Ducks Luck

With his Anaheim Ducks in first place overall, coach Bruce Boudreau is in familiar territory.  All too familiar, in fact.

In his last three seasons as coach of the Washington Capitals (2009-2011) he won one President’s Trophy (first place overall in the regular season), and came second and fourth overall in the two others. But despite the tremendous regular season success, the Caps couldn’t manage to get past the second round of the playoffs.

Signs point to this year’s Ducks suffering the same unkind fate. Despite their dominance in the standings, advanced stats do not bode well for the Ducks’ playoff success.

As we’ve pointed out in previous columns, Score Adjusted Corsi (“SAC”) is a pretty solid predictor of long-term team success. Sometimes a team can outrun its SAC for a while—like the Avalanche did for all of last season and like the Flames have managed to do so far this year. But unless your goalie is Carey Price or you manage to have guys named Crosby and Malkin as your 1-2 down the middle, the inevitable gravitational pull of shot differential takes hold, and teams usually perform about where you’d guess based on their SAC.

That’s bad news for the Ducks, which rank 17th overall in SAC.

To make matters worse, if the Ducks hang on to the first seed in the West their likely first round opponents would be the Wild, Jets, or Kings, who rank 11th, 7th, and 2nd overall in SAC respectively. Despite finishing first overall, an argument could be made that the Ducks would actually be the underdog against any one of those teams, based on their SACs.

At this point it’s reasonable to ask how the Ducks have managed to lead the league in points despite their below-average SAC, and why I think they can’t keep it up going into the playoffs.

There are a number of factors, but the main one is the Ducks’ record in one-goal games:  26 wins, 1 loss, 7 OT losses, for a win percentage of 76.5%, which is almost unheard of. Not only is it good for first overall, there are only 5 teams in the league with one-goal game win percentages over 60%.

Now your traditional analysts will tell you that this is great news for the Ducks. It shows they have “heart” and “grit” and “know how to win.” They’re. Just. Wrong.

One goal games are a coinflip. Winning one goal games is not a skill. It is not repeatable in the long run.

Don’t believe me? Three of the last four Stanley Cup champs had losing records in one-goal games during the season in which they won the Cup. Last year’s Kings won just 48.8% of their one-goal games, and the 2012 Kings and 2011 Bruins won only 37.0% and 47.1% respectively.

Heck, even the lowly the Leafs had the seventh best one-goal game win percentage in the league last year (54.3%), and the eighth best the year before (57.9%), and let’s just say that they’re not exactly on the top of anybody’s list of gritty, battle-tested teams that “just know how to win.”

Team Score Adj. Corsi One Goal Game Win %
2015 Ducks 50.5 (17th) 78.8 (1st)
2015 Wild 52.0 (11th) 53.1 (12th)
2015 Jets 53.6 (7th) 48.4 (16th)
2015 Kings 54.2 (2nd) 35.5 (28th)
2014 Kings  (Champions) 57.2 (1st) 48.8% (14th)
2013 Blackhawks (Champions) 55.6 (3rd) 70.4% (2nd)
2012 Kings (Champions) 54.8 (3rd) 37% (28th)
2011 Bruins (Champions) 51.5 (9th) 47.1% (21st)

Now none of this is meant to suggest that there’s anything wrong with winning one-goal games. A team will happily take the two points every time.  But contrary to what most analysts say, it’s not a signal that a team knows how to win. It’s a signal that the team is getting lucky and winning more games than it will after the luck evens out.

And in the long run luck always evens out.

For the Ducks, it means that their point total probably doesn’t reflect the team’s true performance. It means their one-goal game record has masked their weak SAC. It means that the Ducks aren’t nearly as good as a lot of people think they are.

In fact, in games decided by more than one goal, which appears to be a much better measure of team’s ability, the Ducks have a losing record (16 wins, 19 losses).

None of this is true of the Ducks’ potential first-round opponents. The Wild and Jets are right around .500 in one-goal games, and both have solid winning percentages in games decided by more than one goal. And the Kings in this respect are the anti-Ducks. Their SAC is second overall, but they’re 28th in one-goal game win percentage (35.5%), with a 60.6% win percentage in games decided by more than a single goal. The Ducks are overperforming; the Kings are much better than their record suggests.

None of these opponents is particularly appealing if you’re Bruce Boudreau.

Bruce Boudreau’s team could very well end up winning the President’s Trophy. But as weird as it seems, you should probably feel bad for the guy if that happens, because with the Ducks’ grossly inflated point total comes grossly inflated expectations for post-season success.

Which is bad news for Boudreau, for whom it could well be different team, same result, as there’s a solid chance that the league-leading Ducks will have a very short post-season.


  1. federov's Gravatar federov
    April 28, 2015    

    tLooking at Palansky's summary of Anaheim's one goal game results and his analysis of those results, it is time to speak up; and yes, I did note the date the article was published. There's been a lot of changes in the NHL over the years, and the sad part is that in depth statistics were not available before many of these changes came into place. As I see it, most analysts are applying neophyte knowledge to a game that is 'based on' hockey but is not exactly hockey. One-goal-game analysis would work only if the rules were applied to Rocket Richard's time. It can still be done though, if one widens the blinkers.

    Three simple mental adjustments:
    ~ A shoot-out is not a one goal game, it is a tie game.
    ~ A victory in a sparse 5 minute overtime is not a one goal game, it is a tie game.
    ~ A two goal victory where an empty net goal was scored is not a two goal game, it is a one goal game.

    The players know this. They also know that getting the two points is all that really matters. So now teams can get one point for a loss and a guy can score his third goal for a hat trick with no goalie in sight. The Rocket never did that.

    PS ~I'm not complaining about the game or player skills today, only about slow development of the brains doing analysis.

  2. James's Gravatar James
    May 11, 2015    

    bad new for Bodreau - his team is on the the conference finals

  3. James's Gravatar James
    May 11, 2015    

    bad news for Bodreau - his team is on to the conference finals

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