Saturday, December 13, 2008

Grant Fuhr and Clutch Play

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.


ScoreP 1 & 2Per 3
SFSASH%SV%SFSASH%SV%
Lead by 3+39.829.720.1%.94431.026.320.4%.861
Lead by 235.132.116.5%.91331.728.312.2%.909
Lead by 134.429.111.0%.92133.028.215.0%.919
Tie Game30.528.19.8%.89335.126.114.6%.926
Trail by 130.035.48.1%.88939.429.37.6%.872
Trail by 231.535.56.3%.85931.026.012.9%.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.

17 comments:

dstaples said...

The most important goal in a playoff game is often the first one, so I'm not sure that third period results are so crucial.

The difference between Moog and Fuhr is that Fuhr was more likely to be error-free in net in a big game when the game was on the line. Moog was more likely to let in a soft goal at an inopportune time. In fact, Moog was a bit more likely to let in either soft or hard goals at inopportune times.

I don't know if the stats say that or not. But that's how it looked, watching the two of them.

Grant Fuhr was no fraud, which is why he was chosen to be Team Canada's goalie in 1984 and 1987. He was the best of that era.

dstaples said...

And furthermore ;)

Interesting study, by the way.

Here's the thing about clutch play, as I see it.

In the 1980s, Anderson and Fuhr were known as the Oil's two clutch players.

In other words, through the regular season, Gretzky -- who tried like hell to score even if it was 10-1 for the Oil -- was the clear leader, almost always the best player. Anderson and Fuhr would sleepwalk part of the time, not give it their best.

When they did give it their best, though, there were many, many games where they played as well as Gretzky. Is this clutch play? Or is this two guys taking it easy, then turning it on when it was important to do so? I'd call it the latter.

Anderson and Fuhr may have looked clutch. In fact, we were just witnessing their "A" games, which were at a damn high level.

Interesting, though, that we never really saw Anderson and Fuhr play an "A" game against the Soviets. Both of them were kind of mediocre against the Russians in 84 and 87.

For some reason, they couldn't raise their game at that moment. I suspect it had to do with the style of play of the Soviet Union . . . No matter how intense you might get for the game, it was all about skill in those games with the Russians, so Anderson's lack of skill -- but only as compared to a Gretzky or a Lemieux -- was a bit more noticeable against the Russians.

As for Fuhr, well, the Russians could make pretty much any goalie look bad now and then, and they did this to Fuhr, Dryden, Liut and others over the years.

overpass said...

It's interesting to finally see data for the Fuhr "clutch" debate. I was particularly interested in the Oilers shooting numbers. As you noted, there was a definite effect of the score.

I was too young to see the Oilers of the 80s, but I've always thought they must have a greater "clutch" ability than any other team in history, and not because of Fuhr. I think that it's more likely because of Gretzky and Coffey.

When it comes to high event players, Gretzky and Coffey may be the two highest in recorded history, even when adjusted for era. Both were on the ice for huge numbers of both goals for and against. Of course Gretzky was still a huge plus on net for his team (Coffey's results are a bit more mixed.)

Neither Gretzky or Coffey has a great defensive reputation, but I don't think anyone would put them among the worst defensive players on skill alone. Instead, they traded off defence for offence in the way they played. Coffey had a reputation for playing like a fourth forward at times. Gretzky doesn't have that reputation so much - but think about his signature play from behind the net, for one. While he got hundreds of assists from there, if the pass doesn't connect it's going the other way in a hurry with Gretzky behind the opponents net. I don't mean to say Gretzky shouldn't have played the way he did; just that he played a higher risk style to do it.

While Gretzky and Coffey played aggressively most of the time, if their team had a lead in the 3rd they should have been able to tighten up their play and play a lower-risk game. Similarly, if the team was down in the 3rd they could cut loose and go all out for the tying goal. All teams do this, of course, but no other team had a pair of offensive weapons who played an attacking style like Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey.

I don't have data on Gretzky and/or Coffey's performance in 3rd periods based on the score - that's something else to put on the to-do list - but I do think the conjecture makes sense, and I'd put Gretzky, Coffey, and possibly other Oilers over Grant Fuhr as a reason for the Oilers' performance in close games.

Anonymous said...

