Reilly stickhandles in the backyard.
San Jose, CA
OK, this idea for a column developed from my frustration with a good team that was finding new ways to lose, the Sharks. I decided to fund a research study to figure out why the Blues, the Hawks, the Sharks and even the Mighty Anahymen have had protracted losing streaks. Back Out East, even the Bruins have lost more than a couple of games where they looked like they had it all locked up then wilted.
Let me set the scene for you in my mind: its the last 15 games of the season and the above mentioned teams have held a playoff position high in the standings, either leading the division or second. The vaunted Western conference has had its way with the East this year, winning around 63% of the games played, perhaps not germane to the discussion but a factor in the gaudy records.
My theory is related to the WAY or MANNER in which these teams win close games, often tied at the end or one goal affairs. Take San Jose for instance, they have 10 shootout wins and seven OT or shootout losses, and have played in a total of 43 one goal games. Stay with me, I know your eyes are glazing over. Over half of their games are decided by one goal. Their record in one goal games, including shootout wins is 25-18.
To have a great record you have to win close games in addition to winning games by 2 or more. Then, I noticed who they lost to and believe me I am a little blown away by the teams on the list. Buffalo twice, Carolina two times, and in sucksession Calgary, Washington, Florida, Winnipeg! They hit the rough patch in March, but they hit one earlier in the year where they lost 5 of seven. All teams not in the playoffs.
What does it say about your team if it can’t or doesn’t beat the “bad teams” consistently? Well, there are a couple ways of looking at it. If you play a lot of close games, chances are you have good goaltending and good defense. Check. As a fan, I want my team to be “in the game.” You want your team to score clutch goals, you want them to beat good teams. All of that is good, so by extension, your team is good right?
Not so fast. We all know that the NHL season is long, and focus can be disrupted and the players aren’t robots. How do these bad teams beat the Blues, Sharks, Hawks, Ducks and Avs? Perhaps the definition of bad needs to re-examined, perhaps the bad guys get up to play the “elite” teams, but I don’t think so.
I think the W/L records can be deceiving and just because a team is 43-25, while their opponent is 30-38 doesn’t mean the sub .500 is going to be a pushover. The media makes it out to be a surprise when the “inferior” team wins, yet guys on the “good team” are consistently beaten to loose pucks or can’t score enough to win.
The Blues have lost 5 straight, the Sharks lost 6 outta 8 recently, the Hawks just WON their first OT game this YEAR. Do you see my point? I’m gettin there.. Here’s another one to ponder: San Jose loses to Florida, giving up 3 in the second and can’t recover losing 3-2. The Panthers next game, they play LA and get smoked 4-0. Is LA that much better than San Jose? Nope, its one game, small sample size.
As the season winds down, the media says each game is so big, but I think the players don’t see it that way. I think that down the stretch, teams assured of a playoff spot aren’t willing to give up as much of their bodies to win, preferring instead to not get injured going in to the playoffs. If you watch as much hockey as I do, you can see it and not just one team either.
To sum up what I think I’m sayin, the W/L of a given team is not indicative of who is going to win on a nightly basis and media and fan expectations can be unrealistic. Each game is its own little holy war and each one stands on its own. Record is not predictive of future success. Ask the Kings, they won the Cup from the 8 seed.