(Mike Stobe, Getty Images)

During the regular season, Patrik Elias was second on the New Jersey Devils in points, coming just short of a point-per-game. He finished the year with 78 points in 81 games, a strong season from the 36-year-old. In the playoffs, however, his offence has dried up: he has just 6 points in 18 playoff games and is a team-worst minus-5. His only point during the Eastern Conference Final was a goal that deflected off his skate, then Artem Anisimov’s skate and in.

He’s gone from an essential offensive leader to a “cog in the machine,” lauded more for his leadership in the room than his contributions on the ice. The fourth line is contributing more offensively than Elias. Puck Daddy has him nominated for the hypothetical Non Smythe Award for the least impressive player in the playoffs. Since the Devils have made it to the Final, he hasn’t faced much criticism for his play, but it seems likely that they’ll need more from him against the steamrolling Kings.

One theory is that Elias is getting older and is slowing down as the grind of the long season and playoff run begins to wear on him. While his 8 points in the final 5 games of the regular season might put that to rest, the distinct difference in regular season and playoff hockey calls that argument into question.

So what is the difference between Elias’s regular season and playoff performance? Is it a matter of puck luck? Is he being used differently in the playoffs? Or is he actually performing worse?

The eye-test suggests that Elias might not be handling the puck as well as he is capable In order to figure this out, I’m looking at several advanced statistics from the regular season and playoffs and comparing them side-by-side. I’m including his rank amongst Devils forwards to provide context, with a minimum 30 games played in the regular season and 10 games played in the playoffs.

All of the statistics are from Behind the Net, with only even-strength statistics considered. Here are the statistics and a brief explanation of each:

  • P/60 – Points scored per 60 minutes played.
  • Off Zone Start % – Including just offensive and defensive zone faceoffs, the percentage of shifts started in the offensive zone.
  • Off Zone Finish % - Including just offensive and defensive zone faceoffs, the percentage of shifts finished in the offensive zone.
  • Corsi – An expansion of plus/minus that uses all attempted shots while a player is on the ice. Measured as a rate per 60 minutes and used as a proxy for possession.
  • Relative Corsi – A player’s on-ice Corsi relative to his team’s Corsi when he is not on the ice.
  • Corsi Rel QoC – The quality of competition a player has faced, using the opposition players’ Relative Corsi.
  • On-Ice Sh% – The team’s shooting percentage when a player is on the ice. The NHL average is around 8%.
  • On-Ice Sv% – The team’s save percentage when a player is on the ice. The NHL average is around .920.
  • PDO - Combination of On-Ice Sh% and On-Ice Sv%. This number will tend to regress towards 1000 over time. See this post for more details.
Patrik Elias P/60 Off Zone Start % Off Zone Finish % Corsi Relative Corsi Corsi Rel QoC On-Ice Sh% On-Ice Sv% PDO
Regular Season 2.38 (1st) 51.5 (5th) 51.5 (5th) 4.44 (4th) 5.7 (3rd) 1.404 (1st) 10.29 (3rd) .890 (12th) 993 (6th)
Playoffs 0.87 (11th) 57.8 (1st) 47.4 (6th) 20.25 (2nd) 12.7 (2nd) 1.603 (1st) 6.48 (10th) .912 (9th) 977 (10th)

A few of these statistics jump out immediately as being very different from the regular season to the playoffs and they help explain what has happened. The biggest change is obviously Elias’s points per 60 minutes. He’s gone from first on the team to second-last on the team, ahead of only Petr Sykora, who was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Eastern Conference Final.

The other big change which helps explain the drop in his P/60 has been to his On-Ice Sh% and, subsequently, his PDO. He has the third-worst On-Ice Sh% among Devils forwards in the playoffs, while he had the third-best in the regular season. Whether this is attributable to luck or to poor shot selection is up for debate, but it is definitely a big reason why his point totals have gone south, particularly his assists.

Meanwhile, his On-Ice Sv% is significantly better than it was during the regular season, where Martin Brodeur was rather awful, but it’s still not overly good, which helps explain his minus-6 plus/minus rating.

His Corsi rating, both normal and relative, are quite high, indicating that he is still pushing possession into the offensive zone. The only issue is that while the puck is in the offensive zone, it’s not going into the net. He is also facing the toughest competition among New Jersey forwards, meaning he is matched up against the oppositions best offensive players with regularity.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, however, and those suggesting that his lack of offensive numbers are due to him playing a primarily defensive role are not entirely right. Elias’s offensive zone starts have gone up significantly, to the point that he leads the team. If he were being used in a strictly defensive role, you would expect the opposite to be true. More troubling is that his shifts, more often than not, end in his own end of the ice, which is a significant difference from his performance in the regular season.

While I think that a significant portion of Elias’s struggles can be attributed to the random variances that infest a sport like hockey, it is definitely worrisome that he hasn’t been able to do more with his higher percentage of starts in the offensive zone. With that said, he continues to face tough competition and come out on top in terms of shot differential. If he can do the same against Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, the Devils will likely be satisfied with his performance, even if he does not contribute on the scoresheet.