New Jersey Devils, 2009-10
Goals For: 222 19th
Goals Against: 191 1st
GVT: 31 5th
Points: 103 5th
VUKOTA Projection for 2010-11
Goals For: 234 9th
Goals Against: 219 3rd
GVT: 15 6th
Points: 97 6th
In case it needs saying, watch out for these New Jersey Devils. With Jacques Lemaire back behind the bench in place of the over-his-head rookie John MacLean, and with the departure of problematic captain Jamie Langenbrunner, we're seeing the dominant Devils of the first half of 2009-10 again. New Jersey's gone 5-0-1 in their last 6 games after starting the season an unfathomable 10-29-2. But with the deep, deep hole they've dug this season, even playing .750 hockey for the rest of the regular season campaign would still likely have New Jersey missing the playoffs (at 86 pts). Seeing them take a run at an eighth seed would be a fun ride, though. I'll even pick them to come in ninth in the East at this point; you'd need two of Montreal, Atlanta and the New York Rangers to really tank for any dream scenario to work out. But if they ever make it, somehow, watch out.
As with all their primary stats (like GVT), the Devils' secondary stats below indicate a wealth of talent at forward and a lack of (at least well-rounded) talent on defense. While the likes of 37-year-old Brian Rolston tallied 10.3 Shots/60, even the leaders among the popgun blueline corps hardly registered positive numbers. And yes, Anton Volchenkov blocks a ton of shots. We knew that!
Devils top forwards, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Zach Parise 13.0, Jason Arnott 11.0*, Ilya Kovalchuk 10.4
Hits/60: Rod Pelley 11.5, David Clarkson 9.0, Adam Mair 9.0*
Blocked shots/60: Dainius Zubrus 1.7, Rod Pelley 1.3, Zach Parise 1.3#
Takeaways/giveaway: Travis Zajac 1.8, Zach Parise 1.6#, Brian Rolston 1.6
Net penalties/60: Vladimir Zharkov +2.1, Zach Parise +1.5**, Ilya Kovalchuk +0.5
Faceoffs: Travis Zajac 52.9%, Jason Arnott 48.8%
Devils top defensemen, by 2009-10 stats
Shots/60: Anton Volchenkov 3.1*, Andy Greene 2.8, Mark Fraser 1.9
Hits/60: Mark Fraser 9.4, Anton Volchenkov 6.9*, Colin White 5.3
Blocked shots/60: Anton Volchenkov 7.8*, Andy Greene 5.1, Colin White 4.7
Takeaways/giveaway: Andy Greene 0.6, Bruce Salvador 0.5, Anton Volchenkov 0.4*
Net penalties/60: Andy Greene +0.2, Colin White +0.1, Anton Volchenkov -0.2*
**Out with injury
Minimum 40 games played
Devils goaltenders, 2009-10 stats
Future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur's numbers were good but not great in 2009-10, but have dropped down to truly dreadful levels this season: an .894 overall save percentage and an .899 even strength save percentage. Aside from a four game cameo appearance in 1991-92, the Montreal native has never posted a save percentage below .902 in any season. Promisingly, Brodeur is 4-0-1 with one shutout in his last five starts and hasn't allowed more than 3 GA since December 23.
Unfortunately, 37-year-old journeyman Johan Hedberg (.896 save percentage) has been no better than Brodeur over the course of the season, but is perhaps being buoyed by the team's improved performance as well, giving up only one goal in a Saturday victory against their nemesis, the Philadelphia Flyers.
Overall save percentage .916
Even strength save percentage: .924
Power play save percentage: .835
Shorthanded save percentage: .886
Overall save percentage .911
Even strength save percentage: .925
Power play save percentage: .835
Shorthanded save percentage: .886
The Devils need every point they can get if they want to make an unlikely run at the playoffs. Unfortunately, it'll be a bit harder to get those points via shootout wins given the departure of Jamie Langenbrunner (44.8%) and the near-season-long injury to Zach Parise (44.7%). That said, New Jersey still has many solid options to go with, although Ilya Kovalchuk (25.0%) is not one of them. And please don't give up on talented youngsters like Mattias Tedenby (0 for 2) without seeing more attempts.
While Brodeur has been slightly above average over his career, it's backup Johan Hedberg who has been an absolute monster in the skills competition. And in a strange coincidence, the Moose has been in goal for New Jersey's three contests that have gone to a shootout this season. Not one for Brodeur yet.
Best options, shooters with 10 or more career attempts
Zach Parise: 44.7% (21 for 47)**
Patrik Elias: 40.0% (14 for 35)
Brian Rolston: 35.7% (9 for 25)
Travis Zajac: 33.3% (4 for 12)
Best options, shooters with a limited track record
Jason Arnott: 50.0% (3 for 6)
Henrik Tallinder: 33.3% (1 for 3)
David Clarkson: 100.0% (1 for 1)
Martin Brodeur: .714 career (130 for 182), .710 in 2009-10
Johan Hedberg: .796 career (74 for 93), .762 in 2009-10
THE BIG QUESTIONS FACING THE DEVILS
The quotes below reference the January 17 win against the Islanders.
