Home > Season Recap > The 2010-2011 Player Review: Travis Zajac

The 2010-2011 Player Review: Travis Zajac

Travis Zajac, playing without constant linemate Zach Parise, set a career low in goals this season with 13. Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, The Devils’ Den will break down the 2010-2011 Devils season. We’ll cover the big team stories, but also offer a breakdown of individual player performances. In today’s review, we focus on Travis Zajac.

Travis Zajac entered this season looking to continue last year’s breakout performance. During the 2009-2010 season, Zajac recorded a career high with 67 points. He played in all 82 games, and stood on the precipice of breaking Ken Daneyko’s consecutive-games streak. He entered the season the anchor of a top line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise on his wings. I held pretty high expectations, believing the line could reach 150 or even 200 combined points.

That bright picture turned bleak pretty quickly. Zajac never got started offensively, ending the season with just 44 points. His 13 goals were the lowest of his career, and he took recorded just two powerplay points. He did break Daneyko’s record, a commendable feat considering the daily grind of a hockey season. Despite his lack of offense, Zajac continued his solid play this season. His offense fell way below expected levels, but the team could still count on him game after game.

Zajac At Even Strength

Zajac played in all 82 games this season, one of only two forwards to skate in every game. His time on ice per 60 sat at 14.62, tops among forwards. His plus-0.36 rating belies his point production, where he finished second with an average of 1.55 points per game. Despite playing on the first line, Behind the Net ranks Zajac’s quality of teammates at a minus-0.006. It’s a slim negative rating, and with the ratings so low for his teammates, it belies the skill the line possessed. He also faced tougher competition, with opponents holding a plus-0.014 quality of competition rating.

Zajac surprisingly turned in a solid even strength performance this season. That’s not an indictment of his skill, but rather a surprise because of the team’s abysmal start. He helped New Jersey average 2.30 goals for per 60 while on the ice (46 total), a number that dropped to 1.69 with him off. Teams averaged 2.45 goals against per 60 with him on (49 total), a number that also dropped to 2.19 with him off the ice.

Shots for/against per 60 followed the same pattern. Zajac helped generate chances, with the Devils averaging 27.1 shots for per 60 with him on the ice. Off the ice, it dropped to 25.7. He played effectively in his own end, allowing just 23.9 shots against per 60. That number dropped a miniscule 0.6 to 23.3 with him off the ice.

It’s also important to note the zone starts and how Zajac fared in the faceoff dot. Since he was the top-line center, Zajac took the bulk of the faceoffs for Jacques Lemaire. He usually started in the offensive zone, beginning 56.6 percent of his shifts in the opponents end. He also ended 52.4 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone. That’s very solid and exactly what you’d expect to see from your first line center. Zajac was on the ice for 185 offensive zone faceoff wins and 171 losses, not all of which he participated. He also finished ahead in neutral zone faceoffs, with a 232 wins 195 losses. He struggled in the defensive zone, finishing with just 134 wins and 139 losses.

Finally, we turn to the Corsi numbers. On the ice, Zajac recorded a plus-6.76 rating, which isn’t surprising considering his spot in the lineup. That only underscores his solid play throughout all three zones. Off the ice, the number drops to plus-3.02. Zajac remained a solid constant the entire season for the Devils, remaining an important part of the top line.

Zajac scored two powerplay goals - including the game-winner in overtime - on March 3 against the Atlanta Thrashers. Photo Credit: Gregory Smith/AP

Zajac On The Powerplay

The Devils’ center continued his solid play on the man advantage, becoming an important part of the special teams. His time on ice per 60 sat at 2.45, ranking him among the top powerplay skaters. He averaged 2.06 powerplay points per 60 and turned in a plus-0.47 rating, higher than expected producers like Kovalchuk and Brian Rolston. He did this despite playing with low quality of teammates (minus-0.781), outpacing the weaker quality of competition (minus-0.352).

Zajac’s powerplay goal production didn’t jump off the page. The team averaged 4.19 goals for per 60 (14 total). Off the ice, the number fell to 3.29 goals for per 60, which isn’t a huge drop off. The 14 total goals rank third among skaters, and his two powerplay points were nothing to write home about. Unlike goals, Zajac’s shot production was off the charts.

While he didn’t score much, Zajac helped his team get pucks on net. While on the ice, the powerplay fired 55.6 shots per 60 at the opposing goalie. Off the ice, that number took a huge tumble, dropping to 34.5 per 60. The shots against also rose, from 4.2 per 60 with Zajac on the ice to 7.2 per 60 with him off. The Corsi numbers reflect that shot production. Zajac’s on-ice Corsi rating sat at a robust plus-98.95, second-highest among all skaters. Off the ice, that number plummeted to plus-65.25. Remember, Zajac spent significant time manning the point this season, giving the Devils a great passer near the top of the zone. He didn’t waste those talents, helping to generate tons of shots and chances.

His zone starts and faceoff numbers were also strong. He began 97.3 percent of the powerplay shifts in the opposing zone, and the 120 team faceoff wins kept possession in the zone. He ended 44 shifts in the offensive zone, displaying his ability to help the team sustain pressure.

Zajac’s numbers did little to help the Devils’ powerplay. They were still pretty bad, continuing a frustrating trend. But at least they could credit Zajac for playing well and giving them the opportunity.

Zajac On The Penalty Kill

Zajac was the number one penalty killing center last season, with a time on ice per 60 of 2.02. It makes sense – the top line center should be good enough to play in any situation. Despite once again having subpar team play (minus-0.156 quality of teammates), Zajac managed a plus-0.32 rating.

The overall numbers aren’t too pretty. On the ice, Zajac allowed 5.43 goals against per 60, a number that dropped to 5.28 with him off the ice. He couldn’t prevent the goals, but he did stop shots. Opponents averaged 35.8 shots against with Zajac on the ice and 39.7 with him off. The Corsi, however, doesn’t reflect that play, with a minus-64.77 on-ice rating. Off the ice, it improved to minus-64.61.

Zajac’s zone starts and faceoff numbers were very solid. The team won over half of the defensive zone draws when Zajac was on the ice. Only half of his shifts finished in his own zone (34), and he actually ended up ending 30 percent of his penalty killing shifts in the offensive zone.

Despite struggling offensively for most of the season, Zajac finished third in points with 44. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Conclusion

Zajac’s lack of offensive production didn’t decrease his overall value this season. He needed to produce offensively, and you can’t be pleased with a 20+ point dip in numbers from last season. Some of that needs to be blamed on the Parise injury, as the two formed a pretty lethal combination the past few years. He lost Jamie Langenbrunner when New Jersey traded him to the Dallas Stars, losing yet another constant teammate. He needed to adjust to both Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri, not an easy task to do midseason.

As Lemaire turned the team around, Zajac turned around his overall play. During January and February, he recorded 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) and finished plus-11, his only two months of positive play. His line finally got it going, and he developed chemistry with Kovalchuk and Palmieri. They finally began to produce like a top line should. Zajac even worked himself into the top point leaders, finishing third with 44 points.

Zajac finished the season witha GVT of 7.1, ranking third on the team. His defensive GVT sat at 4.8, an impressive number for a forward who played such heavy minutes. He didn’t produce offensively, but I think we saw an overall improvement from Zajac. His play in all three zones improved, and he became one of the unmentioned leaders on the team. Those offensive numbers are disappointing, but those should rebound in the future. The Devils should be encouraged by his overall growth and hope he continues to improve in his top-line center role.

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