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New Jersey Devils Need to Solve Bottom-6 Struggles

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After the New Jersey Devils salvaged a point in an overtime loss against the Seattle Kraken on Jan. 19, head coach Lindy Ruff stated he didn’t like the direction his team was heading in. Most coaches wouldn’t say that after ending a road trip with a 4-0-1 record, but Ruff was right in his assessment. The Devils rank 25th in Corsi and expected goals percentages for the month of January. 

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One reason, perhaps the main reason, is that their bottom-six has gotten caved in almost on a nightly basis since the calendar flipped to 2023. It’s not just one player, either. Part of that may be spending ten days on the road, but Ruff needs to figure out how to get his bottom-six going. Because if they don’t improve their five-on-five game, the team could hit another slump in short order. 

Devils’ Bottom-6 Well Underwater in Possession

When the Devils rolled to their 13-game winning streak earlier this season, they had four lines firing on all cylinders. From a top line with Nico Hischier to the fourth line of Miles Wood, Michael McLeod and Nathan Bastian, all four units were scoring and controlling play at five-on-five. 

Bastian’s injury threw a wrench in the roll-four-lines plan. He just returned to the lineup last week after missing two months, but he’s only played two games, and it will take time for him to get back up to speed. The Devils’ bottom-six held their own in December without him, with most of their forwards finishing the month above water in Corsi and expected goals percentages. 

But for whatever reason, things have changed significantly since Jan. 1. Ruff has moved players around the lineup, but the ones listed below have primarily been third- or fourth-line forwards this month with a minimum of 10 games played. (CF% = Corsi percentage, xG% = expected goals percentage):

  • Jesper Boqvist: 42.31 CF%, 36.92 xG%
  • Michael McLeod: 43.37 CF%, 38.98 xG%
  • Dawson Mercer: 43.57 CF%, 42.5 xG%
  • Yegor Sharangovich: 45.08 CF%, 36.21 xG%
  • Miles Wood: 45.82 CF%, 36.21 xG%

Dawson Mercer New Jersey Devils
New Jersey Devils forward Dawson Mercer (Photo by Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Yes, I know there are five players above. The reason for that is Ruff has used different forwards, from Nolan Foote and Alexander Holtz to Fabian Zetterlund, for a game here and there in the bottom-six. Foote did post an xG% above 66 percent, but Ruff used him sparingly when he was in the lineup. Eventually, they returned him to the Utica Comets of the…

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