Hockey can be a cruel sport. Sometimes a team dominates the game but a bounce here or there costs them a win. Other times a team can be getting smoked but their goalie stands on his head and keeps him in it.
It’s almost astounding how often in the game of hockey that the scoreboard and the stat sheet doesn’t match up. Whether you are looking at shots, Corsi, Fenwick, chances, PDO or anything else, from game to game, stats lie.
It’s why many times after losses Gerard Gallant steps to the podium and says something like “we played well but…” or “if we keep playing like that…” sending a positive message despite his team dropping the game.
Over the course of 60 minutes, the better team loses a lot. Over the course of seven games, it happens from time to time. Over the course of a season, or even multiple seasons, stats usually don’t lie.
One of the biggest challenges that #NotAMajor has thrown the Golden Knights, and its fans, is an inability to fairly compare the two teams from Year 1 to Year 2. While the 17-18 Golden Knights went to the Cup Final and nearly completed the fairy tale, there’s a strong argument that the 18-19 team was better. But, since they were bounced in the first round it’s tricky to compare the teams.
There’s a fairly new stat bouncing around the hockey world called “expected goals” which could help not only sort out the difference between the first two teams, but also predict the future of the 2019-20 team. What expected goals calculates is how often a team should have scored compared to how often they actually did. It’s based on shot location compared to the league average. The closer the shot to the net, the better chance it has to go in.
The stat is measured in “expected goals for,” “expected goals against,” and then a difference is calculated based on the actual numbers that were scored and allowed.
|Expected Goals Against||175.0||171.9||3.1|
As you can see, the Year 2 Golden Knights should have scored much more, but didn’t.
Remember, don’t be fooled by the word “expected.” These are calculations based on how the team actually played, where the shots came from, and how often they took dangerous shots.
In fact, the 18-19 team was significantly better at getting shots off from more dangerous areas than the league average while also allowing fewer than the 17-18 team.
The 18-19 team had the second best “expected goals for” number in the entire NHL, behind only the Toronto Maple Leafs. It would have led the league in 17-18. Vegas was expected to score 29.3 more goals than they allowed, but they actually only scored 9 more. That’s a difference of 20 goals, which was only surpassed by six teams. Four of those six missed the playoffs, the other two are the Stanley Cup winners the St. Louis Blues, and the Eastern Conference finalist Carolina Hurricanes.
The unlucky teams in the regular season who were still able to squeak into the playoffs had major success. The same can be said for the year before as well. Of the top 10 teams in the same calculation, only two of 10 made the playoffs, and both (Pittsburgh and San Jose) went to the 2nd round each losing to the eventual Stanley Cup finalists.
The point I’m trying to make is that the 18-19 team experienced some major unluckiness, yet still managed to overcome it to make the playoffs and would have won a round (and who knows what else) if not for a horrendous officiating mistake.
That team was good, really good, probably even better than the 2017-18 team. They didn’t get the bounces inside of games, they didn’t get the bounces over the course of the season, and when they were just about to “bounce” the Sharks, they experienced one of the most unlucky moments a team has endured in NHL history.
So now it’s my time to sound like Gallant. If the Golden Knights play like they did last season again in 19-20, there’s a good chance the end result is much closer to Year 1 than Year 2.