Friday, December 15, 2006

The Secret Of The Devil's Success

The New Jersey Devils have been a good team for several years. If the season ended right now, they would be fifth seed in the east conference. They are doing this despite the persistent salary cap problems that are eating away their depth. They are doing this despite the fact that nobody on their team can score at point per game rate and despite the fact that their top scorer Patrik Elias has been awful defensively and sports a -14 +/- rating which is tied for 9th worst in the NHL. They are doing this despite the fact that Martin Brodeur is no longer playing like a Vezina candidate in goal (though he is still a good goalie - this may be the beginning of a decline). They are doing this despite the fact they lost two hall of fame defencemen in Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer and have not been able to repalce either with an all star. Yet, this team keeps on going and challenging for (and often winning) their division title each season.

A big part of their secret this year comes in staying out of the penalty box. This is a huge advantage in the days of obstruction crackdown where falling down in traffic often draws a penalty. The Devils have been a very disciplined team. They lead the league with only 111 times shorthanded (second is Tampa Bay with 132 times - average in the NHL is 166 times shorthanded). The Devils have roughly 2/3 the penalties to kill of the average NHL team. They have far fewer penalties to kill than any other team in the NHL. Clearly if you have less penalties to kill, then you will allow less shorthanded goals. In the obstruction crackdown NHL an increasing number of goals are in special teams situations. The Devils have been better at avoiding these than anyone else and that is why they have done so well this year despite the signs that something should be wrong. I credit coach Claude Julien with a lot of this success. Team discipline starts with good coaching. I would not go so far as to give Julien coach of the year (that would go to Ted Nolan as of right now) but I would nominate him for the award.

If a team can manage to avoid shorthanded situations, when scoring is increasingly dependent upon man advantages leaguewide, they will be successful despite a lack of elite talent. This is what the New Jersey Devils are doing.

Comments:
Martin Brodeur showing signs of decline? I believe you need to put away the Jim Jones Kool-Aid and check out the stats page on ESPN. Brodeur is in the top 4 in goals against, save percentage, shutouts and wins. In case you missed it, he just tied the NHL league record for wins in a season. Using your 'logic' Crosby's a has been.
 
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