While they aren’t close to sitting comfortably above the wildcard threshold with more than half the season left to play, the New Jersey Devils are a vastly improved team from last year’s. While their goal totals are pretty much the same as they were at this point last season, the way the Devils have gone about it this year is what’s encouraging. New Jersey is performing well in categories they previously struggled in like face-offs (13th at 50.0%) and shots per game (20th– 29.3), where they respectively finished 29th and 30th last year. These two factors ultimately caught up with the Devils in 2015-2016, which along with their lack of secondary scoring diminished their playoff chances. Unlike last year’s team whose scoring mostly came from the top two lines, goal contributions have been a little more balanced this year. Secondary scoring is playing a larger role than last season, however the bulk of it has been coming from an overlooked source.
Out of the 66 goals New Jersey has scored this season, 15 came from the team’s blue liners. Considering how the Devils 2015-2016 defense corps only scored a total of 20 goals, this year’s group is currently on pace to potentially triple that output. To give a little perspective on how big of an impact the Devils defensemen are having on their offensive productivity, only four teams have gotten more goals from their defensemen this year- Los Angeles (17), Montreal (16), Nashville (17), and the Islanders (19). It’s also worth noting when the Devils defensemen have scored, the team has gone a combined 10-3-2. One of the biggest driving forces behind New Jersey’s scoring from the blue line has been the roster’s bolstered shot totals, which the Devils defensemen have been very much involved in.
The chart below shows how much of a difference increased shooting has made for the Devils defense by comparing their points per game, along with shot goal totals between this and last year’s defense corps.
The players bolded and italicized are the ones worth paying the most attention to, since they’re the only returning defensemen from last year’s team with goals this year (Merrill has only played five games this season). All three of their average points per game are currently double compared to last season’s average output. With the exception of Moore, both Greene and Severson have increased their average shots per game. Moore’s shooting percentage however, is currently at 10.8%. Last year, he finished with a rate of 3.8% in that category. That partly explains why Moore has already matched his career-high in goals just over a quarter into the season, which he’s definitely projected to surpass (even if his shooting percentage drops, which it more than likely will).
There is still a lot of work to do from here on out but if these numbers are any indication, then we’re poised to see a much more offensively bountiful season from the Devils defense. It’s worth pointing out how the Devils had a strong start last year, but slowly withered as the season progressed. Like I’ve been saying for a very long time, goals will go a very long way on this Devils team and they’ll take them from anywhere they can get them. If they maintain this pace throughout the year, we will definitely see Devils hockey going into April for the first time in years.