The Devils at 35
The New Jersey Devils have slowed down their pace from early in the 2016/17 season.
What began as a triumphant and moderately successful reimagining, with greater focus on offensive production, has exposed some flaws in the team's composition that most fans were aware of. The team is still struggling to produce goals, but is also weaker on defense than we had hoped.
In short, just like General Manager Ray Shero has said, the team is rebuilding.
The good news is that many core players are locked up for the foreseeable future on relatively friendly deals. While players like Henrique and Palmieri have been quiet this season, there is cause for hope that they will return to form with the continual introduction of young talent that the organization has been accruing through the draft. Zacha is developing slowly in the NHL, and players such as Blandisi, Quenneville, Santini, McLeod, Bastian, and Gignac are waiting to prove themselves.
Help is on the way.
Here is a brief view of the 2016/17 New Jersey Devils at 35 games played.
The Devils at 35
35 GP (13-15-7) - 33 points
Assuming the Devils maintain their current pace, They project to finish at around 77 points. This total would have been good for a roughly 25th place finish in the 2015/16 NHL season. Fans should expect a better finish than this, as the team is unlikely to continue in their current slump, where they have gone 1-8-1 in their last 10 games, and 4-12-4 in their last 20.
This simple view gets the point across fairly quickly - goal scoring is slightly up from the 2015/16 season by a measure of 0.07 goals per game, while goals against have increased by a larger measure of 0.34. The difference is GA/GP is more significant than that of GF/GP, and I suspect that most fans understand that by watching the games - there is something missing from a team defence standpoint.
The change isn't wholly bad though - in a very real sense, the team is snakebitten. The Devils have increased by over 3 shots for per game (27.9), an increase slightly larger than the increase in shots against they have seen in the same timespan (up 3 to 31.6). They are still being outshot, but that metric doesn't tell the whole story.
From a simple possession standpoint, the 2016/17 Devils are fairing better than last year's team. Their raw SAT%, measuring shot attempts for/against, has increased from 46.15 to 47.35 in the first 35 games of this season. While this still represents a net possession negative, it is an improvement. This improvement could be significant if two other figures are considered.
First, the team's shooting percentage is down - 6.7% compared to 7.2% last year. This difference may not be significant on its own, but taken with the team's increased shots and shot attempts, it adds up slowly over time. Differences in percentages have greater affects as n, or your sample size, increases.
Second, the team's goaltending simply isn't up to last year's standards. The team's average save percentage is down - .918 from .924. This difference compounds when considering the increased shots the team has allowed to get through to the net through 35 games played.
You can see the culmination of these two figures by examining the SPSV%, or PDO, which combines the two. It is down so far this season - 985 from 997. This is good for 26th in the league. Teams currently on historic win streaks, such as Columbus with 13 straight wins, are riding luck, good vibes, and possible deals with the devil with SPSV% or PDOs of 1034, far above the 1000 midpoint.
So the Devils aren't performing all that well this year. Fans should be partly encouraged that management seems to have anticipated this, citing a rebuild and a shift in ideology. While the games often have frustrating endings, they feature higher-event than Devils fans have seen in years past.
The Devils are playing a new system (fast, attacking, supporting, etc.), and while they may not have the right talent to play it to the fullest of its potential, they are playing better than the win column suggests. With a few adjustments and better luck, their play will improve, but most likely will not earn them a playoff spot this year in a crowded and unsustainable Metropolitan Division. And while they may not have the talent to play the system perfectly now, help is on the way. Until then, both you and I will have to survive on the excitement of the moment, luck, and the hope present in Ian Pulz's prospect reports.