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Saturday, December 20, 2008

The (not so secret) Secret to NHL Success

It's the Saturday before Christmas, and I should be out shopping for gifts for family and friends. Instead, I'm stalling - pouring over the latest NHL stats while I try to work up the courage to sally forth and face the Christmas shopping hordes. In the process of procrastination, I've stumbled upon an interesting statistical nugget:

First, a wee bit of background: At OGA, we've already called 12 teams IN, and 5 teams OUT, of the 08/09 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Our calls are based on team performance compared to our proprietary Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC). Now that we've established where I'm coming from, let us move on...

How important is goal scoring, and how many goals must a team score (on average) in order to make the playoffs? To find out, I looked only at two stat categories this morning: Goals/Game and Goals Against/Game. As it turns out, the top 9 goal scoring teams have all been called IN the playoffs by OGA, and all nine are scoring better than 3.00 G/G. In addition, all nine have a positive goal differential (their G/G is greater than their GA/G).

In a bit of a surprise, of the 21 teams averaging less than 3.00 G/G, just FOUR have a positive goal differential (Montreal, Buffalo, Anaheim and Minnesota). Of the four, Montreal and Minnesota have been called IN by OGA, while Buffalo and Anaheim are on the bubble. The New York Rangers have the distinction of being the only team in the NHL with a negative goal differential to be called IN the playoffs by OGA so far this season. What makes the Rangers exceptional? Eight Shootout wins, that's what. They're winning small and losing big, which is generally NOT a formula for long-term success.

The moral of the story, kids, is this: In today's NHL, score more than 3 goals per game and you'll make the playoffs. Also, score more than 3 per game and you'll allow fewer goals (on average) than you're scoring. Score less than 3 goals per game, and you're going to have a hard time maintaining a positive goal differential, though some of you will make the playoffs (only to face San Jose, Detroit or Boston in the first round).

And with that, I've run out of excuses not to go Christmas shopping. I'm sure I'll come up with more tomorrow, though, so check back then.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis

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