Monday, May 01, 2006



Over at the new blog Puck This!, contributor Andrew Potter has a question. The lead-up will sound familiar to everyone, I think, though this is a better way of saying it:
An OT loss is the equivalent of a healthy man dropping dead of a heart attack. One minute, as alive and energetic as you can imagine, then suddenly, instantly, it is over. The psychological effect can be devastating. The devastation increases the longer the OT lasts. Losing in the first period of OT is not as bad as losing in the second. Losing in the third or fourth is raw agony. You end up physically exhausted and emotionally shattered.

Which gets us to the question:
Can we imagine a scenario where a team would be better off simply refusing to participate in the OT sudden-death scenario, give the team a quick and easy goal, and set about focusing on the next game? I'm thinking of a situation where the effect of losing in OT will actually make it more likely that the team will lose the next game as well. [...] Is there a decision matrix we can construct which would making throwing a game in OT rational? Could a coach ever have the necessary information to make that decision? Set aside questions of sportsmanship or integrity of the game or value to fans.

It's not trivial exactly, but I think it's pretty easy to answer "No" to all these questions. The one number that's known (or thereabouts) in this problem is 0.5; you'd be sacrificing half a win to your opponents. (I don't know that you could dream up an example of a team with much less than a 50/50 chance of winning an OT game, yet that still harbours hopes of winning a playoff series).

For the decision to sacrifice that "half a win" to be rational, the coach would have to feel assured that act of conceding would be worth at least half a win later in the series, relative to losing the OT game.

More to the point, the coach would have to grant Potter's premise, and I don't think it's obvious at all. Losing a hard-fought OT game is certainly heartbreaking and disappointing, but is it really devastating? I'm not going to do it, but it is testable. Find a list of (say) all games that went to at least the 2nd OT, scratch off all the Game 7's, and then look at the series results for the teams that lost those games.

I'd expect their record in those series to be under .500 -- not because of the devastation factor, but because of two other reasons: (1) you're surveying the records with the pre-condition that their opponent has won at least one game, and (2) surely more often than not, the "better" team wins those long OT games. It's better than .000, because I can think of at least two examples of a team that lost such a game and then won the series: the '04 Flames (lost Rd.1 Gm.6 in 3OT, won series) and the Devils in '94, who lost a 4OT game to the Sabres on a Dave Hannan goal, but went on to win the series and make it to OT Game 7 of the conference finals against the Rangers.

On the testing again, you'd look at the series records of the team losing the "devastating" games, and compare it against a control group: teams that lost a game under some other uncommon circumstance (say, where the GWG came on a shorthanded breakaway). If there IS a difference between the series records of teams that lost under these twin circumstances, you can quantify it, and there's your answer.

But I'm not going to test it, I'm just going to reject the whole premise on intuition. I don't think that it's devastating, or that losing a tough OT game has any negative predictive effect on a hockey team. Numbers that might look like they show otherwise can probably be explained away by the fact that it's a Loss (the max. is 3!), and that much like 60 minute games, the better team will win long OT games more often than the worse team.


Had some time, so I looked at the '96-'04 playoffs as a frame of reference.

Overall, there were 32 instances of a team losing a double-overtime game. The team that lost the double-overtime game went on to the lose the series on 21 occasions, or 65.63% of the time. This does not include multi-OT games that were series deciders themselves, of which there were nine.

Of note, the Avalanche are a team you do not want to beat in multiple overtimes. On three occasions, they rallied back to win the seies, though, it should be stressed, even after losing the game in question, they were still always ahead or tied in the series.

The only true reversals, meaning a team lost a multi-OT game, which put them down in the series, then came back to win that series, occurred below:

* The memorable 2003 series between Philadelphia and Toronto. The Flyers lost Game 3 in 2OT to fall behind, 2-1 in the series. They then won Game 4 in 3 OT to tie the series, before losing Game 6 in 2 OT to fall back into a 3-3 tie in games, before they finally won the series emphatically in Game 7.

* 2004: Montreal lost Game 4 in 2OT to Boston, falling behind 3-1 in games. The Canadiens then won 3 straight to send the Bruins into the lockout and their current misery.

So the key is, yes, a team can lose a multi-OT game and still win a series, IF that loss still leaves them tied or ahead in that series. Teams that are down in the series after losing a multi-OT game are very, very, very unlikely to come back to win said series.

the only way i can even remotely ever see that making sense ( and even then.... it still wouldn't make sense) is if your team is already up 3-0 in the series and you're getting ready to go into your third OT or something.... in that case, you might quietly just wish one of the two teams would get it over with so you could move onto the next game and series.

But even then, i don't think it'd make much sense at all.

Thanks for that, Eddie. The numbers are enlightening. The next step (not that I'm asking!) would be to check a control group. The obvious candidate, given the broader question, would be to look at the last 32 games in which a team lost in 1st OT, or even the last 5 minutes of regulation.

I would certainly expect about 21 series losses, since ANY RANDOM CONDITION you look at involving Team X losing a game will probably mean Team X only wins one-third of the series. But when a team suffers a plain-old "non-devastating" loss to go down in a series, how often do they win? Probably not any more often than the numbers you've cited.

If you don't mind (or, if you come back), how many of the 32 resulted in the team going into a series deficit, and how many resulted in a tied series & still-in-the-lead? Or put another way, 2 out of What?

There are a billion reasons to this it's a silly idea, but this may be the biggest: if you were going to give up on the game anyway, why wouldn't you at least pull your goalie and take a chance on ending the OT quickly in your favour?

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