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.

Comments (7)

  1. You’re absolutely right that the shooting percentage across the board has been more than miserable for the veteran forwards on the team. In fact, many on that list are currently shooting below their career low in shooting percentage.

    One of the bigger subjects among Devils fans is over if/when head coach John MacLean will get the boot. I’ve always stressed that a big part of the problem has been the poor shooting percentage and there’s not a whole lot a coach can do about it. A big part of shooting is transient skill anyway – so the solution is really just to keep shooting in the hopes that the percentages will self-correct. Or, some of these shots have to go in eventually. I still think MacLean should go, but not for this reason – and a new coach won’t suddenly make the slumps go away.

  2. @ John:

    I’ve been reading In Lou We Trust off and on, and I’m in agreement with the vast majority of what you’ve posited there (as an aside, if any Devils fans are reading this and somehow haven’t seen inlouwetrust.com, check it out).

    I’m just amazed at how much has gone wrong for the Devils this year. There’s no way they should be as bad as they’ve been.

  3. [...] of the struggle in New Jersey even when Brodeur was playing everyday.  Granted, it’s been a near complete “power outage” that’s derailed the Devils on most nights.Also noted by Gulitti is John MacLean’s decision to go with 7 defencemen tonight, meaning [...]

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  5. I’d say a non-trivial cause (aside from randomness) is the fact that the Devils just don’t draw penalties. One thing that helps the SH% for forwards is spending more time with the man advantage. The Devils have drawn a league low 81 PP opps so far this season. That means for guy like Kovalchuk (for example) a drop from 5+ mins on the PP last year to just over 3 so far in 2010-11.

    Now, their SH% at ES is terrible as well this year, so that’s not the whole issue, but…

  6. Nice point, Kent. I didn’t even think of looking that up but it makes great sense.

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