The New Jersey Devils have been a very good team in terms of possession by percentage in 5-on-5 play, the most common situation in hockey games. The higher percentage means the more often the Devils are taking shooting attempts than allowing them. According to Hockey Analysis before Friday's game, the Devils are sixth in the league in 5-on-5 Fenwick percentage at 53.7% and third in 5-on-5 Corsi percentage at 54.7%. This is the sign of a team that plays well in 5-on-5 situations and those teams that play well in that regard are quality teams.
However, all that glitters is not gold. They have a great possession percentage, but the Devils haven't always been able to get a lot of shots or attempts. According to the stats at Hockey Analysis before Friday's game, their shots for per 60 rate was the third lowest in the league at 25.4. The raw count of Fenwick and Corsi for events - attempts by the Devils - are also in the lower third of the league. That speaks well to the Devils' defense and tactics to consistently limit their opponents' offense. That also tells me that the Devils could stand to improve in that regard. Since the Devils have struggled to score goals this season, the obvious solution to me is to get more pucks on net. After all, if you're not trying, then you're not going to succeed.
Fortunately, Hockey Analysis has the 5-on-5 individual stats for players, which includes how many shots on net they have (Note: shots do include goals, thank you Frazer McLaren's statline for pointing that out), how many Fenwick and Corsi events they generated themselves, and other stats. With that information, we can figure out not only how many misses and blocks the player has been credited with in 5-on-5. We can then figure out how many of their Fenwick (all attempts except for blocked shots) and Corsi events (all shooting attempts) actually got to the net. Once we know that, then we can identify which players need to get more rubber on net other than just a general "the team's gotta shoot more."
Just by my observation, it seemed the Devils' defense has struggled to get pucks on target. The forwards' attempts are usually led by David Clarkson and Ilya Kovalchuk, their most prolific shooters. I'd love to know whether the numbers back that up. So while the Devils were off, I played around with the numbers on March 27 and figured out those values for misses, blocks, and shots out of events. I decided to split up forwards and defensemen as a group since I know defensemen tend to shoot from further away from forwards. Also, I wanted to specifically highlight their percentage of shots out of attempts. I also did it for the entire league in order to figure out the league average for both positions as a point of comparison for the Devils players. Lastly, I only looked at the numbers who have played 100 minutes of 5-on-5 time this season, which yielded 232 defensemen, 404 forwards, all eight Devils defensemen, and 15 Devils forwards which does include Dainius Zubrus, Jacob Josefson, Stefan Matteau, and Krystofer Barch. As a quick summary, the Devils could do a lot better with their accuracy even if some skaters do generate a relatively large number of attempts with respect to the NHL.
Let's start with the defensemen.
Most of the headings are straight forward. iFen is short for iFenwick, which is what Hockey Analysis uses for individual Fenwick events by the skater. iCorsi is the same, but for Corsi, which includes all shooting attempts. The per 60 stats are also from Hockey Analysis and included to account for the ice time by each player. What I added was rank, SOG/Fen, and SOG/Corsi, which is league rank, shots on goal out of iFenwick, and shots on goal out of iCorsi, respectively.
It should be somewhat of a surprise that Marek Zidlicky is a top-ten defenseman in the league in shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play. I would have expected him and Greene to lead the Devils as a team. But it's impressive to a degree that Zidlicky has made that many attempts in 5-on-5 play. It should be as much if not more of a surprise that Bryce Salvador is in upper-half of attempts. He has played a lot with Zidlicky but the captain hasn't shied away from trying to shoot. Anton Volchenkov is just below the league median in events and the bottom four are a mix of guys who have been scratched for one stretch or another. It's noteworthy to note how few events Adam Larsson had put up. Forget shots, he doesn't even make a significant number of attempts, even though his regular partner has plenty. He's still young so he could develop his offensive game in time, but for now, there hasn't been much of one. This helps explain to me why we see Zidlicky and Greene play on the power play whereas Larsson does not and should not be there.
Now, what about Peter Harrold? He's last in attempts, so why he does get PP time? He does quite well with the per 60 minute rates. Despite only getting into the lineup regularly over the last few weeks, he's in the top-100 with
In fact, most of the Devils defensemen rank pretty well by the per 60 minute rate. Volchenkov and Greene are just below the median. Salvador's not too bad. Larsson is the only one who sticks out like a sore non-attempting thumb. Interestingly, Tallinder has been very active when he was in. Perhaps he should get some PP time if he ever becomes a regular again this season?
