It's been a while since we've gotten to catch up with another blog to ask about how things were going, but with the long pause in between games this week, it was a good time to look at tonight's opponent, the New Jersey Devils. Definitely check out In Lou We Trust, the SBN Devils blog, they run a great ship and even track zone exits and passes, which is very interesting, next-level stuff. Their fearless leader, John Fischer, was nice enough to give some thoughtful responses to a few questions, so let's check in on how the 12-14-6 New Jersey Devils are doing.
#1 In your season preview, you predicted a 4th place finish for the Devils in the Metropolitan Division, and they are currently 5th, with a very tight position between 3rd place (32 points) and 7th place (29 points) in a weaker than expected division (*note, I asked this yesterday). How would you sum things up through the first 32 games, about what you expected?
Not quite. Their position in the division is fine on it's own but I would have hoped they would have more wins than this. I didn't forsee the Metropolitan Division being a rock-fight where six teams are separated by four-five points. I'm sure that will change if/when some teams get hot and not immediately get cold a few weeks later. I wanted the Devils to be in the mix, but not like this. Oh well, what can you do?
#2 Also from your season preview, you listed Travis Zajac as a potential breakout star. He’s only got 6 goals and 6 assists so far this season, has he been snakebit or has he not generated as many chances and production as expected?
He's been snakebit to a point. He's got a goal in each of his last two games. This is coming off about two weeks where he would get an open-shot or a one-timer close to the net but somehow not bury the puck. Zajac has been a key reason why Jaromir Jagr has been attacking so much in the run of play. Dainius Zubrus and, more recently, Reid Boucher have filled in well on that top line, but even Jagr had a little cold spill. Even so, Zajac has been helping that unit go forward and pound the opposition at evens. My hope is that now that he has got two goals in two games, the points will keep coming for him and that line.
#3 Jaromir Jagr is leading the Devils in goals, assists and points, talk about how he’s played this season so far.
3. Jagr has been a revelation. I never would have guessed he would be the offensive leader on this team. I thought it would be the very productive Patrik Elias since he's been an offensive leader for the better part of a decade, even right behind Parise and Kovalchuk in recent seasons. Instead, it's been the big legend. He uses his size well and that really is a plus on this team since the forwards love to get the puck in deep initially. He's so strong that even top defenders like Ryan McDonagh get in trouble when he starts pivoting with the puck on his stick. He's always got his head up to make plays while at the same time taking initiative when necessary. The only time he's not really effective on offense is the power play but I think that's due to the system as a whole. The Devils are dead last at shot generation with a man advantage, after all. In any case, he puts in some semblance of defense and even that's not a knock since the puck usually goes forward when he's out there. It's to a point where some fans are concerned he's playing too much. Me? I say let him get 20-21 minutes because he's more likely to do something good with a few extra minutes. I don't know how long it'll last but I think the Devils should ride him all the way until the end.
#4 I looked at the stats and it showed Cory Schneider (.920) has a much better save percentage than Martin Brodeur (.898%) but Brodeur has played 18 games to 14 for Schneider. Schneider was out for 3 games in late October with an injury, but are you surprised that he hasn’t played more lately? Is it a matter of nostalgia with Brodeur?
This is a results-oriented business and so those who win tend to get the nod the next time. Brodeur, rightly or wrongly, has more wins, so, rightly or wrongly, he's received those starts in non-back-to-back situations. Believe it or not, this wasn't an issue a few weeks ago. Brodeur was rather hot throughout most of November. For almost a whole month, the Devils got fantastic goaltending. Of course, the team struggled to score so they weren't all wins. It was just good enough to get the Devils back close to "NHL .500," as annoyed reporters like to say. But that streak has ended for Brodeur and I think now the coaches realize this now. That said, with the Devils playing a lot of back-to-back sets, it'll take some time for Schneider to ultimately surpass Brodeur in games. Especially if Schneider gets a large workload on one night or goes cold himself. (Note: he'll start against Pittsburgh) I would hope the coaches would consider the vast difference in save percentage but, again, it's a results-oriented business.
#5 The Devils are 30th in the league in both shots for per game and shots against per game. As a team with strong possession numbers last season, are their metrics as expected so far this season? Do you foresee anything changing over the next 50 games that hasn’t happened yet?
I did expect them to struggle to score goals and they have been struggling. I did expect them to have a hard time generating shots on net. I did not expect them to be dead last in the league, though. Recent games have shown they can throw up a lot of pucks. While it's a stretch that includes one absolutely dismal game against Detroit, the Devils have they've put up at least 30 in three of their last five games. They would be a lot better off if they have a functioning power play. While their success rate isn't terrible, they're dead last in shots generated due to inconsistency in their breakouts and deciding to dump pucks away instead of actually carrying the puck in. If the coaches can improve that system, then the Devils should be a bit better in that regard. As for even strength, if they can get better performances on a nightly basis from their second and third line forwards (e.g. Damien Brunner, who's been really off until recently; Michael Ryder, who's now on a lovely run of his own; Adam Henrique, etc.), then they'll not only get more shots but also more goals. They're not going to be a top team and I figured they wouldn't be; but they might be able to pull themselves out from the bottom of the league.
**Thanks again to John for giving us a little inside information, we'll see what happens when the Penguins and Devils faceoff.
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