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October 8, 2009
Illegal Curve
One Goal Games

by Richard Pollock

In baseball, many times teams that lose a lot of one-run games attribute the result to bad luck and, as a result, expect their luck to turnaround the following campaign. Is the same belief applicable to the game of hockey?

It is an interesting question because in hockey, unlike baseball, you can directly change your style of play depending on the score of the game. So, perhaps teams that lose a plethora of one-goal games fall behind and are unable to put everything together in order to make comeback after comeback. On the other hand, maybe we can just chalk it up to sheer bad luck.

Letís take a glance at the past four post-lockout seasons to get a better look at whether teams that win/lose one-goal games see those results continue season after season.

Here are the five worst teams in terms of one-goal game winning percentage from 2005 through 2009.

2005/2006  Percentage of             Final points     Ranking in the NHL
           one-goal game victories   In NHL standings in percentage of
                                                      one-goal game victories
Chicago	   .341	                      65	       26
Minnesota  .333	                      84	       27
St. Louis  .333	                      57	       28
Boston	   .304	                      74	       29
Pittsburgh  263	                      58	       30

How do the same teams fare the following season?

2006/07	    Percentage of            Final points       Ranking in the NHL
            one-goal game victories  In NHL standings   in percentage of 
                                                        one-goal game victories
Chicago	.        415	                 71	            24
Minnesota	.568	                104	             8
St. Louis	.436	                 81	            22
Boston	        .606	                 76	             6
Pittsburgh	.568	                105	             9

Well, as you can tell by the numbers, every team that finished in the bottom five in percentage of one-goal game victories, improved upon their prior seasonís percentage, points and NHL ranking. Admittedly some improve far more than others but, nonetheless, there was improvement across the board.

Does that stand up the following season?

2006/07	      Percentage of             Final points      Ranking in the NHL 
              one-goal game victories   In NHL standings  in percentage of
                                                          one-goal games won
 
Florida	            .361	            86	              26
Philadelphia	    .324	            56	              27
Los Angeles	    .314	            68	              28
Ottawa	            .313	           105	              29
Washington	    .273	            70	              30
2007/08	    Percentage of             Final points       Ranking in the NHL 
            one-goal game victories   In NHL standings   in percentage of 
                                                         one-goal games won

Florida	        .468	                   85	                19
Philadelphia	.459	                   95	                21
Los Angeles	.333	                   71	                30
Ottawa	        .516	                   94	                10
Washington	.512	                   94	                13

Again, we see improvement across the board for NHL ranking. Granted the Kings improved slightly and still finished last in the NHL standings in 2007/08, but every other team saw improvement, with Ottawa and Washington showing the most substantial improvement.

The final standings paint somewhat of a different picture though, as Ottawa was eleven points worse and the Panthers a negligible one point worse. That said, those teamís one-goal game success, relative to the rest of the league, improved upon the prior season.

Will the overall improvements hold up?

2007/08	   Percentage of              Final points         Ranking in the NHL 
           one-goal game victories    In NHL standings	   in percentage of
                                                           one-goal games won
Columbus	.412	                  80	               26
Toronto	        .395	                  83	               27
St. Louis	.385	                  79	               28
Tampa Bay	.375	                  71	               29
Los Angeles	.333	                  71	               30
2008/09	        Percentage of            Final points        Ranking in the NHL
                one-goal game victories	 In NHL standings    in percentage of
                                                             one-goal games won
Columbus	.556		               -                 9
Toronto	        .471		               -                21
St. Louis	.486		               -                16
Tampa Bay	.256		               -                30
Los Angeles	.465		               -                22

This time, we see our first team from the bottom five of one-goal game winning percentages actually having an even worse one-goal winning percentage the following season. Now, it is not overly surprising that this team was Tampa Bay, as the Bolts had a messy 2008/09, which included copious transactions, the hiring of a new head coach over the summer (Barry Melrose) and then the firing of Melrose and the hiring of another new coach (Rick Tocchet) to take over during the course of the season.

So, of the fifteen teams that finished in the bottom five of the standings in percentage of one-goal game victories, only two of those teams managed to find themselves in the bottom five of the NHL in that same category the following season.

What is most encouraging for the teams that fare so poorly in that respect, is that only one of the fifteen teams actually saw its percentage decrease the following season. So, baseball may be onto something, as one-goal results do have a way of changing year-to-year.

The question is: What is in store for the teams in the chart below for the 2009/10 season?

2008/09	  Percentage of one-goal game victories   Final points In NHL standings
Ottawa	            .447	                      83
Atlanta	            .429	                      76
Chicago	            .387	                     104
NY Islanders	    .297	                      61
Tampa Bay	    .256	                      66

Richard Pollock is Editor for the hockey website Illegal Curve.

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