However, the big concern with the defense is true; they're not getting a lot of these attempts on net. These numbers back it up. When you don't include blocks, the percentages for shots on net out of attempts are quite low. Volchenkov has been the most "accurate" and he's just over 46%. Only he, Zidlicky, and Mark Fayne are getting over 40% of their attempts in 5-on-5 to the net. The rest ends up away from the net or, more often in the case of Zidlicky and Salvador, denied by a body. At least Zidlicky keeps trying. Salvador and Andy Greene probably should aim a bit more and adjust their timing when they do decide to shoot. The same should follow for Larsson whenever he even decides to make an attempt and Henrik Tallinder whenever he even gets in a game.
As their league ranks would suggest, most of the Devils defense are mostly above the league average iCorsi/60 rate. That's not bad. However, when you compare it to the league average in shots out of Corsi, the point is hammered home. The defense really doesn't look good in getting pucks on net. Only Volchenkov and Fayne, two not exactly offensive defenders, are above the average percentage or the percentage from the summation of all 232 defensemen. This really hammers home the point that the Devils' defense should be more judicious when they get the puck at the point Likewise, it could mean the forwards need to stop throwing it back so much after they get the puck into the corner.
Now, how are those forwards? Clarkson and Kovalchuk do lead the forwards in attempts. Believe it or not, Kovalchuk's not even close to Clarkson in terms of shots in 5-on-5 play.
It's one thing for Kovalchuk not to be scoring a lot in 5-on-5 play, that's just poor luck. But I'm shocked he has had so many fewer shots than Clarkson in 5-on-5 play. I would have expected more given he has over 110 shots in all situations. But a significant percentage of the many attempts from Kovalchuk don't get to the net. He can generate plenty, not unlike Zidlicky, but the accuracy could be better.
Perhaps David Clarkson is the odd one here for having two-thirds of all of his attempts actually get on target. Going through the current roster, only Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier have had such a high percentage of their attempts be shots on net. If you feel that Carter and/or Bernier could be deserving of more ice time on some nights, then this chart may help explain why. They've been more efficient this season with their attempts than most of the other Devils. In terms of total attempts (again, iCorsi), they rank pretty well in the upper half of the league. That's pretty good from the third line, especially since Stephen Gionta hasn't been as accurate or productive with attempts.
While Kovalchuk can't work on his accuracy, there are plenty of Devils who could. Patrik Elias is third among forwards on the team in attempts and they only get to the net 55% of the time. He's been blocked nearly as many times as Kovalchuk; that has to be addressed, right? Travis Zajac is a little worse than that with fewer attempts. Adam Henrique's shooting percentage is a high and bound-to-fall 15.62% at evens; but he really needs to take more attempts in general to get more shots. His accuracy could use work. The Devils acquired Alexei Ponikarovsky and Matt D`Agostini this season; both have worse SOG/iCorsi percentages than a coin flip. The former needs to miss less and the latter needs to be blocked less. These are the forwards who need to very much need to improve either taking more attempts or improve in getting them on net more often. If they can't do it while Kovalchuk - who provided a lot of attempts and came out ahead in 5-on-5 shots that way - is out, then the Devils are really going to have to hope their shooting luck will change very, very soon.
Two more notables towards the end of the list. The king of the group in terms of shots out of attempts was amazingly Stefan Matteau. He didn't attempt a lot of shots or play all that much, but when he did, he didn't miss or have it go astray off a guy's leg. Lastly, remember that at the time I pulled these numbers, there were 404 forwards who played at least 100 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. Krystofer Barch is ranked 404th in individual Corsi. Every one of the other forwards has attempted more shots than him. That's something.
Now, how does it look with the per 60 minute rate such that limited minute players aren't punished? Well, it looks much better for D'Agostini and Ponikarovsky and far worse for Zajac and Henrique.
Clarkson leads the list in iCorsi per 60 minutes and he's the only Devil in the top 100 in the NHL in that category. Elias, D'Agostini, Ponikarovsky, and Kovalchuk follow as the only ones above the league median. To put it another way, that's four current forwards and an injured Kovalchuk. It's expected that Clarkson and Elias to lead the way, but I'm pleasantly surprised that Ponikarovsky and D'Agostini have high rates. As Ponikarovsky works his way back up the lineup and D'Agostini adjusts, I'm hopeful more ice time will give them the opportunities to attempt.
But goodness, the Devils forwards all could stand to put up more attempts more often. I don't mind where Carter and Bernier are, but I minded at first seeing three top six forwards rank in the 300s in the league in this category. Zajac, Adam Henrique, and Andrei Loktionov have been top six forwards with New Jersey for weeks, yet, where are the attempts? Then again, those three have played quite a bit with either Clarkson, Elias, or Kovalchuk. If the latter trio are taking attempts, then the earlier three may not be able to. That would explain that. But with Kovalchuk now out, I want to see more from Henrique and Loktionov as they're not with the top two attempts-per-60 Devils on the team. They may not shoot up the list, but their low number of attempts leads me to believe that if there's anyone who has to "step up," then those three would be a good place to start.
