Shootout wins often mean early outs in postseason

December 20, 2013

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The end of the 2004-05 lockout has two legacies: the implementation of the salary cap and deciding games via the shootout.

If the contest cannot declare a winner after three 20-minute periods and a 5-minute overtime, both teams have a chance to grab an extra standings point in the shootout. The challenge with deciding games in this fashion is that they are largely coin flips, based on evidence presented by Michael Schuckers three years ago:

All of this evidence supports that notion that we can treat the NHL shootout as a coin flip. Now this does not mean that a coach should send out any random player. What it means is that for the shooters that are selected — the best on each team — and the goalies in the NHL there is not enough evidence after five years of performance data that among these players any one is better than another at the shootout. This is not to say that there is not skill involved in the shootout. Rather the skill is vastly overwhelmed by the noise and, so, the shootout is a crapshoot.

And like a coin flip coming up heads a number of times in a row, eventually, the results will even out. In hockey, that is usually during the postseason. For example, the Dallas Stars led the league with 12 wins via the shootout in 2005-06, but were vanquished by the Colorado Avalanche in five games during the first round.

In 2006-07 there were five teams tied for the league lead in shootout wins with 10: Buffalo, Minnesota, New Jersey, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. The Wild, Lightning and Penguins all lost in the first round, while the Devils fell to Ottawa in the second round. Buffalo would end up making the conference finals, also losing to the Sens.

In 2007-08, Edmonton would win 15 games in the skills competition, six more than second-place Atlanta, but the Oilers would fail to qualify for the playoffs that year.

The New York Rangers would lead the league the following year with 10 wins but would lose to the Capitals in seven games during the first round of the postseason.

In 2009-10, the Phoenix Coyotes would have 14 wins from the shootout but also lose in the first round to Detroit.

The Kings and Penguins would each get 10 wins in 2010-11 and both would see early first round exits.

The 2011-12 New Jersey Devils would have the most success of any team who led the league in shootout wins (12), making it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Kings in six games.

Last year, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t parlay eight shootout wins into anything more than a second-round exit from the playoffs.

In all: 13 teams, 10 of which don’t make it out of the second round with another not qualifying for the playoffs. What does help a team progress through the postseason is, not surprisingly, winning games in regulation.

Over the past eight seasons, the teams meeting in the Stanley Cup finals have won a minimum of 41.5 percent of their games in regulation or overtime (ROW), with six of the Cup champions over the 52 percent mark. The Capitals, who currently lead the league with eight shootout victories, have 10 ROW wins out of their first 34 games. Simple math — and history — tells us they need to win at least half of their remaining games without the aid of the shootout to see their playoff fortunes significantly change.

greenberg
Neil Greenberg, when he isn’t watching the games, analyzes advanced statistics in the NHL and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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