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Third Periods & the New Jersey Devils Part 3: Better Results But Not in On-Ice Performances

Earlier in the season, the third period was one to dread for the New Jersey Devils. Within their first 22 games, they only led after two periods eight times and only won four of them amid some massive failures. In the following 22 games and after one coaching change, there were some improvements – such as the Devils not being only outscored by four in third periods after being outscored by 19 in their first 22 games. That 22 game period ended on January 11, which ended up being Ray Shero’s final game as general manager of the New Jersey Devils. Since then, the Devils have went 12-7-5. Mostly thanks to some incredible goaltending – especially in February – but the team’s performances have been better recently. Now is a good time to ask the question: Are third periods still a problem for the Devils? Let us look into it in this post and find the answer.

Third Period Results in the Last 24 Games

After the conclusion of yesterday’s win over Our Hated Rivals, the Devils have played 24 games since Shero was fired and the previous post about third periods. That win over Our Hated Rivals included a rare occurrence for the Devils this season: winning in regulation while being outscored in the third period. The only other time this happened to the Devils this season was on November 15, 2019 against Pittsburgh (0-1 in the third, 2-1 final score). Unfortunately, it also represented the ninth time the Devils were outscored in the third period in this stretch, which indicates that third periods remain as a point of concern for the Devils.

As with the previous two third-period posts, I captured all of the third period results and on-ice data from Natural Stat Trick between January 11, 2020 and March 7, 2020 for two reasons. This can also be known as the Post-Shero Era So Far. Since this post is an update, here are the results of those 24 games.

Again, the Devils went 12-7-5 over these 24 games. From perspective of just results, the Devils improved from the previous set of games looked at by taking leads into the third period in half of their 24 games. They won ten of them and lost none in regulation. There are some mitigating factors for the two games they lost after going into the third period with a lead. First, the Devils did get a point out of each game; the January 30 game against Nashville and the February 4th game against Montreal. First, the Devils also blew only one goal leads in each. Second, the Devils did not lose any games where they went into third period with a lead of at least two goals in this set of games. Third, it has not happened in over a month. Compared to the situation that led to the first post about third periods, that is a big step up. The Devils did blow leads in two other games, but they salvaged them by winning them in a shootout: January 27th in Ottawa and February 16th against Columbus. That is also a step up. Better that then two more heartbreaking losses.

One of the main factors for the third periods not being so nightmarish since Shero was canned has been the scores going into the third. Over this whole set, the Devils out-scored their opposition 46-43 prior to the third period. In these 24 games, the Devils were only down by two more goals going into the third just five times. The last time it happened was back on Valentine’s Day. That does not seem like a long time ago, but in the Devils’ season, it was eleven games ago. With more favorable situations going into the third, the Devils have been able to finish the job and win seven of these eleven games even if they only out-scored their opposition in two of those eleven third periods.

That also points to what did not really improve: their results within third periods alone. The Devils won outscored their opponents) just six out of these twenty-four third periods. More often than not, they would be tied or get outscored in the third period. In the previous post, the Devils won six third periods out of 22 games. Six out of 24 is a smaller proportion, which is not good for anyone. Again, yesterday’s win was the first time in months where the Devils lost a third period but still won in regulation. The Devils did have those two shootout wins after losing those two third periods. Otherwise, the Devils lost most of their games where they were tied or out-scored in the third. Over the whole season, the Devils have lost the majority of games where they are either tied in the third period or lost in the third period. While the Devils’ game results in the the last 24 games did yield seven wins out of eighteen of those combined third period results, they still did not win the majority of those games. The Devils have not been blowing big leads, which but they still seem to have issues in the third period.

Third Period Performances in the Last 24 Games

As important as the score is, they only reveal a part of how a team actually performs on the ice. One should look at the on-ice stats in the third period to get a better understanding of how the Devils has performed in that period. Therefore, I went to Natural Stat Trick and pulled the Corsi (shot attempt), shots, and expected goals data from each of the team’s previous 24 games for both 5-on-5 and all situations. For the sake of comparison, I included the totals of each stat for each situation from the previous two posts. While the Devils have an extra two games in this set, it actually helped their total numbers a little bit – which are as ugly as this chart:

In 5-on-5 hockey, the third periods have not been pretty at all. The Devils have been out-scored by six over the last twenty four third periods. The Devils have been out-attempted and out-shot in many of their games and by large margins in total. In terms of expected goals, the Devils have only out-done their opposition in eight out of their twenty-four games. Given that eighteen of these twenty four third periods was in a 5-on-5 situation for 75% or more of the total ice time, being poor in 5-on-5 hockey is, well, just poor.

