Photo: Amanda Bowen
The Caps continue to win a lot of games. But it’s fair to say that the team hasn’t been as dominant in their wins lately. As was talked about in the snapshot last week, the team’s puck possession and netminding, while far from bad, have both been moving in the wrong direction.
Each of the Caps’ last 6 wins have been by a one-goal margin. Having success in one-goal games is nothing new for the 2015-16 team, as they’ve had more success than any other team this season in one-goal contests. Part of this is a byproduct of being a team that wins a lot regardless of the margin of victory. Teams that win more often than not are likely to be more successful than not in games decided by one goal, two goals, and so on. But the flip side of this coin is that a record built heavily upon winning one-goal games is unlikely to be sustained moving forward.
Dimitri “Mr. Sportsnet” Filipovic has touched on this topic. Be sure to read his piece in its entirety for full context, but here’s a snippet:
The idea that certain teams possess the inherent ability to buckle down when it matters most with the game on the line and channel their inner ‘will to win’ is nothing short of a fallacy.
If being particularly clutch in this fashion was something that legitimately separated the great teams from the others, then in theory we’d be able to see it repeated from year to year. That’s not the case, though. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to not only show that a team’s success in one-goal games generally fluctuates from one season to the next but is also hardly a harbinger of that specific team’s true talent.
Dimitri’s article focuses primarily on the question of how repeatable success in one-goal games is from year-to-year. He lays out a convincing argument, supported by evidence that success in one-goal games isn’t repeatable from one season to the next. So, even if the Caps bring back a very similar squad next season, they shouldn’t expect to again be world-beaters in contests decided by a single goal.
For now though, the primary focus is on this year’s Caps team. After all, if their success in one-goal games this season leads to a parade in DC in June, it’s probably fair to say most Caps fans aren’t too concerned if the results next season aren’t as rosy.
Back in 2011, Jonathan Willis looked at teams that won over 60% of their one-goal games in the regular season and how those teams did in the playoffs that same season. Popular narratives might lead one to believe that a team with a lot of success in one-goal games is built for playoff success, where the margins of victory are often smaller than in the regular season. But this narrative isn’t supported by the facts. From 2006-2011, 21 teams won over 60% of their one-goal games in the regular season. Three missed the playoffs and, per Jonathan’s research, none of the remaining 18 even reached the Cup finals:
And here’s how teams since 2011-12 (minus the wacky, smaller sample lockout season) have fared in the playoffs after winning 60% or more of their one-goal games in the regular season
|Team||Season||Win% in One-Goal Games||Playoff Result|
|Ducks||2014-15||80.5||Upset in Round 3|
|Canucks||2014-14||71.0||Upset in Round 1|
|Avalanche||2013-14||70.0||Upset in Round 1|
|Ducks||2013-14||69.2||Upset in Round 2|
|Blues||2013-14||66.7||Upset in Round 1|
|Devils||2011-12||64.9||Upset in Finals|
|Flyers||2011-12||64.1||Upset in Round 2|
|Blues||2014-15||64.1||Upset in Round 1|
|Blue Jackets||2014-15||63.9||Missed Playoffs|
|Predators||2014-15||63.8||Upset in Round 1|
|Rangers||2011-12||63.6||Upset in Round 3|
|Rangers||2014-15||63.2||Upset in Round 3|
|Canucks||2011-12||60.0||Upset in Round 1|
Info from Hockey Reference
If we take out the two teams who missed the playoffs and the 2015-16 Caps, here’s how the 12 teams fared:
This isn’t to say that this Caps team isn’t great, their success isn’t deserved, or that they are doomed come playoff time. This Caps teams isn’t just any other team. They are putting up wins at a historical rate. But this also doesn’t mean they’re exempt from the perils of an unsustainable record in one-goal games.
Yes, each team is unique and perhaps the unique qualities of this Caps team, as well as a good amount of luck, will allow them to run off something as unlikely as 16 consecutive one-goal victories in the playoffs. But don’t bet on this being the path the Caps take to the Stanley Cup, if they’re fortunate enough to get there.
Most every successful team will have a high level of success in one-goal games, but this isn’t something that should be the foundation upon which the success is built. This Caps team is good enough to not be as reliant on one-goal victories as they have been, especially recently. They’ll be better served to get back to those more dominant victories, as relying so heavily upon one-goal victories could spell trouble in the playoffs.
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