The Daily Thread: The New Jersey Devils Don’t Make Sense

Good morning, friends.

After taking some time to get other aspects of the site running well, it’s time to make these daily threads a reality.

Here’s my goal: a quick, daily post, discussing a trend or two from the team, skater, or goalie charts that I tweet out each morning. Come, read, disagree, enjoy.

The New Jersey Devils

This team has been everything from infuriating to entertaining, exciting to disappointing, and it’s only been 13 games. NJD sits with a 4-5-4 record and 12 points, a disappointing start for a team that added young, would-be star Jack Hughes, exciting veteran PK Subban, NHL-unknown but exciting Nikita Gusev, and stalwart net-front presence Wayne Simmonds to the team over the summer. Here’s how that’s happened.

The team has played an oddly slow style, generating a league-worst 46.3 shots per 60 (5v5) while allowing about 51.8 shots against, good (or bad?) for a shots differential of -5 per 60. The low shot rate for is a particular surprise as NJD’s forward group features the likes of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier, and the aforementioned Hughes, Gusev, and Simmonds. That top-six is a talented group and it’s a surprise that head coach John Hynes hasn’t looked to push the pace more than he has.

Weighting shots by quality (“expected goals”) paints a similar picture. NJD suppresses quality against well, allowing only 2.02 xG against per 60, 5v5. That’s fourth-best in the NHL. And the team has managed to create 2.15 xG for, which gives the team a positive differential in the quality battle. This should bode well for positive results going forward, even though early-season results were messy.

This view combines the two ideas we’ve looked at so far — NJD doesn’t manage shot quantity well but they do manage quality well. Who does that sound a lot like? Give yourself two points if you said, “the Islanders of New York.” Accordingly, these teams plot beside each other here in the quantity vs quality chart. Managing shot quality and not worrying so much about quantity can work, under the right conditions…

So, these aren’t the conditions under which the “protect the house,” “Barry Trotz” method will work. NJD has struggled more than any team other than SJS to get an even-strength save, posting a team save percentage of just 88% at 5v5 so far this year. That’s right: Worse than Bobrovsky’s Panthers, worse than Quick’s Kings.

It’s been brutal.

What makes things worse is that the team has wasted a binge of shooting luck while getting no saves. NJD currently sits at a team shooting percentage of over 9%. As the season goes on, both of these stats should/will/how could they not regress, which should bring NJD’s results more in line with the extremely cautious style they’ve been playing. There’s perhaps no team in the league with a wider disparity between the way they’re playing and the results they’re receiving.

Which leads to our last chart for today…

With good quality management and horrid goal prevention, NJD plots as one of the most unlucky teams in the early-going. Though they should have a goal differential of ~+0.13 xG per 60 at 5v5, they’ve posted an actual goal differential rate of ~-0.87 per 60.

So, I don’t think we’ve seen anything like NJD’s final form yet. Their shooting percentage will regress some. So too will their save percentage. If they continue to play a cautious style, generating a positive share of xG, I’d expect their results to (continue to) improve moving forward.

See you tomorrow.

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