Unlike the defense, more forwards are ahead of the league average in both iCorsi and iCorsi per 60. More of them also come out ahead in shots out of attempts, too.
The problem is that more of them for shots out of attempts is exactly four: Clarkson, Carter, Bernier, and Matteau. Or, three current forwards and one back in the Q. Loktionov was close as of Wednesday, but the other forwards are a couple to several percentage points away from the average. Five of them beat the iCorsi/60 league average rate: Clarkson, Elias, Ponikarovsky, D'Agostini, and Kovalchuk. Carter was the only forward within one of that league average. At least seven forwards have earned more than the league average iCorsi, so that's a bit better. Like the defense, this all tells me the Devils forwards could stand to work on improving their shooting such that it reaches the intended target.
Unlike the defense, it appears the forwards should focus on cutting down on misses than blocks. They've had more of those events than hitting a non-goalie; though that may be more likely to happen with the longer shots. Let's quickly compare the Devils defensemen and forwards in some of these same stats and you'll better see what I mean.
Since defensemen are usually shooting from a longer distance away, it'll seems more likely to me that there would be bodies in their shooting lane. As such, the Devils' eight defensemen have been blocked more than the 15 forwards in 5-on-5 play. The Devils' forwards as a group have understandably put more shots on net by a significant margin. Misses are curious. I would have thought it would be more even since long shots could be more easily put wide depending on how the puck is struck. Yet, with more forwards to do the job and possibly shooting at more and/or different angles than defenders, the Devils forwards have out-missed the defensemen. As such, the forwards have put up the majority of attempts for the Devils.
Even though I understand the reasoning for defensemen shooting from distance, the other values just makes the block totals stand out even more. It's so large, the defense has more blocks combined than shots on net. The Devils defensemen really need to cut down on that if they want to get more offense from the blueline. It's difficult to rack up points if the pucks from the point aren't going to where they need to be. The forwards come across better as a group, at least better than the league average player. But there are plenty of players below the league average of shots on net out of attempts.
That's really the goal in my mind. The shooting percentage may be what it is for this season. It's not going to suddenly jump to 9% and the scoring woes will be a thing of the past. I believe that if the luck isn't going to change, then the team has to increase their volume of shots in 5-on-5 play. The Devils haven't been good at it and they haven't made a lot of attempts compared to other teams. They're not suddenly going to become a team that creates a lot and allows little at evens. But improvements from the defense and the forwards in reducing blocks and misses could provide the additional shots the team may need to get more goals.
As far as specific requests, I think it's time for the defensemen to cut back on firing away from distance. As one may suspect from watching them for a few games, they're just not accurate with their attempts to get shots. If the shooting lane isn't clear and the team hasn't been in a shooting drought, then I would prefer it if the puck is passed about when it does come back to the point away from the defense. If they don't want to cut back, then they need to be more aware of what's in front of them before firing. Reducing blocks would really help the D get more involved on O. Sometimes this will mean delaying a little for the block attempter to move away from the line-of-sight. Sometimes this will mean firing immediately before the block comes. I'm not sure that's something that can be asked of Salvador or Volchenkov, two defenders who are defensive-minded for a reason. They can be asked to pass it off. But if Zidlicky and Greene can accomplish that, then that would be a big help late.
I know the forwards can't be like Clarkson and just put two-thirds or more of their attempts on net easily. One less block or miss from game to game will add up. In the case of the forwards, fewer misses would appear to bring a larger impact. For some forwards, it wouldn't hurt if they just attempt more. With Kovalchuk out, the opportunities to attempt a shot should be more available for Loktionov and Henrique. They, among others, need to take them and make sure they get through when they do. Ponikarovsky and D'Agostini may get their chances based on their high iCorsi/60 rates, but they really need to ensure it's on target to make the most of them when they do play in 5-on-5. If they along with some of the other sub-55% shooters, like Elias and Zajac, improve; then the Devils should be fine in generating attempts and shots without Kovalchuk in 5-on-5 play. Getting more shots on net is at least one step forward. Whether that will lead to goals, who knows.
What do you think the Devils can do to reduce blocks and misses? How about in getting more attempts in 5-on-5 play? Did this make you feel at least a little better that the defense has been an inaccurate as you may have thought? What would you have the forwards not named Clarkson, Carter, or Bernier (they can keep on keeping on) do? What else have you learned from this post? Did I miss anything important? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils' 5-on-5 play, their shots on net, their misses, their blocks, the rate of shots out of attempts, and their rate of attempts (a.k.a. iCorsi) in the comments. Thanks to Hockey Analysis for having the values at all and thank you for reading.