The Hockey Summary Project is up and running, and it is a very interesting resource for hockey history, with box scores from many historical regular season and playoff games.
One thing I have wanted to check for quite some time now is how Grant Fuhr played in the third period of hockey games in Edmonton, to test whether his reputation of being "the guy who will never let in the next goal" matches reality (see here for round 1 of the debate). Unfortunately, not all the playoff seasons are posted yet (they are still missing 1988-1993), but we have 1983-1987 to at least begin the analysis.
For every Edmonton Oilers playoff game from 1983-1987, I took the goals for/against and shots/for against from the first two periods, and compared it to the goals and shots during the third period and OT. Here are the results:
Andy Moog: 2.88, .896 in first two periods, 3.38, .875 in 3rd & OT
Grant Fuhr: 3.00, .901 in first two periods, 2.74, .899 in 3rd & OT
So Fuhr did indeed allow fewer goals in the third period, but his save percentage also went down slightly. That suggests that the Edmonton Oilers, even in their most high-flying years, did actually play some defence when the game situation required it.
I broke down Edmonton's third period numbers with Fuhr in net, based on the score after 2 periods, to see how much of an effect the game score had on the results.
|Score||P 1 & 2||Per 3|
|Lead by 3+||39.8||29.7||20.1%||.944||31.0||26.3||20.4%||.861|
|Lead by 2||35.1||32.1||16.5%||.913||31.7||28.3||12.2%||.909|
|Lead by 1||34.4||29.1||11.0%||.921||33.0||28.2||15.0%||.919|
|Trail by 1||30.0||35.4||8.1%||.889||39.4||29.3||7.6%||.872|
|Trail by 2||31.5||35.5||6.3%||.859||31.0||26.0||12.9%||.846|
In my view, it is incorrect to attribute the differences to "clutch play", as I think they are more reflective of the shot quality of both shots taken and shots allowed. The results when leading, tied and trailing were similar when Andy Moog was in net, suggesting that the numbers are being primarily driven by the rest of the team, rather than the goalie. When the game was tied or the Oilers were ahead, Fuhr had a save percentage of .909 in the third period. When the Oilers were behind, Fuhr had a save percentage of .862 in the third period. Part of this is a reflection of strength of opposition: the Winnipeg Jets were almost never ahead of the Oilers in the third period, for example. However, the first two periods were played against the same opposition, and yet there is a clear difference in the third period for games when the Oilers were tied or trailing by one goal.
The shots for and against numbers support these observations. When the Oilers were well ahead, they shut down their offence a bit in the third period. When the Oilers were behind, they far outshot the opposition. This is probably the combination of the opposing team taking fewer risks (shots against were down when the Oilers were behind) and the Oilers taking more discretionary shots (Edmonton averaged almost 40 shots per 60 minutes of play in third periods they entered trailing by a goal, yet their shooting percentage was just 8.2%). How about this for a surprising fact: the highest-scoring team of all-time was just 4-15 over the sample period in games which they trailed entering the third period.
Having said all that, there does appear to be some evidence that Grant Fuhr did well in important situations. His save percentage was highest when the game was tied. That may be somewhat expected, since that is when teams would generally play the most cautious, but that is still an impressive save percentage for 1980s hockey. His save percentage also was quite low when the Oilers had the game well in hand, just .861 with Edmonton up by 3 or more goals, which supports the perception that Fuhr let in softies when it didn't matter. He wasn't quite so good when the Oilers were behind, but this is likely when the shot quality against was at its highest, so he probably has a bit of an excuse for that. I still don't think there is any reason to call Grant Fuhr a great goalie or one of the best ever, but it looks like he did help Edmonton in the playoffs in the 1980s. Still, from the above table it looks pretty clear that Edmonton's shooting percentage and outshooting results were the main drivers of their success, rather than goaltending.
This is just a quick study, a better one would break down the results in more detail, looking at Fuhr's actual performance with Edmonton up a goal in the third period, not just how he did in third periods that Edmonton entered up by one. With their propensity to score quickly, there were some third periods that the Oilers blew open in the first few minutes, despite entering tied or holding a narrow lead.
One interesting bit of trivia: Between 1983 and 1987, the Edmonton Oilers apparently won 6 overtime games on the very first shot of OT. I'm not sure if there are mistakes in the box scores, but all of those games ended in less than a minute and a half so it is certainly possible. There was also one game when Edmonton lost on the first shot of OT. Looks like it wasn't a good idea to try to grab a hot dog before overtime started in Edmonton in the 1980s.