Saturday, October 22, 2011

Interconference Overtime Games - Conspiracy?

I've been watching quite a bit of the NHL early in the sesaon, using the GameCenter Live package. I like to focus on interconference games when the Leafs aren't playing because those games are quite a bit rarer. Teams play only 18 out of 82 (22%) games against foes from the other conference which makes a Pittsburgh-Vancouver matchup more intriguing than another Penguins-Islanders tilt, for example.

This season, I've noticed a distinct pattern in these interconference battles - a large number of them go to overtime. Just today, the Sharks edged the Devils in a shootout while St. Louis dispatched Carolina in the extra frame. I decided to check the numbers and lo and behold, it is true. Through October 21, there have been 94 games played with 28 of those being between teams from different conferences. Of those 28 games, 14 have gone to extra time, while of the 66 intraconference matches, only 10 have seen bonus hockey. That's 50% compared to just 15%, or over 3 times as many interconference games that result in 3 points being awarded.

Obviously this is a small sample size so the significance of this is questionable. Nonetheless, it bears watching because there is a major difference between an overtime contest in which your opponent is out of conference: there is no penalty for allowing them that extra point as it won't impact you in the playoff race. When you are facing an in-conference team, an overtime game means that you only gain a point on them in the standings even if you win, so there is additional incentive to ensure that you take care of matters in regulation. However, when playing one of those 18 interconference affairs, why not allow both teams to get to overtime and then play for the extra point? There is no reason not to; the extra point given to your opponent won't haunt you come April.

Now, I am not seriously saying that this is a conspiracy, or that there is a new unwritten rule in the NHL. What I do think though is that in these games, teams are content to play for overtime as regulation time draws to a close, or perhaps teams with a 1-goal lead aren't as desperate to preserve it. When playing conference rivals though, the game is probably more intense and teams work harder to maintain the lead.

For now, as the season progresses, see if you notice any difference between your team's play when the opponent is from the opposite conference. I'll revisit this topic when the season ends and we have more statistics to either confirm or refute my theory.



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