Last season, the Devils were a force in the shootout. Led by Ilya Kovalchuk's utter dominance in the skills competition, the Devils amassed a 12-4 record for the season. As John explored in this post from last summer, the Devils have actually been the most successful team in the shootout since it was implemented by the NHL after the last last lockout. Prior to this year, the Devils had won an extremely impressive 65% of their shootouts. This season has seen that number turn around on New Jersey in a big way with an unfortunate 2-7 record to this point in the season.
Say what you will about the shootout, but it is an important part of today's NHL standings. Those points can make or break a team's season, especially when the team rests squarely on the playoff bubble like the Devils currently do. With this season being truncated by one of the more mind-numbing labor disputes in recent memory, every point has become that much more crucial in the standings. So what is going wrong in the shootout this season for New Jersey? In a word: everything.
Since the shootout came into existence, the league as a whole has converted about 33 percent of their shot attempts. The Devils made hay from the shootout by converting on their attempts about 42 percent of the time and only allowing opponents to convert on 30 percent of their tries. This season, those numbers don't look so rosy anymore as New Jersey is ranked near the bottom of the league in both categories. The team is scoring on only 20.7 percent of their attempts and allowing others to convert on 44.4 percent of theirs. Those current rates are good for 26th and 24th in the league, respectively. Given that the Devils have seen their games go into the shootout more than most teams in the league, this has been a legitimate thorn in their side this season.
The Parise Effect
One question when Zach Parise left to go
have slumber parties and tell ghost stories with his BFF Ryan back home to Minnesota, was who would fill in for his slot in the shootout. The Devils' dominant lineup of Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, and Parise carried them to a lot of extra points in the shootout last season. The big three took 42 out of 49 shootout attempts for New Jersey last year, so you pretty much always knew what you were getting once overtime expired. Parise was a player who did a lot of good things for the Devils and the shootout was no exception to that rule. In his place, the Devils have tried to plug in a host of others this year, resulting in little success, with only two goals in 15 attempts from players not named Kovalchuk or Elias.
The Kovalchuk Effect
Kovalchuck was unstoppable in the shootout in 2011-2012. His 11 goals in 14 attempts were a crucial part of the team's success in the game-deciding skills competition. For his career, his numbers aren't quite so ridiculous, but are still above average at 38 percent (though last season's outlier obviously drove that percentage up). This season, he has been but a mere mortal, succeeding 33 percent of the time on his 6 attempts. His shoulder injury that occurred around two weeks ago has also held him out of the last three shootouts, meaning the Devils have been forced to fill the shoes of another prolific player in the extra skills session. Alas, the Devils have seen no bump from the so-called Ewing Theory... they've lost all three shootouts that Kovalchuk has been missing for.
The Goaltending Effect
Martin Brodeur and Johan Hedberg have been among the top goaltenders in the league since the shootout came about, ranking second and 10th in career shootout save percentage, respectively. Unfortunately, both goalies, especially number 30, have fallen back to earth this season. Hedberg has allowed 37.5 percent of shooters to score this season and Marty has allowed a ghastly 54.5% of shooters light the lamp on him thus far. Combined, they sit at 24th in the league and haven't been able to counteract the lack of production from the Devils' shooters on the season (sounds familiar, huh?). In short, the Devils' can point the finger at just about anyone and they likely carry some blame for the team's lackluster performances in the shootout this season.
The Small Sample Size Effect
As bad as all of the percentages look for this season, keep in mind that there aren't a ton of data points being considered when talking about the shootout, especially in a truncated season. With only nine shootouts to draw from, it's hard to separate causation from blind luck. Parise was an obvious loss and Marty and Moose are clearly not spring chickens, but to have the team shoot 20 percent and have Marty stop less than half of his shots aren't things I would necessarily expect to continue going forward.
That said, the results themselves are objectively not good and in a season with little margin for error, the Devils are sorely missing those extra points. When I look at the effects of a team's shootout record, I like to compare it to where they'd be if they were .500 in it. If the Devils could have mustered a 5-4 record to this point in the shootout, they'd be in 7th rather than 9th, despite all of their other troubles this season. Alas, they are 2-7, and currently on the outside looking in for the playoffs.
What are your feelings on the Devils shootout woes this season? Something we should expect more of in the future? One down season that will rebound in the future? Isn't the shootout so much more of a bummer when your team doesn't dominate it? Sound off below. Thanks for reading.