Big Question #1: Were the Devils' leadership and coaching issues real, and if so, have they been fixed by the departures of Jamie Langenbrunner and John MacLean and the return of Jacques Lemaire?
Martin Brodeur: "You know, team defense, it's been definitely better. We're just more organized. I think Jacques is really tough on the guys, you know, as far as the way he wants them to play: do the right things out there, regardless of the score, if we get beat, if we're winning. We've got more meetings, more videoit's really like a hockey school type of an atmosphere. But with all the young guys that we have and how mentally we were affected by the start of the season, I think that's the right thing to do. We're just really playing game by game, we don't get overwhelmed by the success or non-success, we just try to play well. If we get to that, I think the wins are coming. Just because it took a little while, but now we're making better decisions out there to win games."
VUKOTA says: New Jersey was predicted to come in ninth in offensive GVT, yet even with their offensive breakout of 23 goals in the past six games, the Devils are stunningly at a mere 1.98 goals per game this season. Keep in mind that the worst mark since the Lockout was the Islanders' 2.30 goals per game in 2007-08. Yikes!
Timo says: If Langenbrunner had been sent packing last season, who knows how differently things might have finished up. And Lemaire may never have left. It's possible that the Devils could be in a radically different position in the standings, but that's water under the bridge now, isn't it?
Answer: Yes and yes.
Big Question #2: Does New Jersey have enough young talent and energy supplementing their numerous veterans?
Head coach Jacques Lemaire: "[Tedenby] played really well. I'm happy the way he controls the puck, the way he skates, all that. I thought he played a real good game, real good game. Despite the fact that he scored, he was good with the puck."
Rookie Mattias Tedenby: "Everybody's [working] hard for each other and we support each other in every situation. We playing good defensively, and offensively we put the puck on the net and we try to be many guys in front of the net if there comes a rebound."
Hockey Prospectus 2010-11 says: New Jersey has two of the NHL's Top 50 Prospects, #21 D Jon Merrill and #35 LW Mattias Tedenby.
Timo says: Up against the salary cap, the Devils have been forced to play many rookies this season, especially on defense, which has been a factor in New Jersey's performance. Yet even with their youth, the Devils still remain the fourth-oldest team in the NHL. That said, young stars like Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Mattias Tedenby need to be the foundation of the team going forward, supplemented by young depth players like Vladimir Zharkov.
Answer: Lemaire can make it work for this season. Looking to the future, the key is to re-sign Parise, assuming that he's healthy, but the quality depth of the farm system needs to be restocked.
Big Question #3: Has Martin Brodeur lost his fastball, or has his recent performance proven that he's still an elite netminder?
Martin Brodeur: "As far as the team's concerned, it's our best stretch. For me, you always judge by winning, and that's normal for a goalie
I know I could improve a little bit on my game, there's things I've got to do a little better. But when you win, it's easy to work on these things, and your mental game doesn't kick in all the time, just because you feel that you could do something better even though you're not playing at your best. And I think that goes with the offensive support that I've been having in the last four games alsoyou've got to be happy with that. Give me five goals and we'll win a lot, trust me."
Martin Brodeur (On how many more seasons he will play): "Oh, I don't know. One more, for sure. After this one, one more, and then we'll see."
VUKOTA says: Martin Brodeur 50 GP, .910 save percentage, 8.0 GVT, as compared to last season's 77 GP, .916 save percentage, 17.7 GVT. Yet as of last weekend, Brodeur had the second-worst GVT in hockey, his -9.7 GVT only slightly ahead of Dan Ellis. But it's improving
Timo says: It wasn't looking good there for a while, things are looking up as of recent. In his previous six contests, Brodeur has only one game under .917 save percentage.
Answer: Let's not say Brodeur has fallen from the ranks of the elite quite yet, but we'll keep our eye on it.
Big Question #4: What was wrong with Ilya Kovalchuk? Is it fixed? And will his contract be worth it, long term?
Head coach Jacques Lemaire (on Ilya Kovalchuk's play): "You're talking about points, and I'm going to tell you that he's more aware of his defensive game. He's playing better, shooting pucks, playing good, he's responsible defensivelyhe's getting to know that game too. It's good."
Ilya Kovalchuk: "Yeah, I try to get my minus down, but today I [was] minus-one again. But [I've] got to keep working on that, and score some goals 5-on-5."
VUKOTA says: Ilya Kovalchuk was projected for 73 GP, 35 G, 46 A, 81 P, 13.6 GVT, yet only four Devils have been worth more than 2.0 GVT this season: Patrik Elias, Travis Zajac, Andy Greene and Jason Arnott.
Timo says: With three goals in the last five games, Kovalchuk's shooting percentage has rebounded to 9.9%, though that's well below his career 14.5% rate.
Answer: Some bad luck mixed with all of the problems that the Devils have had. Kovalchuk's contract should be worth it in the short run, more or less, but clearly not so a few years down the line.
Timo Seppa is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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