Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Round 1: The Offenses

With the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs for the New Jersey Devils beginning tomorrow, now is as good as time to analyze both teams. Yesterday, we took a look at defense. I made one crucial error in assuming that the Tampa Bay Lightning do not trap. However, this incredibly insightful article by Tom Gulitti in the Bergen Record really smashes that perception with quotes from Martin Brodeur and the Lightning's Tim Taylor. Thanks to Trendon at On Fire for pointing this out on his own blog. I apologize for the oversight.

In any case, I want to touch on the offense for both teams today; since it is obviously necessary to score goals to win games.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Goals For Average: 2.96/game (12th in NHL)
Power Play Success Rate: 18.4% (9th in NHL)
Shots For Average: 29.5/game (14th in NHL)
Winning Percentage when Scoring First: 63.8% (15th in NHL)
Winning Percentage when Outshooting: 60.4% (12th in NHL)
Winning Percentage when Outshot: 42.4% (20th in NHL)

Top 5 Scorers (by points): Vincent Lecavalier (52 G, 56 A), Martin St. Louis (43 G, 59 A), Brad Richards (25 G, 45 A), Dan Boyle (20 G, 43 A), Vaclav Prospal (14 G, 41 A)
Leading Goal Scorer: Vincent Lecavalier (52)
Leading Assister: Martin St. Louis (59)

Two words can describe the Tampa Bay offense: top heavy. Granted, Tampa Bay's top forwards are incredibly productive, with not just one but two 100+ point scorers in Lecavalier and St. Louis. While Brad Richards production has dropped this season, 70 points is nothing to sneeze at - it is not as if he suddenly lost is playmaking talents or anything. Dan Boyle is one of the top defensemen in the entire league in scoring, so he brings an additional dimension to the Tampa Bay offense. Beyond those four there's nobody that really sticks out. OK, Vaclav Prospal has at least 50 points, but he's not a feature forward by any means. This is the playoffs, so to ignore, say, Eric Perrin when he could explode and get hot just like anyone else. The Second Season has that effect on some people. Nonetheless, the Lightning has had a lot of success when they do score quite a few goals: all of their wins featured them scoring at least 2 goals. They have a good average number of shots per game - Vincent Lecavalier leading the team with 339 shots this season -and their power play is quite effective, being ranked in the top ten in the NHL. Needless to say, the offense is going to be led by Lecavalier, St. Louis, and Richards. Because Lecavalier and Richards are centers, Tortorella can stick St. Louis with either one of them and still be productive. It is my understanding that the Lightning head coach is not above mixing up lines in game, so the Devils defense will constantly need to be made aware of when one or more of those three are on the ice at the same time. If the Devils can limit Lecavalier, Richards, and St. Louis; they got a good chance of winning. Overall, the Devils need to limit Tampa Bay from making it rain with shots from anybody - something the Lightning should do as their chances of winning go up when they lead in shots - because I do remember games where Eric Perrin made life difficult for New Jersey.

New Jersey Devils
Goals For Average: 2.51/game (27th in NHL)
Power Play Success Rate: 17.7% (tied-15th in NHL)
Shots For Average: 28.7/game (20th in NHL)
Winning Percentage when Scoring First: 73.9% (7th in NHL)
Winning Percentage when Outshooting: 71.1% (2nd in NHL)
Winning Percentage when Outshot: 53.8% (tied-9th in NHL)

Top 5 Scorers (by points): Patrik Elias (21 G, 48 A), Zach Parise (31 G, 31 A), Jamie Langenbrunner (23 G, 37 A), Scott Gomez (13 G, 47 A), Brian Rafalski (8 G, 47 A)
Leading Goal Scorer: Zach Parise (31)
Leading Assister: Patrik Elias (48)

On the other side of the coin we have the New Jersey Devils. Before we go into players, look at those team stats. There's a big reason I make a big deal about scoring first and shooting often. The Devils mostly win the games wherein they do score first and/or when they outshoot the other team. Yet, they have one of the lowest goal scoring averages in the NHL and they are in between the middle and bottom third in terms of shot averages in the league. So I repeat it as much as I can: the Devils should be doing whatever they can to score first and out-shoot the opponent, the chances of winning will greatly favor them if they do.
Now, back to the players. The Devils have a more balanced scoring lineup, albeit collectively they do not score as much as the Lightning. With the emergence of Parise as well as Travis Zajac's excellent rookie season at center, the Devils finally have a legitimite second scoring line. The production Parise, Zajac, and Langenbrunner (the PZL unit) has brought is acceptable for a second line. Unfortunately, the top line of Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, and Brian Gionta has not performed as well nor up to expectations. The EGG unit has been cracked often due to injuries and many times opposing defenses (or plain bad luck) knew how to keep these three from hatching goal scoring opportunities. Elias at least finds a way to be involved in the play, but Gionta hasn't been as effective in front of the net and Gomez seemingly forgot the good shot he discovered he had last season. In today's Rich Chere article in the Star-Ledger, they realize they need to step up their production and they may need to in case Tampa Bay does break the Devils defense. Even if Brodeur stands on his head and the defense plays a near-perfect game, the offense still needs to come through with goals to help the Devils out. A wildly inconsistent power play combined with a general reluctance to fire the puck on net at times (this is true for all Devils, not just EGG) has made many games much more difficult for NJ. Hopefully, things will open up in the playoffs now that the entire team has that extra motivation to do well in the Second Season. For their own sake.


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