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October 21, 2009
Illegal Curve
One Goal Games in the Post-Lockout Era

by Richard Pollock

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Two weeks ago, I examined the lack of continuity in poor one-goal game results from one season to the next. Thanks to fellow Puck Prospectus contributor Gabriel Desjardins, I now have access to some historical data concerning one-goal games. However, for this piece, I decided to focus strictly on one-goal game results since the lockout. Specifically, I broke down the plus/minus difference for each NHL team in one-goal games since 2005/06.

Here is the chart:

Legend:

1GW: One Goal Wins

1GL: One Goal Losses

Diff: Difference

	          2006		   2007	      2008		   2009		
Teams        1GW   1GL  Diff  1GW  1GL  Diff  1GW  1GL  Diff  1GW  1GL  Diff
Anaheim	      16    22	 -6    23   24	 -1    24   16	  8    23   21	  2
Atlanta	      17    16	  1    21   20	  1    18   14	  4    15   20	 -5
Boston	      14    32	-18    20   13	  7    18   21	 -3    18   20	 -2
Buffalo	      23    15	  8    25   16	  9    14   18	 -4    16   16	  0
Calgary	      24    21	  3    15   22	 -7    22   17	  5    21   15	  6
Carolina      28    13	 15    16   13	  3    18   15	  3    24   15 	  9
Chicago	      14    27	-13    17   24	 -7    18   17	  1    12   19	 -7
Colorado      19    20	 -1    22   20	  2    19   19	  0    22   20 	  2
Columbus      24    16	  8    18   18	  0    14   20	 -6    20   16	  4
Dallas	      27    16	 11    28   15	 13    15   18	 -3    19   21	 -2
Detroit	      20    14	  6    18   18	  0    18   18 	  0    24   17	  7
Edmonton      22    22	  0    15   18	 -3    25   14	 11    19   22	 -3
Florida	      19    23	 -4    13   23	-10    22   25	 -3    16   15	  1
L.A.	      23    17	  6    11   24	-13    10   20	-10    20   23	 -3
Minnesota     14    28	-14    25   19	  6    23   18	  5    19   22	 -3
Montreal      23    18	 15    17   14	  3    16   15	  1    20   19	  1
Nashville     25    14	 11    23   15 	  8    17   18	 -1    22   16	  6
NJ Devils     25    17	  8    32   16 	 16    27   16	 11    25    9	 16
NY Islanders  21    16	  5    14   19	 -5    23   17	  6    11   26	-15
NY Rangers    15    26	-11    20   24	 -4    16   20	 -4    24   19	  5
Ottawa	      10    15	 -5    10   22	-12    16   15	  1    17   21 	 -4
Philadelphia  24    16	  8    12   25	-13    17   20	 -3    18   22	 -4
Phoenix	      19    16	  3    16   18	 -2    18   18 	  0    17   18 	 -1
Pittsburgh    10    28	-18    25   19	  6    17   17	  0    19   17	  2
San Jose      21    22	 -1    13   13	  0    26   17	  9    26   18	  8
St. Louis     12    24	-12    17   22	 -5    15   24 	 -9    18   19	 -1
Tampa Bay     23    12	 11    24   15	  9    12   20	 -8    10   29	-19
Toronto	      23    20	  3    18   16	  2    15   23	 -8    16   18	 -2
Vancouver     21    20	  1    30   18	 12    19   23	 -4    17   19 	 -2
Washington    16    26	-10	9   24	-15    21   20	  1    19   15	  4

There are a lot of numbers to digest here, so I have totalled the record of each NHL team in one-goal games in terms of plus/minus. Meaning that if a team won four more one-goal games since 2005/06 than they lost, then that team’s plus/minus would be +4.