"Grant Fuhr was no fraud, which is why he was chosen to be Team Canada's goalie in 1984 and 1987. He was the best of that era."

I loved the Oilers then, but nooooooooo waaayyyy!!!!

Bruce said...

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.

Three of those Oiler OT games in succession were won by Glenn Anderson goals after just 46, 64 and 36 seconds. Three OT goals in 2:26 total elapsed time. From an Oilers' perspective it was a "natural hat trick" of the most extraordinary kind.

Anonymous said...

the problem with all these cyber geeks and their little studies is that i would assume in most cases that these are folks who dont watch the games to draw their conclusion, but rather just look at the box scores the next day... or decade, or however long afterwards. either way someone actually watching the players they talk about will always have a better idea of how valuable they are then some guy who years later looks at box scores.

and dstaples, i would definitely agree with your assessment there, but the truth is there are actually morons.. oh wait i mean morans who dont think guys like kurri, anderson or fuhr are hall of famers.

Anonymous said...

rong asumpshun, anonimus

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Anonymous: I don't get your argument. What is at stake here is simply the timing of goals against, not some overall evaluation of a player or goalie that requires extra subjective input. We know how many goals Fuhr and Moog allowed, we just want to know how they were distributed, because there is a vocal group of Oiler fans who claim that Fuhr was never scored on late in the third period when the game was close.

If you trust subjective evaluations on events that happened two decades ago over the statistical record from official NHL box scores, then you quite simply need to become better informed about human perceptual biases and the unreliability of eyewitness accounts. Try here for starters.

DStaples: I'm not sure I agree with you about the importance of the first goal. The second goal is pretty important too, as is the third, etc. This is one of Tom Benjamin's personal beefs, and he explains why in this post. I'm not sure why a team that averaged 5 goals per game would be concerned about falling behind 1-0. The third period is crucial because that is when teams play to the score, as can be clearly seen by the above shots for/against results. Also, close games are when goaltending matters. If Gretzky and co. went out and scored 10 goals on some particular night, it doesn't matter who they had in net or how well they played because Edmonton was going win anyway.

Fuhr and Moog had virtually identical regular season and playoff winning percentages in Edmonton, so I still find it hard to believe that there was a huge discrepancy in clutch play between them. The only possible explanations that I can see are that Fuhr played tougher competition, or that Edmonton took more chances offensively with Fuhr in net. And if the latter were true, shouldn't Edmonton have won more often with Fuhr?

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Overpass: Interesting theory, and I think there is some evidence to support it. I was fully expecting to see a "play-to-the-score" effect in the numbers, based on how much the Oilers of that era outperformed their Pythagorean expectations in the playoffs (their actual win percentage was something like 5% higher expected in the playoffs in the 1980s). When the game was tied after 2 periods in my study sample, Edmonton went 12-4 and heavily outshot and outscored their opposition. If they ever went to OT, it definitely seems like they were able to score almost at will.

It was too bad the boxscores from 1988 aren't available yet because the Oilers played much more of a low event game that year, averaging 27 shots for and just 25 shots against. It may not have been coincidental that they went 16-2.

That's a good point about Gretzky trading off offence vs. defence. I'm still not sure what to make of Gretzky's defensive abilities. His goals against numbers are massive, but there are lots of people that will tell you that Gretzky was a smart defensive player, which may be hyperbole but probably isn't completely made up. Makes sense that style of play and offensive risk-taking would have had a lot to do with it.

If the Oilers only played defence when they wanted to, and they only wanted to do so at the most important times, then that would explain why they were apparently so "clutch".

Bruce said...

there are lots of people that will tell you that Gretzky was a smart defensive player, which may be hyperbole but probably isn't completely made up.

As one who observed the Grezt One play live on something over 500 occasions, I feel qualified to comment. For starters, Gretzky was a smart player, period. He was a high-risk defensive player, who played an entirely different set of odds than are taught in today's game. Gretzky often cheated towards offence, especially in the regular season. His first job was to score points and put on a show.

When the other guys had the puck it's fair to say Gretzky liked to be a "trailer" whose ability to turn a defensive situation into an offensive opportunity was unparallelled. He was the best at stealing the puck that I have ever seen, a truly accomplished pickpocket who could lift an opponent's stick and steal the puck before the guy even knew he was under attack. If they had kept takeaway stats in those days I have no doubt the Great One would have led the league, probably by a significant margin.

