24 January 2014

The losing record and the afternoon games: a fairytale

That sounds rather nice as a storybook title, doesn’t it? Now, before I claim that the afternoon loss is a myth, it must be said upfront that I have no actual insight into the ways which the team gets ready differently for afternoon games; I don’t know who gets up late, who eats differently and who skips the team warm-up. Instead, I decided to take a look at the previous afternoon performances of the team and see how much of the story that 1-7-2 losing record tells.

Afternoon games, which I've defined as start times from 12 noon to 5 PM, have made up 20% of the season so far (10 out of 51 games).There's a clear negative discrepancy in a few stats, and it's not in the possession department. With the admittedly small sample size that we have right now, one can see that the Sens have actually played better than their season-long average in afternoon games. Score effects play an evident role in boosting their Fenwick For %, of course, considering the many early goals which Anderson has given up, but due to this very fact, the sample size of 5-vs-5 close play isn't nearly large enough to provide a semi-accurate picture. The quality of the opposition matters as well, but teams like the Sharks, Kings and Stars balance out with the Oilers, Panthers and Hurricanes.

Where the most notable difference can be found is the luck metric of PDO, or, breaking it down into its two constituent stats, shooting percentage and save percentage. Common metrics theory suggests that shooting percentage is the more variable of the two, since it depends on the 20 players shooting while save percentage relies on just two players. So the -4.09 fall in sv% is notable, particularly at even-strength. Robin Lehner played 4 of those games, and Craig Anderson played the other 6, meaning neither one is more culpable than the other. Is it likely that these two players out of the whole team are affected substantially by an afternoon start? No. Rather, this looks more like the normal distribution of sucky games on the sucky-to-stellar-game spectrum for goalies just happened to fall on these afternoon games.

Now look at it from a common sense point of view. One would think that, had there been really been some kind of factor unbeknownst to us or the media involving the Sens’ pregame rituals affecting games, the team or coaching staff would have isolated it by now and made adjustments as necessary. Say, if Condra needed more time to sprinkle his magical possession powder upon everyone’s heads, for example. And really, literally nothing else about an afternoon game is changed besides the start time. Players’ skill sets are still the same, regular home/away gameplay rules apply and it isn’t as if the sun’s glare is present to link the time of day to the inside of an ice rink.

On top of all this, you can’t forget that the Senators aren’t the only ones playing the game; their opponent is partaking in an afternoon match as well. How likely is it that every single team in the NHL is okay with afternoon games except the Senators? A look at all teams’ afternoon performances versus evening performances could show you, but I’m going to make a hypothesis right now: it’s not very likely.

The Sens might win more on Thursdays rather than Sundays and during evenings rather than afternoons. But if anything in hockey could be truly called random, then I suspect the correlation between start time and win/lose would be.


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