In honour of St. Patrick’s Day (which probably will have passed by the time this gets published), I’d like to talk about luck in the NHL – or, more specifically, bad luck. The New Jersey Devils are, I believe, suffering from some sort of curse by the hockey gods. Many of their key advanced stats show that the Devils should be quite a good team. However, right now they’re sixth in the Metropolitan Division; five points out of the Eastern Conference’s last wildcard spot. So, what’s wrong? For some reason, New Jersey just aren’t having as much success as perhaps they could be.
For those who aren’t familiar with advanced stats, I’d like to bring a metric called PDO to your attention. In short, it’s the sum of a team’s save percentage and its shooting percentage (i.e. how many shots their goalie saves, and how many the other team’s goalie doesn’t). This stat was invented as a very crude measurement of a team’s luck. Obviously it’s impossible to to actually calculate luck, but a team with an abnormally high or low PDO (an average would be about 100) could possibly be experiencing some good or bad puck luck, respectively.
How does this apply to the Devils? Well, New Jersey ranks 26th in the NHL in PDO, with 98.1. Their shooting percentage is only 7.3%; their save percentage 90.7% (or .907). This abysmal save percentage can hardly be pinned wholly on their goaltending, as the Devils have one of the most desirable goalie tandems in the league: a living legend in Martin Brodeur (although he’s long past his days of being an elite starter), and Cory Schneider (who’s coming into his own era of being a bona fide starting goalie). So, it seems that the Devils are getting more than their fair share of flukey goals against, or just unfortunate circumstances resulting in unstoppable goals. A 7.3 shooting percentage suggests that this team is due for a few more goals, as well. Low shooting percentages tend not to mean that a team is lacking offensively, but that very few of the shots they fire at the net are going in – due to bad luck, a good goalie or, of course, poor shots. Given time most teams shooting percentage will tend to stabilize at a level closer to 8.5 to 9.5%.
The players who regularly line up for New Jersey are no beer-league plugs. Jaromir Jagr, another living legend (this team has two future first-ballot hall-of-famers!), leads the team in scoring with 58 points. Long-time Devil Patrik Elias is no scrub, either. He’s been a solid mainstay on this team for a long time. Add to that players such as Travis Zajac, Marek Zidlicky and Adam Henrique and you have a team that looks (to me, at least) pretty good on paper.
Remember, this Devils team is only two years removed from their 2011-12 Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Granted, they have since lost some key players – most notably Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise – but, a lot of the team is still there. It really does surprise me that they’re struggling so much.
According to the advanced stats used at extraskater.com, New Jersey are the sixth-best team in the NHL in terms of possession (Corsi and Fenwick). The rest of the top teams on said list could all be considered powerhouses: Los Angeles, Chicago, San Jose and Boston. The Devils are a very obvious anomaly here.
Of course, these advanced stats aren’t necessarily canon. For example, the Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the worst possession teams in the game, yet they’re winning (although the Leafs’ consistently high PDO might have something to do with it). However, recent history has shown that they are good indicators of whether a team will be successful. So, it absolutely would not surprise me to see the Devils back in the playoffs next season. One has to think that their luck will turn at some point.
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