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Coming into the 2017-18 season forward Pavel Zacha had hefty expectations. With the preseason injury to center Travis Zajac and the departure of many key forwards from the previous year, many thought it was his time to shine. However, we know this has not been the case. Through the first 28 games of the season, he only appeared in 21 of them, putting up underwhelming point totals. Zacha struggled in every phase of the game. He constantly looked loss on the defensive end, lacked the ability to generate any scoring chances, and took many undisciplined penalties. As mentioned above, these struggles amounted in many healthy scratches, with the latest being on December 8th. Since that date, he has been in the lineup every night and has improved his numbers tremendously.
Breakdown of Improvement
|Prior to December 8th||After December 8th|
|Games Played (GP)||21||17|
|Time on Ice (TOI/GP)||10:14||11:48|
|Corsi For (CF%)||44.72||52.5|
|Corsi Against (CA/60)||67.27||55.58|
|Relative Corsi (Rel CF%)||-0.73||2.37|
|Scoring Chances For (SCF%)||44.29||52.61|
|High Danger Corsi For (HDCF%)||57.81||61.54|
**Statistics obtained via naturalstattrick.com**
In the chart above, I organized key indicators that speak volumes about Zacha’s performance before and after December 8th. As you can see, the numbers on the left are far worse than the numbers posted on the right. To someone who’s not familiar with advanced stats, they may be hard to understand, so let’s break them down.
To begin, the most efficient shot metric used to determine one’s effectiveness is CF%. Before December 8th, Zacha held a measly 44.72 rating, which ranked 13th of the 15 Devils’ forwards. However, since his benching, he holds a rating that’s about eight percent higher (52.5). Another group of statistics I examined which relate directly to Zacha’s ability to generate scoring chances, more specifically high-quality chances, are SCF% and HDCF%. Each of these metrics improved by almost 10%, which now rank him third and first among Devils’ forwards, respectively. Both these stats show how reliable Zacha has become in hemming in the opponents in their own end. Ultimately, that results in success for the team.
A huge part of any forwards’ game is defense, and this is something Zacha struggled with mightily at first. The metric CA/60 is the measure of shot attempts the opposing team produces while the skater is on the ice. Before December 8th, Zacha had a CA/60 of 67.27, which is atrocious. Since his last healthy scratch, his defense has improved immensely. This is evident in his CA/60 rating of 55.58.
Not only has Zacha improved individually, but he’s also had a positive impact on the ice. Rel CF% tells a lot about a player’s influence on his team. A forward or defenseman whose Rel CF% rating is below zero often is a detriment to the team’s success when he is on the ice, vice-versa for a player who has a positive rating. In his first 21 games, Zacha’s Rel CF% was below zero (-0.73). However, since his return to the lineup that rating now sits at a +2.37%. That rating is the third best among Devils’ forwards and just adds to the heap of evidence that indicates how well Zacha has played since the eighth of December.
In summary, even though Pavel Zacha hasn’t seen an increase in his point totals, his game has undergone a full 180. He’s better defensively, his ability to generate quality scoring chances has sky-rocketed, and his game has become more disciplined. If he continues to play at the pace he has established in his last 17 games the points will start to come. As a team that has been cursed by a lack of offense, specifically scoring depth, the resurgence of Pavel Zacha will certainly help turn this around. Expect for him to continue taking advantage of the minutes he is given, and do not be surprised if he slowly begins stepping into bigger roles with the team.