The Power Outage In New Jersey

The problems in New Jersey this season have baffled a lot of people.  The Devils have been a consistently good club over the years, and they won their division last year and finished second in the Eastern Conference.  The addition of high-octane forward Ilya Kovalchuk was the kind of move that should have improved the team rather than damaged it.

Towards the end of last month, I pointed to the drop-off between the pipes as a major part of the reason the Devils have struggled this season.  While the decline in the play of their goaltenders has been a major problem, it isn’t the only thing that has plagued the Devils: they’ve also seen a startling decrease in their ability to score goals, a decrease we will examine after the jump.

The division-winning, 103-point, plus-31 Devils of a year ago have something in common with the cellar dwellers we’ve seen early this season: they got a lot of shots on net.  In fact, there’s been no change in the amount of shots fired by this year’s group from last year’s – both teams averaged 30 shots per game.

There has been a huge drop in goal-scoring, however, down from 2.63 goals per game to 1.81 – a drop of nearly a third.  This entire drop has been a result of shooting percentage, where the Devils have gone from a poor 8.8% conversion rate last season down to 6.0% this season.  No other team in the league has seen as big a shift in their year-over-year shooting percentage, for good or for bad.

That drop-off is reflected in the statistics of individual forwards, the majority of which have seen their personal numbers crash and burn:

Player 10-11 Goals 10-11 Shots 10-11 SH% 09-10 Goals 09-10 Shots 09-10 SH% SH% Change
J. Arnott 9 71 12.7 19 216 8.8 +44.3
J.Langenbrunner 3 35 8.6 19 228 8.3 +3.6
M. Tedenby 3 29 10.3 NA NA NA 0.0
D. Zubrus 3 38 7.9 10 86 11.6 -31.9
Z. Parise 3 47 6.4 38 347 11.0 -41.8
B. Rolston 1 21 4.8 20 232 8.6 -44.2
A. Mair 1 21 4.8 6 67 9.0 -46.7
D. Clarkson 4 77 5.2 11 106 10.4 -50.0
I. Kovalchuk 5 74 6.8 41 290 14.1 -51.8
P. Elias 4 64 6.3 19 145 13.1 -51.9
T. Zajac 3 58 5.2 25 210 11.9 -56.3
R. Pelley 0 31 0 2 74 2.7 -100.0

I can’t think of another NHL team in recent memory that has seen nine of their top-12 forwards go through such a slump to start the season.

More than that, I can’t for the life of me imagine what could be causing such a slump.  Did John MacLean force everyone to switch back to wood sticks when he took over behind the bench?  Did everyone attend the ‘Improving Your Shot’ seminar held by Patrick O’Sullivan and Jason Blake this summer?

On the other hand, a significant portion of the season is in the rear-view mirror now, and a lot of players have seen rather similar drops in shooting efficiency, making me wonder if this can be dismissed as mere chance.  That would normally be my inclination, but the longer this goes on, the more difficult that is to accept.