The New Jersey Devils have started the season 3-0-0, and a big reason for that is Kyle Palmieri. He scored two goals for the third straight game in a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks on Sunday. In doing so, he became the fourth player in NHL history to score at least two goals in each of his first three games.
At his current pace, he’ll finish with 164 goals for the season. That isn’t sustainable over 82 games, but even as he cools down, there’s good reason to believe he’s heading for a highly productive season.
Palmieri’s Strong Preseason Carrying Over
Palmieri is off to the best start of his career, and he can thank a strong preseason for that.
In three appearances, he led the team with 11 shot attempts at 5-on-5. He led the team in points and was tied with Jesper Bratt for the lead in individual scoring chances. That was a bit of a change for Palmieri, who hasn’t always been the strongest player at 5-on-5.
That strong play at 5-on-5 has carried over into the regular season. He’s still shooting the puck at a high rate, with seven shots on goal and nine shot attempts. He also has eight individual scoring chances, which is second on the team to Taylor Hall.
If he keeps at his current pace, he’ll finish with 82 goals at 5-on-5. That isn’t going to happen, especially since he’s shooting at over 40 percent. But if he continues shooting the puck and generating scoring chances, he’s capable of posting the best 5-on-5 numbers of his career.
Palmieri an Elite Power-Play Threat
The strongest part of Palmieri’s game has always been his production on the power play. In his first three seasons with the Devils, he tallied 30 goals with the man advantage. He also had more than 120 shot attempts, as well as 50 or more scoring chances in each season.
Palmieri is well on his way to reaching those totals again in 2018-19. However, just like at 5-on-5, he’s shooting over 40 percent on the power play. That number isn’t close to sustainable, so there’s some regression coming there, too.
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Even when he comes back down to earth, Palmieri can always be counted on for goals on the power play. He has a great shot and has formed considerable chemistry with Hall. The two of them give the Devils their best one-two punch on the man-advantage. As long as they’re both healthy, that won’t change going forward.
Will Regression Ruin Palmieri’s Hot Start?
I think we’ve established that Palmieri isn’t going to continue scoring at a 164-goal pace. His shooting percentage is unsustainably high. He also has an individual expected goals for (ixGF) of 1.23 in all situations, which is well below the six actual goals he’s scored, so there’s a bit of luck involved.
Even when the goals become less frequent, there’s good reason to believe he can keep scoring at a consistent rate. The first reason would be because of his linemates, Nico Hischier and Hall. In three games together, they have a 65-percent Corsi-for (CF%) and have out-chanced opponents 24-13. Those numbers will even out, too, but as long as they remain together, they’ll be able to drive play and generate chances.
A second point that should help Palmieri is his shot generation, where he has a track record of being a high volume shooter. He had 222 shots on goal in his first season as a Devil. He had 181 last season, despite missing 20 games due to injury. In a full 82-game season, that comes out to a pace of 239 shots on goal.
Palmieri shoots the puck a lot and is probably a good bet to finish with around 200 shots on goal or more. He’s on a top scoring line and is always a threat to score a man up. He won’t be able to avoid regression, but his history of being a consistent scorer bodes well for the rest of the season. That should help him finish as one of the top goal scorers on the Devils, and possibly in the NHL, by the end of the season.
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