Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Heaven... I'm in Heaven

And my heart beats ‘cuz there’s little time to pack,
And there seem to be too many guys to whack,
When we play on nights when games are back-to-back.

This is a season that is compressed because of the long Olympic Games break, which will carve a chunk of the schedule out from February 15th through February 28th. That being the case, back-to-back games will figure prominently this season. Let’s take a look at what has transpired to date…


On a pure win-loss basis, chances are you are going to lose that second game of a back-to-back. Teams, regardless of how they start a back-to-back set, are 49-64 in the second game of back-to-back sets (extra-time losses counted as losses). But if you look harder, you find that teams – again, regardless of how they start a back-to-back set – have earned points in 67 of the 113 games in the second half of the sets played so far. It’s all in your perspective (and, how you feel about the Bettman Guide to Standings Points).

But one thing you will find that is rather consistent in back-to-back games so far. Those teams who play them have been very successful in the first half of the set. Overall, teams playing back-to-back games are 60-38-15 in the first game of the set. As you might expect, teams are more successful over all if the first game is a home game (22-10-6) then if it is an away game (38-28-9). Here is how the sets breakdown into their four categories overall:

Home/Home Sets

First of all, there haven’t been many home/home back-to-backs played by NHL teams thus far – only nine in 113 total back-to-back sets. And if you think winning that first game of a home/home set gives the home team a big advantage in the second, you would be wrong (but it is a small sample size). Seven times the home team won the first game, and only three times have they completed the sweep. Here is how the home/home sets break down:

Some other tidbits about the home/home sets…

- No team lost both ends of the set in regulation. Only Atlanta failed to get a win out of a set, losing in regulation then in extra time on October 21-22.

- Only two teams lost the first game of a home/home back-to-back. Atlanta and New Jersey. Curiously enough, New Jersey’s loss in a home-home set was to Atlanta on October 16th.

Home/Away Sets

Teams playing one night at home, and then having to travel through the night (or early the next morning) would seem to have the biggest intuitive disadvantage in any of the back-to-back types. You’re tired, you often have to rush out of your building to get to an airplane, check into a hotel, sleep in a strange bed, and then skate 60 minutes in front of a hostile crowd the following night.

Well, it hasn’t been the disadvantage you might have expected. Teams have lost 16 of 29 “second” games in those sets (12 of them in regulation). But as a function of percentage of available standings points won, teams playing home/away sets played to a .517 winning percentage. And it doesn’t appear to matter much whether one wins, loses, or goes to extra time in that home half of the back-to-back. You have a roughly even chance of picking up at least a point in that second game on the road, although you do have slightly higher incidences of taking a loss. Here is how the home away sets break down:

Some other tidbits…

- There have been seven sweeps of the home/away sets. New Jersey is the only club so far to have done it twice, and they accomplished the feat in a single week, winning on November 6-7 (Islanders-at Ottawa) and again on November 11-12 (Anaheim-at Pittsburgh). They came in the midst of an eight-game winning streak for the Devils.

- Four teams dropped both ends of a home-away set in regulation (Buffalo, Carolina, Florida, and Detroit, although the Detroit instance was one of those overseas sets).

Away/Home Sets

Getting home to your own bed and skating on your own ice after getting home from the road matters more than the home/away split, but perhaps not all that much. Teams are 16-15 on a pure win-loss basis in games on their own ice following a night on the road (.565 on a winning percentage of available points basis). It hardly seems to matter whether they won or lost that first game, either, on a win-loss basis. Here is how those games break down so far:

Teams do, however, appear to do somewhat better when winning the first game on the road.

Other tidbits…

- While losing both ends of a back-to-back was rare in the home/away instances, not so in the away/home version of a split set. It was done seven times by six different teams, Totonto having the dubious honor of having twice endured the result.

- Only one team lost both games in extra time among the away/home sets (Los Angeles).

Away/Away Sets

First, there is the matter of 44 such sets having been played out of a total of 113 (thank you, NHL scheduling). Second, it matters that you win that first game, as the breakdown indicates:

Teams winning that first game of a back-to-back on the road earned at least a standings point in 16 of the 23 second-half games played so far. Lose that first game, whether in regulation or in extra time, and you are going to have to struggle to get any success on the following night. You have only about one chance in four of getting a win in the second game (five wins in 21 chances).

As for the Caps, they have played four sets of back-to-backs so far, two home/away sets and two away/home sets. In the home/away sets they have a W-L result and a L-SOL result. In the away/home sets they have a W/OTL result and a sweep (the home-and-home with Florida). They’ve pretty much run the gamut of possible results thus far.

Are there great truths to be divined from this? Probably not. It’s early yet, and the accumulated wear on a team as the season moves on, especially with the compressed schedule this year could raise the bar even further for clubs trying to navigate the back-to-back games they have yet to play. But so far, teams do not appear to be especially burdened, in terms of results, by back-to-back games.

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