Through their first 41 games, the New Jersey Devils haven’t experienced much adversity. They hold a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division and are on pace for a 104-point season. That would be their best standing since reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011-12 when they hit 102. Nonetheless, they went through a bit of a slump heading into their bye week, going winless in five straight and raising alarm bells for some.
Despite the lack of wins in their last five outings, the Devils haven’t played all that poorly. Over that stretch, they have a 50.4% Corsi For and have out-chanced their opponents by a slight margin of 135-134. They’ve also out-shot their opponents 179-164, eclipsing 35+ shots on goal in three of those five games.
They’ve also done a great job suppressing shot attempts at five-on-five. They’ve averaged 54.1 shot attempts against per 60 minutes in their last five games. Only the Nashville Predators and Carolina Hurricanes had better suppression rates during their losing streak.
While their underlying numbers suggest they’ve played fairly well, they haven’t been lucky. They had go-ahead goals overturned against the Buffalo Sabres on Dec. 29 and the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 2, via the offside challenge. In the end, New Jersey failed to pick up the extra point in each of those games, falling in overtime and a shootout, respectively.
No Cause for Concern Just Yet
It’s safe to say that despite the team’s recent woes, the Devils are in great shape at the halfway point of the season. While some may be worried about the current losing streak, nobody should be hitting the panic button.
For starters, their goaltending has fallen off a bit during their skid. Although Corey Schneider has played very well this season, his save percentage has been below .900 in four straight starts. When a goaltender plays as frequently as he does, there’s bound to be a rough patch at some point. Considering Schneider’s been at or above .920 for the majority of the season, it’s safe to assume he will bounce back in short order, especially after having a week off to recuperate.
Second, the team’s performance since Dec. 1 has been pretty good. Over that time span, they have an expected goals for percentage (xGF%) of 51.8%, which ranks 11th in the league and second best in the division behind the Hurricanes (via Corsica). That’s up from the 49.4% xGF% they had through Nov. 30, which ranked 19th in the NHL. They’ve also done a good job limiting high-danger chances against, as they sit with the eighth best HDCF% in the league since Dec. 1.
In relation to their team execution, the Devils are still getting stellar individual play. Taylor Hall has 42 points in 39 games, including 6 in his last 3 heading into the bye week. Sami Vatanen, who had 1 point in his first 11 games with the Devils, has 5 points and 17 shots on goal in his last 6 games. Travis Zajac, who had just 2 goals and no assists in his first 19 games, has 5 points in his last 4, including this beautiful short-handed goal against the Islanders:
Travis Zajac nets his 2nd of the day, this time on the PK, and the game is tied again! pic.twitter.com/TmOVJHM70V
— Hockey Daily 365 (@HockeyDaily365) January 7, 2018
Right Where the Devils Want to Be
In spite of the fact that their last five results have gone against them, the Devils’ first half of the season was filled with more highs than lows. They’re 22-11-8 and hold one of the top three spots in the division. They’ve shown gradual improvement as the season has progressed and they have the talent to continue to march towards a playoff spot. There’s no reason to believe they won’t be able to keep it up in the second half of the season.
They’ll have the opportunity to determine their own fate, too. Of their 41 remaining games, 20 of them will come against Metropolitan Division opponents. If they’re able to capture two points in enough of those games, they’ll be in great shape once the regular season ends. They might not end up atop the division, but securing a top three spot would be well within reach. Given preseason expectations, that’d be a huge accomplishment.
At the end of the day, the Devils have hit a bit of a bump in the road. In an 82-game season, every team will go through stretches where they don’t get the desired results. As they prepare to face a difficult schedule through the second half of the season, the team will need to snap this losing streak soon. Already in one of the most competitive divisions in the league, dropping points against division rivals could prove costly. However, if their play over the last month is any indication, they shouldn’t have much trouble finding themselves back in the win column in the near future.
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Advanced Stats from Natural Stat Trick, except where noted