The score of a game influences how a team plays. When a team is trailing they play a more aggressive offensive game, when they are up a goal or more, they play a more defensive game. The question I answer today is, how does score influence a teams save percentage.
To answer this question I looked at the past 3 seasons of 5v5 even strength save percentage data when the score is tied, when the team is up by a goal, when the team is up by 2 or more goals, when the team is down a goal and when the team is down by 2 or more goals. For each team and score category I have a data point for 2007-08, 2008-09, 2009-10 as well as a three year average (2007-10). For each score category I sorted from lowest to highest save percentage and then plotted them on one chart and got the following:
As you can see, when the game is tied generally produces higher save percentages than when a team is leading or trailing and when a team is trailing their save percentages are at their worst. This is probably not surprising as a team will open up its game in hopes of creating offense but also puts them at risk defensively. Now, what that table doesn’t tell us is if all teams experience the same score effects or, for whatever reason, do some teams actually have improved save percentages when trailing or leading. The following chart shows each teams 3 year save percentage by score ordered from lowest 5v5 game tied save percentage.
The majority of teams have the majority of their leading or trailing save percentages below the game tied save percentages but there are a number of occassions where that doesn’t occur and they are mostly related to up2 or up2+ save percentages. The only teams that had a down1 or down2+ save percentage above game tied save percentage were:
- Dallas – Down1: 92.51% vs Tied: 91.74%
- Detroit – Down1: 93.05% vs Tied: 92.16%
- Pittsburgh: Down2+: 92.87% vs Tied: 92.78%
- Minnesota: Down2+: 93.21% vs Tied: 92.89%
- Florida: Down1: 93.92% vs Tied: 93.23%
On average, teams had their down 1 goal save percentage 1.3% lower than their game tied save percentage and their down 2+ goal save percentage 1.90% lower than their game tied save percentage. The average team save percentage at 5v5 tied is 92.7% vs 91.4% down a goal, 90.8% down 2+ goals, 92.2% up a goal and 92.1% up 2 goals. Tailing can have a sizable negative impact on save percentage where as leading can have a minor negative impact.
So what does this mean? It means we need to be careful when evaluating goalies (and probably shooters to some extent) based on save percentage (special team effects) or even 5v5 even strength save percentage because the game situations a goalie has been exposed to will influence the goalies save percentage. A goalie on a weak team will have his save percentage lowered simply because his team is going to be trailing more often and be forced to take chances to create offense and thus he will be exposed to tougher shots where as a goalie on a good team who leads the game more than they trail a lot will not face as many tough shots.
One interesting thing I noticed while doing all this was the Toronto Maple Leafs up by a single goal performance over the last 3 seasons. While they were middle of the pack 5v5 game tied (16th in 3 year 5v5 game tied save percentage), they were downright horrific when they got up a goal. They just couldn’t hold a lead. The three worst single season save percentages when up a goal were the 2009-10 Leafs, 2008-09 Leafs, and the 2007-08 Leafs so they were three for three there. Over the course of the past 3 seasons the Leafs posted an 88.4 save percentage when up a goal which was 3.44 standard deviations from the mean. Next worse what the Ottawa Senators who were well ahead of them at 90.8, a mere 1.23 standard deviations from the mean. The good news for Leaf fans is their 5v5 up a goal save percentage is much better this year: 95.6% (better than any team in any of the last 3 seasons), 97.2 for Gustavsson and 93.9% for Giguere so they are much better at maintaining the lead. Unfortunately this season they can’t score well enough to get them a lead to protect.