He also had a fairly high rate of giveaways, as high-risk plays are just that. His supreme confidence and willingness to try and flip the puck through a tiny hole or into a tiny space would often work but occasionally backfire, and either way resulted in "high event" hockey.

In his own zone Gretzky was something of a gambler to put it mildly. He played very high in the D-zone, causing opposing point men to develop brown pants with his knack for stealing pucks and getting a piece of any pass that came within about a ten-foot radius and then winning the subsequent race to the loose puck. He would boggle the mind doing stuff like winning possession along the boards and firing a no-look behind-the-back pass right into his own slot and usually (but not quite always) right on the tape of a teammate.

When the puck was elsewhere in the zone, if he got a sniff of an opponent's loss of possession he'd be off like a shot. Even if it was a 40/60 or 30/70 chance for a turnover, the odds were the Oilers would do more with their 3 opportunites than the opposition would do with their 7 of having a temporary man advantage. Of course any Oiler who did win a puck in his own zone would try and chip it out towards centre.

In the offensive zone Gretzky would often lag behind the play as the opposition started to break out. Once in a while an Oiler -- typically Kurri -- would engage and cause a turnover before they got over the line, and any puck sent deep to Gretzky against a scrambling opponent was a very dangerous situation.

Gretzky was at his most dangerous as a counterattacker, and when the Oilers got the lead and the opponent tried to press the play he was deadly. Oilers were always happy to open it up and trade scoring chances, and their huge edge in shooting percentages -- typically on the order of 16% to 11% -- made this a winning strategy for the most part.

Since we are discussing defence it's worth noting that Gretzky was an accomplished penalty-killer. How accomplished? In 1983-84 opposing powerplay units scored 31 goals with Gretzky on the ice, during which time the Great One himself scored 12 shorthanded goals. The old adage about "the best defence" applied to Wayne Gretzky more than anyone.

overpass said...

Bruce: Thanks for the comment on Gretzky. It's obvious from the stats that he must have been doing something like what you describe, but your first-hand description confirms it.

I particularly enjoyed reading that in part because most of what I've read on Gretzky doesn't touch on the tradeoffs he made to create offence. Often the description of his offence doesn't go farther that the now-cliche "He skated to where the puck was going to be, not where it was." While that may be true, it's not very descriptive. You added a lot more detail to that, and painted a more interesting picture of Gretzky than the standard Canadian hagiography.

In your view, how did Gretzky play to the score? I can imagine he would be dangerous when his team was down a goal. When the Oilers were leading late in the game, to what extent did Gretzky tighten up and play a low-risk game? Did he do it in the playoffs more than in the regular season?

Since we are discussing defence it's worth noting that Gretzky was an accomplished penalty-killer. How accomplished? In 1983-84 opposing powerplay units scored 31 goals with Gretzky on the ice, during which time the Great One himself scored 12 shorthanded goals. The old adage about "the best defence" applied to Wayne Gretzky more than anyone.

I've used the Hockey Summary Project to collect data on power play assists and shorthanded assists from 81-82 to 86-87, as this data hasn't been collected or released by the NHL. To add to your 83-84 numbers, Gretzky had 12 SHG and 11 SHA, for 23 shorthanded points against 31 PPGA! From 81-82 to 87-88 Gretzky had 50 SHG and 49 SHA against 207 PPGA.

Bill Morran said...

dstaples, Grant Fuhr only finished in the top ten in GAA once (5th in 1982), and save percentage three times (10th in '85, 6th in '86, 9th in '93). That's pretty telling. That means, for his ten seasons in Edmonton, he was only in the top half of the league in GAA once, and top half of the league in save percentage twice. That's no Hall of Famer. That's terrible.

And to compare Glen "became an overglorified Darcy Tucker the second he left Edmonton" Anderson to Gretzky is ridiculous.

Bruce said...

Overpass: Thanks for your comments. You're right that "the standard Canadian hagiography" paints a shockingly two-dimensional (at best) picture of what set the Great One apart. Frankly I think a lot of people, even "hockey people", didn't entirely get it, or him. He was just on a whole different plane.

