If you’ve watched the New Jersey Devils for the entirety of the 2015-2016 season, you know their biggest weakness is the bottom six forwards. The top six forwards have done their part carrying whatever offense the Devils can muster up. For the most part, the defensemen as a whole have done a good job with their duties as well. Then of course there’s Cory Schneider who is the main reason the Devils are fighting for a playoff spot. Also Keith Kinkaid deserves some props for his role backing up the elite Schneider.
There certainly is room for improvement in all those groups, except maybe for the goaltending which has been as good as you could ask for, but the death of the team is by far the bottom six. The Devils get bottom of the barrel production from their bottom six forwards. Mid-season waiver pickup Bobby Farnham leads the bottom six with seven goals while averaging under ten minutes of ice time per game. Third-line center Jacob Josefson leads the bottom six with 11 points – 3 goals, 8 assists – and most of his production comes on the power play.
It’s no surprise that the Devils are the worst team in the NHL when it comes to scoring goals with that lack of production from over half of their forwards. That’s also a leading reason why the Devils struggle so mightily at scoring 5v5 goals – also worst in the NHL. When you rely on two lines to do all your scoring while simultaneously relying on those two lines to provide your best defense, it’s not a great situation.
Let’s take Travis Zajac‘s line for example. Zajac has played this whole season with Kyle Palmieri as his primary right wing. Palmieri already has a career-high 22 goals and 39 points while Zajac is having a bounce-back offensive season with 30 points in 52 games. Those two have produced offensively in all situations while having to play the toughest minutes of any forwards. Zajac is the Devils’ best defensive center and faceoff man which means he draws the opposition’s top line every single night. What’s even more impressive about Zajac and Palmieri is that they’ve succeeded without having a single consistent left wing this season.
Here is a list of players who have played left wing on that line this season:
Perhaps that slot will go to Reid Boucher who just posted a career-high three point night – a goal and two assists – playing with Zajac and Palmieri against the Capitals aka the best team in the NHL.
(It may seem like I’ve gone off topic, but trust me it’s all related.)
Reid Boucher is perhaps the most glaring example of the difference between the Devils’ top six and bottom six. When Boucher plays as a bottom six forward, he has one goal and one assist. When Boucher is a top six forward or on the power play with other top players, he has scored three goals and has four assists. It’s clear that his production and effectiveness skyrockets when he gets out of the black hole that is the bottom six.
Want more? Jacob Josefson has 11 points as I said before. Only two(!!!!) of those points have come at even strength. Five on five the Devils’ bottom six adds nothingggggggggg. Even Stephen Gionta really only excels on the penalty kill. Even strength? His line gets destroyed.
Plus/minus isn’t a black and white stat but it’s pretty telling when the Devils’ top five forwards and their top two defensemen all have plus ratings while the players who play primarily bottom six minutes are a combined -79. MINUS SEVENTY NINE. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????? So the bottom six doesn’t score goals AND they don’t play defense.
I wasn’t kidding when I said they do NOTHING at even strength. NOTHING.