Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fittingly for Halloween night, the goaltenders for the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks had to keep their masks on longer than usual.

Tied 6-6 after regulation, the teams played a five-minute overtime period, but there was no scoring. The game then went to a shootout, a sequence of one-on-one shooter-goalie encounters with the teams alternating roles. Vancouver won the shootout, 2 goals to 1, resulting in an official 7-6 final score (i.e., the shootout win counted as 1 goal in the final score). This was far from a normal shootout, however!

As per the rules, each team fields three shooters to go up against the other team's goalie, analogous to a three-inning baseball game. If the two teams are tied after the initial three rounds -- which was the case between Vancouver and Anaheim -- then an "extra-innings" system is used. As soon as one team scores in a round and the other team doesn't, the game is over.

After the Canucks and Ducks completed the main three-round shootout tied at a goal apiece, one extra round after another kept passing by with neither team able to score. Here is a line score I created from a narrative summary in the above-linked game article.

That's right, the shootout lasted for 13 rounds! Both goalies -- Vancouver's Roberto Luongo and Anaheim's Jonas Hiller -- sparkled in the shootout. Luongo was beaten only once by the Ducks in the shootout, whereas Hiller stopped 11 straight Canuck shots before giving up the game-winner.

(Unsuccessful attempts can be divided into saves, shots that would have gone in but for the presence of the goalie, and misses, shots that were off-target wide or high. I would argue that goalies still deserve some credit for misses, as good goaltending likely induces shooters to take risky shots, such as aiming for corners of the net.)

The question I decided to pursue was as follows: Given these goalies' prior success rates, what was the probability of each netminder doing as well as he did in last night's shootout?

In conducting this analysis, I was aided greatly by the amazing website, which provides extensive, up-to-date data on shootouts.

Hiller did not have a lot of experience in shootouts; other than last night's, he participated in three shootouts last season, giving up 5 goals in 12 shots overall. The NHL Shootouts website gives Hiller a save percentage of .583 (evidently not distinguishing saves from misses). I next went to the Vassar College online binomial calculator and asked how likely it was that a goalie with a prior .583 success rate could stop 11 (or more) shots out of 13. The answer comes to a probability of approximately .05, a level social scientists would traditionally consider "statistically significant."

A similar analysis was conducted for the more experienced Luongo. Over the three seasons preceding the current one, Luongo had participated in 30 shootouts, compiling a cumulative success rate of .714. For a goalie with such a percentage to rebuff 12 (or more) shots out of 13 yields a probability of .08. Another way to look at this finding is that Luongo is a better shootout (if not overall) goalie than Hiller (albeit based on small sample sizes), so Luongo's stellar shootout performance would be less surprising.

For the record, last night's Canuck-Duck marathon was not the longest shootout since the NHL started using it as an ultimate tie-breaker in the 2005-06 season. The record is at least 15 rounds, from a November 2005 contest (the score was 4-3 within the shootout).

No comments: