Back in early March, I summarized the ongoing slump the New Jersey Devils were mired in back when they had a six game winless streak. In said summary, it was quite clear that the team was suffering from the toxic combination of bad goaltending and a low shooting percentage over the nine games I looked at. Coincidentally, the team won their next game in a shootout against Buffalo. However, since then, the Devils haven't exactly got all that hot in shooting, they haven't exactly got all that hot in net, and, worst of all, haven't exactly won a lot of games.
The team just lost a shootout in Buffalo, their seventh straight game without a win. The Devils have managed to have two extended streaks wherein they have not won over a quarter of the season. No wonder they're on the outside of the playoffs looking in. In any case, I wanted to see whether the same trends from that winless streak apply here. The good news is that the goaltending hasn't been as bad. The bad news is that the shooting has been worse.
These are the basic game-by-game stats from NHL.com from the last seven games. The Devils went 0-3-4 including three shootouts. The goal differential is only -5 because three of these games ended tied after 65 minutes of play. Impressively, all but one of the losses has been by one goal - either an actual goal scored in play or in a shootout. The 3-1 loss to the Islanders was the lone exception. That in of itself is a stark difference between the last winless streak when the Devils did drop games by a couple more and had an overall goal differential of -12.
Like the last winless streak, the Devils out-shot their competition. However, the differential is far larger here. In these last seven games, New Jersey has racked up 57 additional shots over their opposition. They've only been out-shot once in these last seven games and they've out-shot their opponents by at least ten in four games. That would lead one to think that the Devils were controlling the play and to an extent they were.
At the same time, it means the percentages for the Devils haven't been that good. In all situations, the Devils' shooting percentage is at a mere 5.53%. The team save percentage - which is all Martin Brodeur since Moose hasn't seen a minute in these seven games - is only 89.3%. Neither's all that good. In the prior slump I summarized, the team was shooting at a low 6.2% and the team's save percentage was 85.8%, largely driven by Johan Hedberg stopping a mere 83.5% of the shots. So the Devils have been stopping more pucks but they've been worse at scoring them. Given all of the close games, that's not a successful path.
Incidentally, special teams have been better. In the nine-game slump, the Devils were 3-for-33 on the power play and allowed nine power play goals out of 32 shorthanded situations. In these seven games, the Devils have had fewer shorthanded situations per game, they've only allowed two power play goals (one off a skate, no less), and their power play hasn't been great at 3-for-22 but it's a better success rate than last extended slump. On top of that, the Devils did score two shorthanded goals in this seven game range so the PK has been even in goal differential. That's a pretty important takeaway. The PK has not hurt the Devils as of late like they did about a month ago. We would like the power play to be more effective, of course, but this leads me to a larger point of concern: even strength play.
Lastly, look at the scorers for New Jersey by number and you'll make some unpleasant discoveries. Patrik Elias (26) doesn't appear here and he hasn't scored in these seven games. Neither has Adam Henrique (14) or Travis Zajac (19). The only Devils who have had more than one goal in these last seven games were Andrei Loktionov, who is now scoreless in five, and Steve Bernier, who got his two goals in one game. The team definitely does miss #17 (Ilya Kovalchuk) but even if he was here and scoring more frequently, it's clear this is a team problem.
Let's look at even strength play and let's include Corsi events for and against just for full information. I included it in the last slump and the teams that tend to out-attempt their opposition are the good teams. Of course, that presumes those teams aren't low-shooting and low-shooting percentage teams like the Devils this season.
Now, it's crucial that I'm defining even strength here as non-empty net play. The Devils dropped points by last minute goals in Tampa Bay and Florida, where each team pulled the goalie. Those goals aren't in this chart. Those two games are instructive in that they were the only two games in the last seven where they scored first and had a lead at some point in the game. Not coincidentally, those two were the only games where the Devils were out-shot and out-attempted at even strength. And those were also the two lowest in SOG and Corsi-for events in the last seven. If only the Devils attacked more, then maybe they get another goal or help stave off their opposition for what should have been a win. If only.
Overall, the Devils have been out-scored by a near 2:1 ratio at even strength. Throw in those two late goals when the other team pulled their goalie and it's just over a 2:1 ratio. Again, even strength is the larger point of concern with this team. Again, this is in spite of the Devils out-shooting their opponents by 36 and out-attempting them by 79 over all seven games. The Devils haven't exactly been great at getting their shots on net. They've managed over 50% of their attempts to get on frame in five of these seven games. At the same time, the opposition has been more effective in four of those seven games.
To me, this chart really furthers the point that the lack of offense has been hurting the Devils more than the defense. Brodeur's save percentage at evens has been 90.7%, which isn't great but not that awful. The low amount of shots in the games against Ottawa, Toronto, and the Islanders really exacerbated the damage. And only one of the six goals allowed among those three was a real soft one (the Travis Hamonic goal) that Brodeur should have stopped. Maybe two. But my point is that Brodeur hasn't been nearly as bad as Hedberg was during the team's earlier slump. The Devils have been shooting at a wall-punchingly-bad 3.97% at evens. That's even worse than what it was That's also the main issue.
And a good percentage of those 176 shots weren't long range prayers with little chance of going in . That sum of 176 shots includes all of the jam plays, shots off rebounds, shots in the slot, shots off the rush, and so forth. That doesn't include any posts they've hit (they're not counted as shots on goal), near-misses, or last-second blocks by the oppositoin. The Devils have got fewer than 4% of their shots in the net while their collective opposition has been shooting at 9.28%. In an event-by-event basis, we can point out how an error caused the event or how the Devils needed to get closer to shoot. I'm certainly not against looking for improvement; but in a larger picture like this one, this is just some awful luck. An error can cost the Devils whereas the Devils aren't making the opposition pay for their crimes.
Adding to that frustration is that the Devils have mostly been good at possession. They're one of the best teams in the league. While the Devils are still near the bottom in average shots for in 5-on-5 play (and at the top in average shots against in 5-on-5 play) for the season, a team that is truly poorly coached or so poor in talent at either end or whatever is today's rationalization/gripe of the day doesn't regularly out-shoot and out-attempt their opposition. Even in the two games where the Devils were out-attempted, they were close to being even in one of them and they were even in shots in all situations. The only truly poor performances among the seven was the Florida game that they nearly won and the Islanders game where the Devils sent most of their attempts not on net. However, the harsh reality is that in hockey and many other sports, good performances don't always yield good results.
At this point, the Devils are only going to win if one of three things happen. The shooting percentage at evens stops being so stupidly low and some more of those shots get in. Or the defense and Brodeur are just about perfect. Or special teams come and save the day The sad thing is that we've seen the second in Boston on April 4; the one goal against was an errant bounce off a skate. The Devils did everything but score in that game; they got shots in close, they got the puck to the slot, and the majority driver of shooting percentage still took over as the goalie stood on his head. So it's not even guarantee. As for the third point, So I'm still going to harp on that until it changes. Because then, and only then, will they win some games. Unfortunately, it needs to be very soon otherwise it's just about over. Unless it already is.
P.S. What about the shootout?
Regression was coming based on The good times from last season aren't here anymore. (Note: This was corrected due to the invocation of the Gambler's Fallacy. The point remains the same: it's a big drop off from success from past seasons. Team still ain't scoring a lot of goals. Carry on.)