A lot has been made of the Devils porous defense over the course of the last month, and rightfully so. They’ve been giving up a ton of shots, scoring chances and making life extremely difficult for Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid. While they haven’t helped in suppressing shots, New Jersey’s forwards haven’t exactly helped in generating shots, either. From the first game of the season to November 16th, right before this stretch of poor play began, the Devils were averaging 52.2 shot attempts per 60 minutes (via Corsica), which isn’t great, but still respectable. From November 17th onward, they’re averaging just 48.6 shot attempts per 60 (via Corsica), which is second worst in the entire league.
There are some contributing factors to this. Players such as Beau Bennett and Nick Lappin have seen their shot metrics decline over the course of the last month. Taylor Hall’s injury also put a stop on the Devils hot start and broke up what was New Jersey’s most dominant line of Hall, Zajac, and Parenteau. This is where things get interesting. Since then, John Hynes has used Mike Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, and Kyle Palmieri as his top line while reintroducing Hall into the lineup with Adam Henrique and P.A. Parenteau. The results have been pretty poor. The following tables compare Hall/Henrique/Parenteau and Cammalleri/Zajac/Palmieri to Hall/Zajac/Parenteau. Here are the results (all at even-strength):
As we can see, there’s a drastic difference in play from the Hall/Henrique/Parenteau line than there was when Zajac centered Hall and Parenteau. When Zajac was between those two, that line absolutely dominated. They were generating 18 more shot attempts for than against per 60 minutes and had a gaudy 58.2% possession line. Meanwhile, the current line of Hall, Henrique, and Parenteau has struggled quite a bit. The line is bleeding shots and has almost a 14% difference in possession than Hall/Zajac/Parenteau.
The Henrique line is not the only Devils forward group struggling. Their current first line of Cammalleri/Zajac/Palmieri is routinely getting caved in at even-strength as well.
As the table shows, Cammalleri/Zajac/Palmieri are nowhere near Hall/Zajac/Parenteau and are in fact doing worse than Hall/Henrique/Parenteau are at the moment. While Cammalleri/Zajac/Palmieri may be suppressing shots better than Hall/Henrique/Parenteau, they’re still giving up over 60 shot attempts per 60 minutes and to make matters worse, they’re generating less shots than Hall/Henrique/Parenteau, too. With those bad shot rates come poor possession numbers for Cammalleri/Zajac/Palmieri and is a major reason why the Devils aren’t generating or suppressing shots like they were in their first fifteen games of the season.
When your top six forward lines are struggling this much, it makes sense why the Devils find themselves in the predicament they’re currently in and is a reason why they’ve been routinely outshot over the last thirteen games. It’s easy to blame the Devils’ defensemen for this thirteen game stretch, and while it’s certainly warranted, their forwards also deserve their fair share of criticism.
The Devils don’t have a ton of options on defense, but there are ways to help them out by getting the right forward combinations together. Reuniting Hall, Zajac, and Parenteau might not solve all their problems, but if they produce the way they did prior to Taylor Hall getting injured, it should help alleviate some of their ailments. After all, the team was 9-3-3 with that line together before Hall came out of the lineup. It certainly can’t hurt to reunite them and it could be a good starting point to get the team back on the right track before it’s too late.