to point it out.

Is 50% still a good standard?

So what does all of this comparison data tell us? Well, the reason I used as many teams as I could was to attempt to eliminate tracker bias. Unfortunately, it looks like if we were to rank these teams by position grouping, the Devils would not fare well. But, let’s do it anyways. I took the average OS% as well as PE% for the forwards and defensemen for each team and charted them below.

Positial_averages

What we find here is that there’s quite a disparity between Eastern and Western Conference teams. Of course, the Blues, Kings, and Stars are all playing quite well, but, at the time I pulled the data, the Lightning were division leaders not too long ago, and the Penguins still are.

Conference affiliation aside, it appears that my 50% PE% threshold would be a good number for defensemen to aim for, but it appears we may need to up that for forwards to gauge an effective percentage. I believe this is simply due to the nature of an exit being harder on defensemen (more work) than forwards most of the time.

When looking at position totals, it’s abundantly clear that while the Devils forward averages are decent, their defensemen averages are near the back of the pack, only ahead of Tampa Bay. When you look at this list of teams, it’s obvious that the Devils do not have an Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, Kris Letang, or Sergei Gonchar. The Devils’ best defenseman would be on any of those teams 2nd pairing. The absence of a true #1 Defenseman will continue to loom large over these totals throughout the season.

High vs Low-Event Games

I have season totals to pull from ZEN, but I don’t have a total of how many games the data is from, so I can’t formulate averages. I can do this for the Devils so we’ll know if they really struggled or were efficient at exiting their zone each game. Thus far, the Devils are averaging 106.8 zone exit attempts per game, 52.1 by defensemen and 54.7 by forward. Of those 106.8, the defensemen have a 78.3 OS% and the forwards have an 88.4 OS%. In terms of PE%, the defensemen have a 42% and the forwards have a 46.9%. Now, if I filter out totals from players having not played 10 games, it only affects the team totals by 0.5%, so it’s negligible.

Devils_zone_exit_averages

Going forward, if the Devils have more or less than 106.8 attempts per game, we’ll have another territorial stat like Corsi to evaluate games.

So what can this data tell us about team performance? From ExtraSkater, I took the Corsi For percentage in all 5 on 5 situations (zone exits are tracked only in 5 on 5 play) for these 7 teams and included them in the previous chart. See below.

Team_averages

I arranged them from highest to lowest CF%. I took the OS% and PE% average from the defensemen and forward percentages from the previous chart to arrive at a team rates. The fourth column is the difference when I subtracted PE%% from CF%. The fifth column is the team’s CF% rank across the entire NHL.

It really doesn’t surprise me that a team good at possession overall would be good at exiting the zone with possession. With the exception of the New Jersey Devils, all other team’s zone exit possession rates were within 6.4% of their CF%. The Devils had the biggest jump from PE% to CF%, while the Blues and Stars had the biggest drop. The Devils in particular intrigue me, because their CF% is among the league’s best, yet their PE% is lower than the Flyers, who rank 19th in CF%. My educated guess would be that the gap would close between the two as the Penguins, Lightning, and Flyers only have a difference of 1.2%, 0.4%, and 1.5% respectively.

It’ll be interesting to see if this data holds for the next 10 games or so; it’s far too early to start saying that one stat is a predictor or another stat, but, ultimately, I’d like to see if there’s some relationship involving zone exits that can lead to predict performance.

My look at Passing Stats through the first 20 games will be done in a few days, so keep an eye out for that.

And please offer your opinions, suggestion, criticisms, statements, analysis, etc. Collectively, I’m sure this could be a great forum for debate. What would you like to see next time? Are there any stats you’d like to see brought into this discussion?

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