Here is the chart:

Teams	      2005/06  2006/07  2007/08	 2008/09  Total Difference
Anaheim	       -6       -1	  8	   2	       3
Atlanta	        1	 1	  4	  -5	       1
Boston	      -18	 7       -3	  -2	     -16
Buffalo	        8	 9       -4	   0	      13
Calgary	        3       -7	  5	   6	       7
Carolina       15	 3	  3	   9	      30
Chicago	      -13       -7	  1	  -7	     -26
Colorado       -1	 2	  0	   2	       3
Columbus	8	 0       -6	   4	       6
Dallas	       11       13       -3	  -2	      19
Detroit	        6	 0	  0	   7	      13
Edmonton	0       -3       11	  -3	       5
Florida	       -4      -10       -3	   1	     -16
L.A.	        6      -13      -10	  -3	     -20
Minnesota     -14	 6	  5	  -3	      -6
Montreal       15	 3	  1	   1	      20
Nashville      11	 8       -1	   6	      24
NJ Devils	8       16       11	  16	      51
NY Islanders	5       -5	  6	 -15	      -9
NY Rangers    -11       -4       -4	   5	     -14
Ottawa	       -5      -12	  1	  -4	     -20
Philadelphia	8      -13       -3	  -4	     -12
Phoenix	        3       -2	  0	  -1	       0
Pittsburgh    -18	 6	  0	   2	     -10
San Jose       -1	 0	  9	   8	      16
St. Louis     -12       -5       -9	  -1	     -27
Tampa Bay      11	 9       -8	 -19	      -7
Toronto	        3	 2       -8	  -2	      -5
Vancouver	1       12       -4	  -2	       7
Washington    -10      -15	  1	   4	     -20

Top Three Teams

Are there any evident trends in terms of plus/minus results? Well, not surprisingly the New Jersey Devils are number one on this list—and it is not even close. The Devils won 51 more one-goal games than they lost from 2005/06 to 2008/09. In fact, the Devils never finished with less than a +8 in terms of one-goal victories. Is this because of Martin Brodeur? Or is this because of the team’s defensive mentality? This is kind of like the chicken or the egg argument, but I’d say it is a bit of both. The Devils clearly have an ability to clamp down with the lead and secure a one-goal victory. New Jersey has always been known as this type of team, but these numbers certainly confirm that.

After New Jersey, we have the Carolina Hurricanes. This is somewhat of a surprising finding to me because Peter Laviolette was a fairly aggressive coach who preached offense and forechecking. Not surprisingly, however, was that the Hurricanes’ most successful one-goal record season came in 2005/06—also the season they won the Stanley Cup. However, even since then, the Hurricanes have never had a negative one-goal game record. Was this all because of Laviolette? Remember, the Hurricanes experienced a mid-season coaching change in 2008/09 and still finished with a terrific plus/minus record.

Who is next on the list? The Nashville Predators. Led by Barry Trotz, the Predators have generally been a low payroll team that has relied on defense and work ethic for its success. However, Nashville’s success in one-goal games was greatest in 2005/06 and 2006/07 when their teams both finished in the top ten in scoring goals. So, is this one-goal game record really because of solid defensive play? Well, it is not as if this team was winning games 2-1 when it had its highest rate of one-goal game success; so, maybe not.

Oddest Discoveries

The one team that caught my eye above all, was the Ottawa Senators. Over the past four seasons, the Senators have not once finished with a positive plus/minus record in one-goal games. That is especially surprising considering the Senators made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006/07 only to fall to the Anaheim Ducks. In that sense, you would figure a team that can make it all the way to the Finals would have an ability to win a lot of close one-goal games. Well, apparently not.

What about Minnesota? All we ever hear is that Jacques Lemaire is a tremendous defensive coach. Now, I don’t doubt that, but then shouldn’t his teams have been above -6 in terms of overall record in one-goal games?

Conclusion

Is there a way to explain these findings? I am not so sure. Aside from the Devils, every other team is fairly close together, save a few rebuilding teams. Maybe it is significant that the top three teams on the list have had the same general managers for a long period of time. Lou Lamoriello has been with the Devils for over two decades, Jim Rutherford has been the Hurricanes’ GM since the Whalers moved to Carolina and David Poile has been the Nashville GM since the team’s inception into the NHL. Maybe the top three team’s success can be somewhat attributed to an organizational philosophy? That said, aside from the Devils, I’m not so sure there is a clear established way of winning more one-goal games than you lose. It seems like, over a long period of time, more a matter of chance than anything else.

Richard Pollock is Editor for the hockey website Illegal Curve.

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