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Monday, September 29, 2008

The NEW JERSEY Devils SPR by The Colonel

on 29 September 2008

The Devils join Anaheim and seven other organizations as the only teams to have progressed to the playoffs in each of the three seasons since the Lockout. In those seasons’ playoff series, the Devils are 2 – 3, coming up short in the second round twice and falling to the New York Rangers in five games last season. They have been relatively easy to predict against the Playoff Qualifying Curve (the PQC), beginning the season with a rating just under The Curve at 4.7. They tend to surge, however, in Games 11 – 20 equal to or above the PQC, a feat the Devils repeat another three out of the six remaining 10-game periods.

In the past two seasons, OGA called New Jersey IN the playoffs by early JANUARY and late NOVEMBER respectively. In the 2005/6 season – the same one in which they swept the Rangers and then ran into the eventual Stanley Cup winning Carolina HurricanesOGA would have called them OUT of the playoffs by 3 JANUARY and then eaten crow in early APRIL when the Devils mathematically clinched with a late-season, 11 – 1 winning run.

What did we see last season and what is on the 2008/9 horizon?

The Devils ended the last three years with an average rating of +4.67 above the PQC. They finished last year a +3 against the PQC. Of note from the 2007/8 season the Devils:
  • Began the season slower than Devils fans are used to with only three wins and one OTL, likely influenced by nine straight road games while they awaited the opening of The Rock.
  • Followed up their performance in Games 1 – 10 with five wins and one OTL in Games 11 – 20. This is still slower than New Jersey fans would like, but the beginning of a positive trend for the rest of the season.
  • Were called IN the playoffs by OGA on 4 JANUARY, 20 games later than the year before
  • Were zero-for-one in ‘Bonus Hockey’ (a game progressing into Overtime or a Shootout), in both the Game 10 and Game 20 periods.

We view the Devils as a team whose play against the PQC requires scrutiny onward into the season in order to determine when they will clinch a playoff berth. Devils fans will want to follow OGA’s early analysis, however, to determine if their level of play is more like the last two seasons or the first, post-Lockout year.

Our measure of the Devils’ performance against the PQC is shown in the graph below. It is clear New Jersey finished all three seasons strong. The PQC, however, shows that their winning margin decreased from 2006/7 to 2007/8 by a –3. This says last year’s entry into the playoffs was a somewhat closer call, so requires hard work on the Devils’ part to secure a return.

The Devils’ first 10 games of the season are played 10 OCTOBER – 1 NOVEMBER. Our thorough analysis indicates that in that time frame, New Jersey earns an average PQC rating of only 4.7. While this is below the Curve overall, it is skewed a bit by last season’s slow start. They have won two-of-three home openers and are one-for-three in road openers over the last three seasons.

Some additional, critical statistics to keep in mind for the month of OCTOBER are:
  • Fridays and Saturdays the Devils win a combined average of 60.8% on those days.
  • And the Devils play an average of 1.67 ‘Bonus Hockey’ games (overtime or shootouts) in OCTOBER, producing an average winning percentage of 65.1%. Due to their tight checking, 65.1% of those games move into Shootouts where they win 65.9% of the time.
Unless the additions of Brian Rolston and Bobby Holik magically increases the Devils’ scoring output, expect this team to continue to rely on tight checking, defensive games where, more often than not, they prevail based on the strong play of Martin Brodeur. New Jersey as an organization will have to come to grips with determining how to properly weigh giving their last line of defense the starts necessary to get the distraction of ‘The Record’ for wins out of the way with a mix of how to ensure Brodeur is adequately rested to remain on top of his game on into a fourth, straight playoff season.

During this stretch of play, OGA will remain vigilant as we review team play and forward your New Jersey DevilsGame 10 Report to season subscribers by 2pm CST on 2 NOVEMBER and make it available for order from the On Goal Analysis web site by 2pm CST on 3 NOVEMBER. (See a sample G10R here…)

When will New Jersey progress to the 2008/9 playoffs as in the previous three seasons? Christmas? New Years? It has been before the half-way mark in each of the last two seasons, and this is a key indicator that the team is on the right glide path to the playoffs. Looking ahead into NOVEMBER, it is very important to note that there is potential for a slower Devils’ start. This may or may not be the case this season, but Devils fans will have OGA right there with them to manage their expectations and make the call.

More to follow. Until tomorrow and the Ottawa Senators Season Preview Report (SPR), this is The Colonel signing off…


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