Specifically, the horizontal plane. Gretzky had this strange hunched-over posture and kind of a jerky skating stride, but he played lower to the ice than just about anybody, and had this astonishing ability to rapidly extend his body to snap up loose pucks like a frog catching flies. Or to control the puck a fair distance from his body and still deliver exquisite passes or seeing-eye shots. He could also pivot (counterclockwise) about as fast as a table hockey player, and had an uncanny knack of making contact with the puck while doing so. For a below-average sized guy, his "arc of influence" was larger than just about anybody's. His fast-twitch muscles were perhaps the greatest I have ever seen in an athlete, his hand-eye coordination spectacular, his first step unmatched in both quickness and direction ("the shortest route to the puck"). Add to that his superior mental skills: innate understanding of the game, peerless anticipation, and ability to sum up a situation at a glance and see not only where everybody was but where they were likely to be at the time he delivered the puck, and you have some of the elements that made Gretzky the greatest offensive genius the game has ever seen.

In your view, how did Gretzky play to the score? I can imagine he would be dangerous when his team was down a goal.

He was ALWAYS dangerous. Probably moreso when the team was up a goal than down one, although as I recall he scored an awful lot of game-tying goals. (There's one for your summary project!) But he was at his most dangerous on the counter-attack, on the rush or the quick turnover, esp. when the other guys were thinking offence. Thus the incredible record on the penalty-kill. On the powerplay, when the other team had only four guys but they were all thinking defence first, the Oilers were good but rarely great. But they led the league in shorthanded goals, and by a lot, every year.

When the Oilers were leading late in the game, to what extent did Gretzky tighten up and play a low-risk game?

Very little. As I mentioned above, his best defence was the good offence. He was the embodiment of one of my pat sayings: "The best way to defend a one-goal lead is to make it a two-goal lead".

One remarkable stat that I recall was that Gretzky scored no fewer than 50 empty net goals in his career. I had a friend that bugged me about him being a goal suck, and my rejoinder was that his team's record was 50-0-0 in those games. But there was a time or two that the Oilers got burned by a late tying goal-against due to him and his teammmates thinking a little too offensively.

Did he do it in the playoffs more than in the regular season?

Very definitely, yes. Wayne loved to score, but he loved to win even more. As an Oiler he averaged 2.4 points per game in the season and "only" 2.1 in the playoffs, which was in part due to opposition strategies (which as a general rule worked better early in series than late) but it was also due to a change in the Oilers' own approach. In the regular season they were generally outshot slightly as a team but didn't mind trading chances; in the playoffs they became a dominant outshooting team while their GAA took a significant drop. Part of that was Fuhr, but a large part of it was the whole team bearing down, led by the Great One himself.

I've used the Hockey Summary Project to collect data on power play assists and shorthanded assists from 81-82 to 86-87, as this data hasn't been collected or released by the NHL.

Awesome! Thanks to CG for putting the link out to this terrific source (added today to my favourites), and to whoever is responsible for doing all that work. Hopefully soon the playoffs will be up to speed, the regular season already seems to be pretty complete.

To add to your 83-84 numbers, Gretzky had 12 SHG and 11 SHA, for 23 shorthanded points against 31 PPGA!

Ha! I was going to mention that I was pretty sure Gretz always had about the same numbers of SHA as SHG, and for some reason the number of 11 assists was sticking in my head from that incredible 1983-84 season. But that's all memory, as you say the NHL hasn't published info for assists and points and has always focussed just on goals when it comes to game winners, PP, SH, etc.

Those '83-84 Oilers scored an amazing 36 shorties, and Gretzky was probably on the ice for a couple more than the 23 he was officially in on.

From 81-82 to 87-88 Gretzky had 50 SHG and 49 SHA against 207 PPGA.

Astonishing, isn't it? It sure was something to see.

The Contrarian Goaltender said...

Probably moreso when the team was up a goal than down one

That certainly seemed to be the case from going through the game records. The numbers suggest the Oilers weren't especially great at coming from behind, but they were dynamite when the game was tied or they were up by a goal or two. It seems like if the other teams went into a defensive shell and played a low risk game they could often hold off the Oilers, but if they were forced to open up then Gretzky, Kurri et al just murdered them on the counterattack.

