The New Jersey Devils have serious holes at both defense and in net. Where should they focus their additional efforts?
The New Jersey Devils find themselves at a crossroads in the current NHL season, grappling with issues in both their defensive lineup and goaltending. The team’s performance has been less than stellar compared to the previous season, and opinions vary on whether the struggles are primarily attributed to goaltending or defensive lapses. This article aims to explore the different perspectives and propose a middle ground for the Devils to address their challenges effectively.
Analyzing advanced statistics from sources like MoneyPuck and Natural Stat Trick, it appears that the Devils may be facing a stroke of bad luck. Despite ranking 7th in expected goal percentage (xG%), they have the 9th worst goal differential above expected at -11.56. The blame is often directed towards the goaltending duo of Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid, particularly with Vanecek having the single-worst Goals Saved Above Average (GSAA) among starters at -13.2.
However, this article contends that the focus should shift from the goaltenders to the team’s performance when receiving league-average goaltending. Nico Daws, despite not boasting exceptional counting stats, has been reasonably solid, saving 0.6 goals above expected. Yet, the team remains below .500 in his starts. Delving deeper into underlying statistics reveals that the Devils excel in limiting unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick), ranking 6th in the league. However, when examining Expected Goals Allowed (xGA), they concede more than expected, placing them in a less favorable defensive position.
A critical observation is that the Devils, despite their efforts to limit chances, allow dangerous opportunities that contribute to their defensive struggles. The article suggests a possible misalignment in coaching priorities, advocating for a return to a more conservative defensive style. This involves focusing on reducing turnovers, improving breakout structures, and providing support for defensemen. The suggestion is to abandon risky plays, such as hopeful passes along the boards, and opt for a more methodical approach to limit costly turnovers. While this shift might impact offensive dynamics and potentially reduce overall offensive output, it is seen as a necessary sacrifice to shore up the defensive shortcomings.
Considering the team’s proximity to a playoff spot and the significant injuries to key players, the article emphasizes the urgency for the Devils to make strategic adjustments. Currently, they are on the verge of surpassing the Philadelphia Flyers for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. The suggestion is that implementing changes, potentially even considering a coaching change, becomes imperative for the Devils to stay competitive and maintain their position in the playoff race. In essence, finding the right balance between defensive solidity and offensive flair becomes crucial for the team’s success in the remainder of the season.