Saturday, October 17, 2009

Close Games, Part 2

After getting some feedback on my post looking into New Jersey's record in close games, I decided to do a bit more research. It turns out that the reason for their success was mainly because they did well in overtime and in the shootout. Here are the top 5 teams in regulation one-goal victories and regulation one-goal winning percentages since the lockout:

Regulation one-goal wins:
1. Calgary, 61
2. San Jose, 54
3. New Jersey, 53
4. Detroit, 52
5. Carolina, 51

Regulation one-goal winning percentage:
1. Carolina, .585
2. Detroit, .578
3. Calgary, .573
4. New Jersey, .572
5. San Jose, .567

By these numbers New Jersey is still good at winning close games, but they are not head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Here are the numbers for overtime and shootout wins:

Wins in overtime and shootout combined:
1. New Jersey, 56
2. Atlanta, 50
3. Dallas, 49
4. N.Y. Rangers, 48
5. Buffalo, 45

Winning percentage in games that go into OT:
1. New Jersey, .659
2. Dallas, .613
3. Atlanta, .602
4. Buffalo, .570
5. Colorado, .569

New Jersey was by far the best team in the league in games tied after 60 minutes. In this light, the team's recent playoff performances perhaps don't seem as disappointing. Their regular season records were largely influenced by their ability to perform well in 4 on 4 overtime and in shootouts. Unfortunately for them, the Devils weren't able to take advantage of those situations in the playoffs.

Another variable brought up by someone in the comments was empty net goals. This was indeed a factor that helped boost the Devils' number of one goal wins, since New Jersey has been one of the worst teams in the league at scoring empty net goals since the lockout. New Jersey scored 19 times with the other goalie pulled, which was tied for the second-lowest total in the league behind only the weak Toronto Maple Leafs, a team that faced many fewer empty net chances than the Devils. Assuming they never scored two empty netters in any one game, New Jersey scored an empty net goal in 14% of their regulation wins, the second worst percentage in the league behind only San Jose's 13%.

The Devils allowed 25 empty netters against, or an ENG against in 23% of their regulation losses, which ranked them slightly worse than the league average of 22%.

I am not sure how many of the empty netters came when leading/trailing by one goal and how many came when there was a two goal margin on the scoreboard. I decided to assume that empty net goals scored came with a one and two goal lead came in the same proportion as the team's number of one and two goal wins, e.g. a team with the same number of one goal and two goal wins would score half of their empty netters in each situation. It is likely a few teams would by chance have a very different ratio, but that probably puts most teams in the ballpark. Combined with the OT/shootout numbers, that allows us to estimate a team's regulation-only one-goal game record with empty-netters removed.

I'll refer to any game that goes to overtime or is decided in regulation by a one goal margin (empty netters excluded) as a close game. Here are the close game records for all teams since the lockout (not including 2009-10), along with their close game points percentage (games tied after regulation count as 1 point), the team's winning percentage in games decided by 2 goals or more, the total points earned in overtime and shootouts, and the percentage of close games that went to OT.

RankTeamClose W-L-OTClose W%2G+ W%OT/SO% OT
4.San Jose65-42-69.565.65810139%
5.New Jersey65-42-85.560.52214144%
25.St. Louis44-59-82.459.37811344%
26.Tampa Bay46-62-74.456.41411041%
29.Los Angeles46-65-68.447.3899938%

A few teams have interesting profiles here. Carolina and Calgary are teams that do much better in close games, and have tended to win the close ones in regulation. Over the last two seasons, both teams have seen both their shot ratio and percentages improve in the third period, so perhaps it could be argued that these teams have shown some clutch ability. In contrast, Phoenix and Ottawa also don't make it overtime that often, but they tend to lose the close ones and would be better off in the standings if they could hold on a bit longer to earn a few more loser points. The Coyotes and Senators both saw their third period percentages tumble over the last two years. I'm not sure whether that is a sign of poor performance late in games or simply bad luck that led to losses.

In this table New Jersey doesn't look much different from other teams, other than their league-leading total of 141 overtime and shootout points. Their rivals the New York Rangers were only one point behind. The Rangers were not as good at picking up the extra point, but they took a lot of loser points since they played more overtime games than any other team. That suggests the Rangers have made aiming for shootouts part of their team strategy. However, it looks to me like that strategy might have been suboptimal for them. Either that or the Rangers did a poor job of carrying it out, because a team that went to OT less often but won more games in regulation would have ended up with more points at the end of the day.

The Rangers took 74 points from one goal wins, 92 points from making it to overtime, and 48 points for winning by OT or shootout for a total of 214 points from close games. Given the same number of close games a typical team would have gone to overtime only 76 times, but would have won half the remaining games for a total of 52 regulation wins. That means they would only need to win 35 out of their 76 overtime games (46%) to earn more points than the Rangers did.

The Rangers had a pretty good record in games decided by 2 goals or more. They also had the third best winning percentage in the league when trailing after 2 periods, yet had a slightly below average winning percentage when leading after 2 periods. All that tends to reinforce the theory that the team would have been better off going for more wins in regulation rather than sitting back on a lead or trying to take a tie game into overtime, because it looks like too often they saw that strategy backfire.


Bruce said...

Excellent work, CG, in both of these posts.

I feel slightly picky in pointing out that the combined W-L-T* records don't quite add up, as the 30 teams have posted a record in close games of 1575-1569-2232*, suggesting perhaps you missed a few close losses where the losing team gave up an ENG or something.

Of far more interest is that grotesque number of "ties", or games reaching overtime. If all games were of equal value one would anticipate that close games would roughly split one win, one loss, one tie, with perhaps a very slight bump for ties as the centre of the Bell curve (all games start out tied, so something has to happen to break that tie). But the split here is on the order of 29%, 29%, 42%, which to me says that the number of ties is obscenely inflated.

You can put that at the feet of Gary Bettman and his insane system of awarding both teams for a tie game with a point each *and* a 50% chance at a bonus point which otherwsie would not exist. Regulation time results are therefore worth 2 for a win, 1.5 for a tie, and 0 for a loss; is there any wonder there are lots of ties? It's generally in the interests of both teams not to take many chances to break a late tie.

I do know that the number of 60-minute ties has soared during the Bettman era. Even as tie results have been eliminated, tie games are more prevalent than ever.

As SunnyMehta wrote in the last comments section:

However, teams do seem to be able to slow the game down a bit so that overall shots are decreased for both sides. I'm curious how effective this tactic really is wrt protecting a one-goal lead.

I think to properly analyze that it will be necessary to disentangle shots and Sh% data by game state. I expect the number of shots by both teams to be significantly lower in tied games than where one of the teams hold a lead. Game state context is of critical importance to many analyses, and that was never truer than in Gary Bettman's NHL where some games are worth two points and some worth three.

Corey Pronman said...

Almost on cue, Puck Prospectus does a piece on close games.

Anonymous said...

This pretty much validates my position that Hasek and Giguere have been the two most singularly outstanding goalies of the modern era at their peaks, and were the most responsible for carrying their teams. Both Hasek and J-S deserved both the Vezina and Conn Smythe for their respective cinderella seasons.

Anonymous said...

Oops, wrong thread