But even if opponents could hold off the Oilers for a period if they needed to, it was pretty rare that they could do it for a whole game. I was impressed by the Oilers' record in low-event games, although Edmonton was still better off trading chances. In my playoff
sample, looking at only the first two periods to decrease the playing to the score effects, the Oilers led 33 times, trailed 12 times, and were tied 8 times when the total shots in the game were 40 or higher, and were 15-7-9 with less than 40 shots. Still not great odds for the opposition, but the formula for beating Edmonton looks like it was to try to close the game up as much as possible to reduce chances at both ends, get great goaltending and opportunistic scoring to get a lead after 2 periods, and then defend it like crazy in the third.

If you feel like continuing your very enlightening trip down memory lane, Bruce, I have a couple more questions. Were the Oilers good at maintaining possession for long periods of time and generating scoring chances in the offensive zone? Most of their shots had to be from pretty dangerous locations to maintain the off-the-charts shooting percentage that
drove a lot of their success. That doesn't exactly suggest that they were just throwing the puck at the net from everywhere (except apparently when down a goal late in the game).

Also, was there a difference between Gretzky's line and Messier's line in terms of puck possession and scoring chances? What do you think the shots for/against numbers would have been for those two in a typical playoff game?

Finally, how would you assess the Oilers' shot quality against? There are some who make it seem like Fuhr was facing a dozen breakaways a game, but it couldn't have been close to that bad, could it, especially once the playoffs started? I'll buy that Fuhr was a better goalie in the playoffs, but the whole team seemed to be a lot better defensively as well, so how much do you think that contributed to his postseason improvement?

Bruce said...

If you feel like continuing your very enlightening trip down memory lane, Bruce, I have a couple more questions.

No problem, CG, such trips are as enjoyable for me as I hope they are enlightening for others. It was a rare privilege to watch in person, such an extraordinary team play 50+ games a season.

Were the Oilers good at maintaining possession for long periods of time and generating scoring chances in the offensive zone?

Well yes, they were good at it, but they were great at scoring off the rush. I’d bet a lot of money they scored a (much) higher percentage of their goals off the rush than any other team I’ve ever watched.

Most of their shots had to be from pretty dangerous locations to maintain the off-the-charts shooting percentage that drove a lot of their success. That doesn't exactly suggest that they were just throwing the puck at the net from everywhere (except apparently when down a goal late in the game).

No it certainly doesn’t. Their 3rd and 4th lines were fairly normal in this respect, but the Big Five were all about transition, speed, and skill.

Also, was there a difference between Gretzky's line and Messier's line in terms of puck possession and scoring chances? What do you think the shots for/against numbers would have been for those two in a typical playoff game?

Certainly there was a difference. Messier and Anderson were merely two of the best players in the league, good enough to be a first line on approximately 20 of the 21 teams. But the Gretzky-Kurri combination was probably unique in the history of the game in terms of efficiency. In the four seasons 1983-87, Kurri scored 52, 71, 68 and 54 goals, and another 50 in the playoffs. During those four regular seasons his lowest Sh% was 25.6%.

To put that in perspective, Mike Bossy never once achieved 25% in his career. Neither did Brett Hull. Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky each got there once. Most 50-goal scorers don’t, cuz the ultra-high percentage guys are usually the guys who won’t shoot until they have an open net. Alex Tanguay types. Guys like that are fine, they just don’t take 200 shots a year. Unless Wayne Gretzky is setting them up.

Any estimate of shots against would be badly flawed, but for shots for we have actual stats. Given they played as two distinct duos most of the time, with some overlap on the powerplay, let’s just look at the (first) four Cup years:

1983-84
Gretzky-Kurri: 19 GP, 146 SOG, 27 G, 18.5%, +27
Messier-Anderson: 19 GP, 131 SOG, 14 G, 10.7%, +15

1984-85
Gretzky-Kurri: 18 GP, 156 SOG, 36 (!) G, 23.1%, +52
Messier-Anderson: 18 GP, 103 SOG, 22 G, 21.4%, +24

1986-87
Gretzky-Kurri: 21 GP, 107 SOG, 20 G, 18.7%, +21
Messier-Anderson: 21 GP, 124 SOG, 26 G, 21.0%, +26

1987-88
Gretzky-Kurri: 19 GP, 119 SOG, 26 G, 21.8%, +24
Messier-Anderson: 19 GP, 85 SOG, 20 G, 23.5%, +14


As a foursome they essentially shot 20% or better the last three of those Cup years, which is little short of astonishing. It is also worth noting that none of the four missed a single playoff game throughout that time.

