Devils’ Offensive Numbers Show Plenty of Promise

You may look at the New Jersey Devils’ 3-2-0 record and their goal totals and think, “well, that doesn’t look like a particularly threatening offensive team.” But sometimes, looks can be deceiving. While they may not be lighting the lamp to the fullest extent, they’ve shown the potential of a budding offense with high scoring upside. 

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Though it’s only been five games, the Devils lead the league in several offensive categories at five-on-five. The quality of teams they’ve faced likely has to do with some of the flashy numbers they’ve posted so far. But even then, there’s enough talent on their roster for them to maintain being one of the league’s best offensive teams. 

Devils Offense in Elite Company Early On

The Devils finished last season with a 27-46-9 record, but their offense wasn’t the reason for ending up in the NHL’s basement. At this point, everyone knows it was their goaltending, so there’s no sense in beating a dead horse. 

Offensively, though, the Devils scored goals, even with one of the worst power plays in the league. They finished 11th in five-on-five goals, with 181, and had the numbers to back up the scoring at that game state, placing in the top half of the NHL in Corsi for (CF%) and expected goals percentages (xG%). 

The Devils’ shot and chance generation was there, too, as they ranked 11th in Corsi and expected goals per 60 minutes a season ago. With three players who produced at 70-plus-point paces in Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt, the core of a high-powered offense were taking shape. 

Jack Hughes New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Jack Hughes (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Fast forward to the new season, and the potential for that fast-paced, high-octane offense is coming to fruition. Nor is it just coming from Hughes, Hischier and Bratt. Though it’s early, the Devils lead the NHL in five-on-five xG% at 70.11 percent and CF% at 64.46 percent. And their offense is a significant reason for that, as their per-60 rates are also the best in the league: 

  • CF/60: 76.15 (1st)
  • xGF/60: 3.86 (1st)
  • Scoring chances per 60: 45.64 (1st)
  • High-danger chances per 60: 17.99 (1st)

The Devils have played five non-playoff teams from a season ago, which likely factored into the impressive stats above. That will change tonight when they face the Washington Capitals and later this week when they take on the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Colorado Avalanche. Those will be a good test to gauge where they may stand against some of the other better teams in the league. 

Related: Devils’ Kevin Bahl Needs More Playing Time

Still, it’s not hard to like what the Devils have done offensively through five games. The one concern so far has been the lack of finish, as they have the sixth-lowest five-on-five shooting percentage at 6.88 percent. They should be scoring more than they are at the rates they’re generating chances. But as we’ll see in a second, better shooting luck should be in store. 

Devils Scorers a Bit Snakebitten 

When the Devils signed Ondrej Palát this summer, you probably wouldn’t have guessed he’d lead the teams in goals at any point during the season. While capable of potting 20 over 82 games, his bread and butter is more or less playmaking. But through five games, he leads the team with three goals. 

With that said, it’d probably be smart to bet on that changing over the coming days and weeks. That’s because more than a few of the Devils’ top players are going through poor shooting luck to start the season. Hughes has one goal on 23 shots on goal, an SH% of 4.3, so that will regress positively. Bratt is still without a goal with 13 shots on goal, while Erik Haula, who the Devils acquired this summer, has no tallies with 21 shots on goal. He has an individual xG (ixG) of 1.91 at five-on-five, so he’s due for a couple. 

Jesper Bratt New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils winger Jesper Bratt (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

When looking at ixG, there are more than a few Devils forwards who have yet to find the back of the net or maybe are a touch below expectations (min. 50 minutes played at five-on-five): 

  • Hughes: 2.1 ixG, one goal
  • Haula: 1.91 ixG, no goals
  • Dawson Mercer: 1.48 ixG, one goal
  • Nico Hischier: 1.34 ixG, one goal
  • Yegor Sharangovich: 1.23 ixG, one goal
  • Tomáš Tatar: 1.08 ixG, no goals

Mercer, Hischier, and Sharangovich are more or less performing to expectations, while Haula, Hughes and Tatar have been snakebitten, and all three players are generating quality chances. Hughes ranks second in the league in high-danger chances per 60, while Hischier isn’t far behind, as he sits at 10th in that stat. And Haula is right there at 20th, so once he starts scoring, the team’s scoring depth should only improve. He has a track record of capitalizing on his chances, meaning the goals will come. 

Given these players’ resumés, the lack of finishing will probably become less of an issue as the season progresses. The Devils have made every goaltender they’ve faced so far look like a Vezina candidate, but with the chances they’re creating, something will have to give at some point. That’s a plus because even though most of these forwards will continue generating scoring opportunities at a high clip, especially Hughes and Hischier, the team’s generation rates will level off eventually. 

Even With Regression, Devils’ Offense Won’t Become a Liability 

While the Devils have been the best team in the NHL at generating shots and quality scoring chances to start the season, their numbers aren’t sustainable. Obviously, they’d love to finish the season with a 70.11 xG%, but that doesn’t happen. Even ending up somewhere in the low 60s is the longest of long shots, but that doesn’t mean their offense will get sucked into a black hole and disappear when it regresses. 

That’s because one of the biggest problems for opposing teams playing the Devils so far is that they haven’t been able to deal with their speed. Mathew Barzal mentioned it when the Devils beat the New York Islanders 4-1 on Thursday night. And San Jose Sharks goaltender Kaapo Kahkonen made note of it when the Devils defeated them 2-1 on Saturday afternoon, saying to Mike Morreale, “The Devils play fast. They have a lot of players that can skate. Good team, fast team.”

Nico Hischier New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils center Nico Hischier (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Devils’ roster is all about speed. That’s the way general manager Tom Fitzgerald has built this team. Hughes and Bratt are elite skaters, while Hischier is a high-end skater as well. Complementary players like Mercer, Sharangovich and Haula can skate too. And on the back end, Damon Severson, Ryan Graves, John Marino and Dougie Hamilton are all mobile and can play with pace. Even someone like Kevin Bahl moves quite well at 6-foot-6, 230 pounds. 

That’s the way the game is trending now. Teams have to be able to play with speed since goal-scoring continues to skyrocket each season. You can say whatever you want about head coach Lindy Ruff’s system, but generating offense has never been a problem. It’s designed to play off the rush, so playing with speed won’t be an issue as long as the team stays healthy because their roster fits that style. 

Related: Devils’ Speed Wreaks Havoc in 4-1 Win Over Islanders

That’s why even though the Devils’ xG% will fall from the low 70s and somewhere into the 50s, I still expect them to remain one of the top offensive teams in the NHL. They have high-end skaters who play with pace and fit the offensive system to a tee. It’s giving opponents problems to start this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if even some contenders have a bit of trouble defending them too. 

Plus, individuals having some rough shooting luck to start 2022-23 will start finding the back of the net because they have resumés that show they’re capable of finishing scoring chances. Eventually, the goals will come at a higher clip, even after the team’s numbers level off as the season runs its course. And when it does, the Devils should still end up with a high-caliber offense that gives most teams trouble on any given night. 

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Advanced stats from Natural Stat Trick 

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