My brother went to Saturday's game between the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers in my place because I wasn't feeling well. He returned with a sour look on his face, which was appropriate as the Devils lost 1-0 while putting up a measly 14 shots on net out of 27 attempts. I had the same look watching and writing about it. The next day he asked after reading my recap whether that was that was the fewest amount of attempts the Devils have had in a game.
Sad to say, it was not. The low amount of attempts on Saturday only matched a season-low. The Devils put up a paltry 27 attempts in their 4-0 win over Our Hated Rivals. Of course, the circumstances were different. The Devils scored early and racked up the goals such that they didn't have to keep attacking all that often. That still isn't good at all but it's more understandable than putting up the same amount in a one-goal game.
I found out the answer through one of the neat features available at Extra Skater: team game logs. The logs list not only the score but the Corsi events (a.k.a. shooting attempts), Fenwick events (a.k.a. shooting attempts without blocks), and shots for and against by game for each team. It's a good way to identify any trends, highs, lows, and other findings. With an easy click of a button, you can even filter out the numbers for various situations. After answering my brother's question and sighing at the results, I decided to dig in deeper to put that terribly low number in perspective. I decided to consider raw Corsi events as well as shots on net out of Corsi events, since it's rather important to know how many of those attempts actually get on net. I also focused on all situations and 5-on-5 situations. Extra Skater only goes as far back as last season but I think it's enough to highlight how poor the Devils were last night, if not this season.
|Season||All Sit. Devils||All Sit. NHL Avg.||5-on-5 Devils||5-on-5 NHL Avg.|
I'll start with the positive news. The Devils were below league average last season in terms of shots on net out of shooting attempts. They weren't off by much. In all situations, they were just under last season and only a little worse in 5-on-5 play. So far this season, the Devils have been above average at getting those attempts on net. Only a handful of teams are ahead of New Jersey so far this season; and anything above 55% is really good anyhow. The top teams in both all situations and 5-on-5 situations only are above 57.5%.
|Season||All Sit. Devils||All Sit. NHL Avg.||5-on-5 Devils||5-on-5 NHL Avg.|
The bad news is that the Devils aren't generating a whole lot of attempts. The above chart is the team's Corsi events for per 60 minutes. The Devils were well below average in a 48-game season in 2013. They have been remarkably worse a little over a month of games into this season. They're not just below average but way below it. Near the bottom of the league in both all situations play and 5-on-5 play; only Buffalo has been worse. I don't know about you but I'm willing to have the Devils be less efficient with getting their attempts on net if it means the Devils can come anywhere close to league average in attempts per sixty minutes. If you're looking for root causes as to why the team isn't scoring a lot of goals, then this looks like one of them. It certainly makes their efficiency in getting their attempts on net look really small. The good news pales in comparison to this continuing bad news.
Two other findings of note that really hammer home how bad the Philly game looks with perspective.. The first finding: In the 2013 season, the Devils' season low for shooting attempts in all situations was the 37 they put up on March 30. The Devils have already finished four games with less shooting attempts in this regular season so far. They got 36 attempts in their 3-2 overtime loss at Vancouver; 34 in their 2-1 win over Tampa Bay; and 27 each in the 4-0 win over Our Hated Rivals and the 1-0 loss to the Second Rate Rivals. Yes, the two worst games were without Patrik Elias - though the other two games had #26 and the team still treaded water in the attempts department. The Devils may have went 2-1-1 in those games but that's not something they should try to continue unless the think they can grind out wins in super-low event games. The second finding: In that same March 30, 2013 game as well as a 3-0 Devils win on January 22, they also hit a season low for shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play with 24. In the fourteen games the team has played this season, they tied that mark in the 4-0 win over the Rangers and beat it with the Philly game with 20 attempts in 5-on-5 play. Even with perspective, that game was simply abysmal from an offensive standpoint. I wish Extra Skater went back further to, say, 2010-11 to see if the Devils were worse than that. I would be surprised they had a worse game than that one.
So at least in the short term, the 1-0 loss to Philadelphia was dreadful low point for the Devils' offense. But in the bigger picture, the 2013-14 Devils have done a very poor job at creating attempts to score. Last season's team had enough scoring goals. It remains to be seen whether this year's team will shoot as poorly. But even with a not-ice-cold shooting percentage, there's not going to be very many goals scored if the team is going to struggle to put up shooting attempts, much less shots. They've only beaten the league average in all situations play only four times this season. It hasn't been impossible from this team, but it's been an uncommon occurrence. If you're looking for a root cause for the team's lack of offense, then this looks like one.
Worse, I don't know if the Devils have the personnel to really do much better. Having Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac drive the play forward would help dramatically given the recent lack of offensive production in the last two games. But even with both active, the team just doesn't fire away all that much. The per-60 minute rates show that clearly even if they're putting a good percentage of those few attempts on net. How did they drop so much? A number of factors come to mind. Missing David Clarkson, who never saw a shooting attempt he didn't like to take, clearly is a factor. Missing Ilya Kovalchuk, who was never a play driver but could make things happen, clearly is also another factor. The team has done what they could to replace both with veteran players, players one would think have the experience and knowledge to adjust their game when things aren't going right. That clearly hasn't happened. Ryane Clowe has been hurt for weeks now, Damien Brunner & Michael Ryder were never prolific shooters, and Rostislav Olesz was a reclamation project so he wasn't expected to do much to attack anyway. The power play hot streak was just that and returned to it's lack of shooting; last season they were shooting much more but just didn't score. There's a lot of things that got the 2013-14 team to this point; thus, there are no easy answers to turn it around.
So the Devils are coming off a scoreless weekend where they put up one of their worst offensive performances in recent memory against a hated rival. The only done marginally better against the Wild, though the efficiency suffered with only 19 shots on net out of 52 attempts. What can be done with the roster the Devils have? I don't know. Who knows whether Peter DeBoer or any other coach can figure it out. I think zone entries may be a good place to start, but that requires a closer examination of these games - something I really don't want to do at this point. If it's execution by the players - and part of it definitely is player execution - then there's little a coach can do anyway. I put the question to you. What can the Devils do to generate more shooting attempts? Can the Devils even do more with their personnel even with Elias & Zajac? Please leave your answers and laments in the comments. Thank you for reading.