With his Anaheim Ducks tied for first place overall going into Sunday’s games, coach Bruce Boudreau is in familiar territory. All too familiar, in fact.
In his last three full seasons as coach of the Washington Capitals (2009-11), he won one Presidents’ Trophy (first place overall in the regular season) and came in second and fourth overall. But despite the tremendous regular-season success, the Caps couldn’t manage to get past the second round of the playoffs.
Signs point to this year’s Ducks suffering the same unkind fate. Despite their dominance in the standings, advanced stats do not bode well for the Ducks’ playoff success.
Score Adjusted Corsi (SAC) is a pretty solid predictor of long-term team success. Sometimes a team can outrun its SAC for a while – like the Avalanche did for all of last season and like the Flames have managed to do so far this season. But unless your goalie is Montreal’s Carey Price or you manage to have guys named Crosby and Malkin as your 1-2 down the middle as Pittsburgh does, the inevitable gravitational pull of shot differential takes hold, and teams usually perform about where you’d guess based on their SAC.
That’s bad news for the Ducks, who rank 17th overall in SAC.
To make matters worse, if the Ducks get the first seed in the West their likely first-round opponents would be the Wild, Jets or Kings, who rank 11th, seventh and second overall in SAC, respectively. Despite finishing first overall, an argument could be made that the Ducks would actually be the underdog against any one of those teams, based on their SACs.
At this point it’s reasonable to ask how the Ducks have managed to be atop the league despite their below-average SAC, and why I think they can’t keep it up going into the playoffs.
There are a number of factors, but the main one is the Ducks’ record in one-goal games: 27-1-7 for a .771 win percentage, which is almost unheard of. Not only is it good for first overall, there are only six teams in the league with one-goal game win percentages over .600. (All stats through Saturday.)
Now your traditional analysts will tell you this is great news for the Ducks. It shows they have “heart” and “grit” and “know how to win.” They’re. Just. Wrong.
One-goal games are a coin flip. Winning one-goal games is not a skill. It is not repeatable in the long run.
Three of the past four Stanley Cup champs had losing records in one-goal games during the season in which they won the Cup.
Now none of this is meant to suggest there’s anything wrong with winning one-goal games. A team will happily take the two points every time. But contrary to what most analysts say, it’s not a signal a team knows how to win. It’s a signal the team is getting lucky and winning more games than it will after the luck evens out.
For the Ducks, it means their point total probably doesn’t reflect the team’s true performance. It means their one-goal game record has masked their weak SAC. It means the Ducks aren’t nearly as good as a lot of people think they are.
In fact, in games decided by more than one goal, which appears to be a much better measure of a team’s ability, the Ducks have a losing record (16-19).
None of this is true of the Ducks’ potential first-round opponents. The Wild and Jets are right around .500 in one-goal games, and both have better records than the Ducks in games decided by more than one goal – Minnesota is 21-14, Winnipeg 18-18.
None of these opponents is particularly appealing if you’re Boudreau.
Boudreau’s team could very well end up winning the Presidents’ Trophy. But as weird as it seems, you should probably feel bad for the guy if that happens, because with the Ducks’ grossly inflated points total comes grossly inflated expectations for postseason success.
Which is bad news for Boudreau, for whom it could well be different team, same result, as there’s a solid chance the league-leading Ducks will have a very short postseason.
For more information on the methodology, go to www.depthockeyanalytics.com.