Monday, February 18, 2008
Devils Defensemen & Scoring
Yet, how did the Devils' defense fare on offense in prior years? Was 30 or more total goals per season par for the course back in the days of Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski? The stats section at NHL.com goes all the way back to the 2000-2001 season, so I hopped on there, sorted the summary stats by defensemen, and did some quick addition. Here's what I found out, and you may be surprised just as I was surprised:
2000-2001 Season: 31 total goals, 141 total assists, leading scorer: Brian Rafalski (9 G, 43 A)
2001-2002 Season: 22 total goals, 96 total assists, leading scorer: Brian Rafalski (7 G, 40 A)
2002-2003 Season: 33 total goals, 122 total assists, leading scorer: Brian Rafalski (3 G, 37 A)
2003-2004 Season: 32 total goals, 121 total assists, leading scorer: Scott Niedermayer (14 G, 40 A)
2005-2006 Season: 24 total goals, 151 total assists, leading scorer: Brian Rafalski (6 G, 43 A)
2006-2007 Season: 18 total goals, 102 total assists, leading scorer: Brian Rafalski (8 G, 47 A)
Makes you miss Brian Rafalski, right? Here's another fun fact. Only one Devil defenseman scored more than 10 goals in a season in this span, Scott Niedermayer. Even then, his high was only 14.
Currently, the Devils defense doesn't have eye-popping numbers. Paul Martin leads the group with 5 goals and 20 assists. Yet, like the Devils forwards, the blueline scores by committee. With today's goals and two assists (Andy Greene and Sheldon Brookbank), the Devils defensemen have a total of 24 goals and 77 assists. While they may reach new lows in assists; the team is indeed scoring more goals from the defense. This much is true and there's still plenty of hockey left to play.
Why the improvement in scoring? I think a lot of credit has to go to Brent Sutter. Since coming to the Devils, he's implemented a number of new approaches to the Devils' gameplan and the one that sticks out the most is his use of defensemen on offense and the power play. Under former head coach Claude Julien, the defensemen were basically anchored to the space in front of the blueline on offense. With Sutter, you see the defensemen rushing into the zone with the forwards sometimes; and breaking into the circle on the opposite end of the play. I strongly believe that this is resulting in the defensemen getting more goals, and there's plenty of evidence supporting this. For example, look at how Mike Mottau scored earlier today. He broke into the zone late, nobody on the Carolina Hurricanes defense noticed him, but Travis Zajac did. One cross-ice pass later and Mottau's got a great shot and the lamp is soon lit up.
And so the Devils defense continues to score, despite lacking a definitive d-man to dominating the scoring table like Rafalski or Niedermayer.