When you add in the special teams and extra-skater situations, the numbers are a bit better looking for New Jersey. Power play, shorthanded, extra-skater, and empty net goals have boosted the Devils up to at least match their opponents goal totals in third periods. The gaps in shots and expected goals are closer. For the latter, the Devils out-done their opposition in ten of those games, including their two most recent games. That points to improvements that we have seen with the Devils on special teams for the better part of the last two months.

Of course, a clearer way to represent the total stats over these 24 games would be using for-percentages. They answer the question: what percentage of the goals (GF%), attempts (CF%), shots (SF%), and expected goals (xGF%) did the Devils have in these situations in their last twenty four third periods?

Third period performances by the Devils since Shero was fired? They were Not Good.

After some serious gains and actual good performances on the ice in the previous post, the Devils have sunk big time since January 12. The only percentage to go up from the previous post was the all situations goals for percentage. Goals are indeed important. However, the 9-10% drop in CF%, SF%, and xGF% in both situations is horrid. It is true that the Devils took leads into more third periods than in the previous post. It is true that teams who are leading tend to be out-shot, out-attempted, and by function of those out-done in expected goals. However, there is being out-performed by an opponent desperate to get back into the game and there is the 2019-20 Devils getting regularly pounded in these categories. An on-ice CF% of a little over 42% is just plain bad regardless of the score situation. The Devils in these last twenty four third periods collectively have performed worse on the ice than they did even under John Hynes, which was when the team would and sadly did blow multiple-goal leads in the third period. It is sad.

It is unfortunately not that surprising. It is rather apparent that the 2019-20 Devils are a bad team in the run of play. Their 5-on-5 team stats are abhorrent this season per Natural Stat Trick and were worse than Detroit – yes, Detroit – in their most recent month. Adding in special teams and extra skater situations does little to turn the tide. The Devils surge in results since the All Star Break has been fueled by amazing goaltending. The team’s save percentage in third periods has been a solid 91.6% and that includes five games (out of eight) where Louis Domingue posted an overall save percentage below 90% in a game. That prevents goals. It does not prevent the other stats or help the Devils go out and attack the opposition. The Devils have been getting their teeth kicked in the run of play all season. That it continued into the third period should not be seen as something out of the ordinary. It should also been seen as something in spite of the Devils’ 12-7-5 record in these 24 games. It is a further indictment of the coaching staff and the player’s performance in this lost season. Perhaps the real surprise is that this has not blown up in the Devils’ face in third periods since Shero was fired.

Conclusions & Your Take

The on-ice stats and percentages in third periods over the last 24 games are simply not good at all outside of the scoring. This needs to get better in the future and I hope it will with a different coaching staff, different tactics, and a different roster.

That stated, there were positives to pull from this look back at the team’s previous 24 third periods. The Devils did not enter the third period with a multiple-goal lead and went on to lose the game. That nightmare from earlier this season is now in the past. The Devils have taken more games into the third period with a lead and won the majority of those games. The Devils still do not win many games when they do not also win the third period, but they did win seven games in this stretch of games when they are tied or get out-scored in the third period. That is a step up from the previous look back. Lastly, the Devils have not been in a multi-goal deficit going into the third period in their last eleven games in this dataset. They have managed to keep the game close or head into the final frame with a lead of their own. They have pulled off plenty of results with just two regulation losses in these last eleven games. While the performances have not been good in 5-on-5 or all situations in third periods since January 12, there is at least a little less reason to fear third periods for the Devils based on the results.

As one final point, the Devils have demonstrated that the best defense for protecting a lead is to have a multiple goal lead. In six of their twelve games where they went into the third period with a lead, they were up by two or three goals. The Devils won all six and won them all in regulation. Having the insurance goals helps when a bad bounce happens or a breakdown occurs or the opposition turns up their intensity and steamrolls through the Devils. If you are still worried about the Devils have played in the third periods and still hold onto the harsh memories of the Devils blowing games late in October, then you should be cheering for the Devils to go up by a couple in the first two periods. They have achieved that in their last four wins, including their recent back-to-back set of wins over St. Louis and Our Hated Rivals.

Now I turn to you, the People Who Matter, for your take on all of this. Do you still have concerns or fear of third periods in Devils games? Do you see the Devils being able to take more leads into the third period in the remainder of this season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Devils and how they have played in third periods since Shero was let go in the comments. Thank you for reading.

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