Other than the surprising reversal in 1986-87, the Gretzky-Kurri duo generated more shots and goals, with the latter clearly driving +/- results. After the first Cup year, the Messier-Anderson duo held their own in shooting percentage, much more so than they did in the regular season. Both had a deserved reputation for raising their games in the post-season, and this increased focus can perhaps be seen in shooting percentage. Anderson, for example, had only one regular season of Sh% >20%, yet he routinely exceeded that mark in the playoffs. Smaller sample size, sure, but pretty routinely that was four rounds of playoff action, including the Cup runs of 1985 (21.3%), 1987 (22.6%), 1988 (20.9%), and 1990 (21.7%). Bill Morran, take note.

As for LWs, Mark and Andy generally got an offensive-minded skill guy like Willy Lindstrom, Mark Napier, Kent Nilsson or Craig Simpson, while Wayne and Jari drew a two-way plugger like Jaroslav Pouzar, Mike Krushelnyski or Esa Tikkanen.

Finally, how would you assess the Oilers' shot quality against? There are some who make it seem like Fuhr was facing a dozen breakaways a game, but it couldn't have been close to that bad, could it, especially once the playoffs started? I'll buy that Fuhr was a better goalie in the playoffs, but the whole team seemed to be a lot better defensively as well, so how much do you think that contributed to his postseason improvement?


Both were a factor. Fuhr was definitely in the Messier-Anderson group of really raising his game when it mattered. But he also benefited from having so many teammates who did the same. The Oilers became a lot tougher defensively in the postseason. Let’s look at the five seasons 1984-88, from the time playoff Sv% are available until the departure of the Great One:

Grant Fuhr: SA/60 *Sv% GAA *Pts%
----------------------------------------
1983-84 RS: 33.44 .883 3.91 .727
1983-84 PS: 33.36 .910 2.99 .733

1984-85 RS: 33.43 .884 3.87 .720
1984-85 PS: 29.44 .895 3.10 .833

1985-86 RS: 35.60 .890 3.93 .784
1985-86 PS: 30.28 .897 3.11 .556

1986-87 RS: 28.87 .881 3.44 .618
1986-87 PS: 26.71 .908 2.46 .737

1987-88 RS: 28.80 .881 3.43 .610
1987-88 PS: 24.88 .883 2.90 .889

… and you can see evidence of the team’s maturation in shots allowed, where after the first Cup they started to tighten up in the playoffs, and after the shock upset in 1986 they began to tighten up, period. So the team’s GAA should be expected to drop to some degree. Over the five years Fuhr had way better stats in the post-season every year, with a GAA 0.5 to 1.0 lower every year and a Sv% that was about .015 better on average. Some of that may have been due to (lesser) shot quality allowed, but I’m convinced a lot of it was just Grant paying attention to detail. He was always mentioned among the Smythe finalists, may well have won it in 1984 if he hadn’t got hurt midway through the Finals, and I still think he got hosed in 1987.

But Grant was Grant, he didn't care about the Smythe, he just cared about Winning. A team-first guy who didn't care about personal stats was perfect for a goalie on that club. He didn't point fingers at guys committing blunders in front of him, he didn't get upset about goals against, the only thing that seemed to get his goat was losing. And he made damn sure it happened as rarely as possible.

Bruce said...

Sorry, that last table is hard to read. Try again:

Grant Fuhr: ** SA/60 ** Sv% ** GAA ** Pts%
------------------------------------------------------
1983-84 RS: * 33.44 * .883 * 3.91 * .727
1983-84 PS: * 33.36 * .910 * 2.99 * .733

1984-85 RS: * 33.43 * .884 * 3.87 * .720
1984-85 PS: * 29.44 * .895 * 3.10 * .833

1985-86 RS: * 35.60 * .890 * 3.93 * .784
1985-86 PS: * 30.28 * .897 * 3.11 * .556

1986-87 RS: * 28.87 * .881 * 3.44 * .618
1986-87 PS: * 26.71 * .908 * 2.46 * .737

1987-88 RS: * 28.80 * .881 * 3.43 * .610
1987-88 PS: * 24.88 * .883 * 2.90 * .889

Host PPH said...

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