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Gajtka: Don’t Dismiss Teams Loading Up on ‘Loser Points’

Those post-regulation ‘wins’ and ‘losses’ should be for entertainment purposes only.



The Flyers haven't fared well in the shootout this season, despite their playoff standing. - Icon Sportswire

I’ve been an unabashed fan of the NHL’s usage of three-on-three overtime to decide games.

It’s fast. It’s loose. It’s fun. It’s playground. It’s utterly outrageous in all the right ways.

It also has little value in determining who the best hockey team on a given night was.

Surely, three-on-three OT is better than the shootout for finding a winner. Actual hockey plays determine the outcome, instead of a series of one-on-one battles. Shootouts have been derided as ‘skills competitions’ in the past, but three-on-three hockey rewards the kind of skills that more often come into play during a typical game.

In the same breath, let’s not act like there’s some divine truth being unearthed once the ‘fourth period’ begins. Just as much as we should turn a dubious eye toward shootout results, we should be doing the same for any result that’s determined past 60 minutes of play.

Not What It Seems

A good case in point for this is the current Metropolitan Division standings. After Thursday’s action, the fourth-place Flyers (38-25-12) trail the second-place Penguins (42-27-5) by one point. But don’t let all the so-called ‘loser points’ fool you into thinking the gap between the teams is significant.

In games decided in regulation, the defending champs are 31-27, with 16 regulation ‘ties.’ The young challengers from across the commonwealth are 28-25, with 22 ‘ties.’ By simple win percentage in regulation, the Penguins are a .534 team and the Flyers are at .528. Philly is essentially on par with the Penguins in terms of results.

If anything, we should give a small bonus to teams who are sub-.500 beyond regulation and deduct a little from teams that have cleaned up in the overtime and shootout. Especially for teams like the Flyers, who are 2-7 in the shootout, take those numbers in the third standings column with a few grains of salt. They don’t mean that much.

All things being equal, overtime results are more legit than shootout, but I’d also caution against reading much into the Penguins’ 9-3 record in sudden death this season. As fun as that has been to watch, there isn’t much of their three-on-three success that translates to the rest of their game.

The Blue Jackets are getting a lot of love for a 10-game winning streak — and rightly so — but keep in mind 14 of their 42 wins have come beyond regulation.

Another Avenue for Atlantic

I spent a few days in Florida recently for some spring training baseball, and I was surprised by the level of angst about the Lightning, who’ve led the Atlantic Division from the word ‘go’ this season. However, when I looked at how they’ve been getting fat on post-regulation results lately, the anxiety made more sense.

Tampa Bay leads the NHL with 51 wins and 106 points, but its combined 12-4 record in overtime and shootouts combined should give us some pause. The Lightning recently plowed through a 9-1-1 stretch that included just two regulation wins, so they’re not as dominant as they once were, despite holding their position atop the Eastern Conference.

Using the same method we put into effect in the Metro, Tampa Bay has a 39-19 record in regulation, good for a .672 win percentage. Boston, meanwhile, has gone 37-17 for a superior .685 regulation win percentage, despite trailing the Lightning by six points in the standings.

For the most part, teams’ records in overtime and shootout games even out, but there are enough exceptions like these to remind us to put the post-regulation happenings in their own separate category.

To borrow a line from the folks in the sports gambling industry, those ‘wins’ and ‘losses’ should be for entertainment purposes only.

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A lifelong hockey addict, Matt has been fortunate enough to make his career in his sport of choice, working in high school, juniors, college and the pros in various multimedia roles. Previous to joining PHN, Matt was a credentialed Penguins/NHL beat reporter from 2016-18, including coverage of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He contributes commentary and analysis here in various forms.

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