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Vulgar Statistics: Who is Clutch?

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More and more I feel that clutch is a team attribute and can’t really be applied to any one player (with few exceptions), but it’s an argument that comes up pretty often.  One of the reasons is there is no real way to measure it, it’s based solely on our thoughts and emotions.  But, as you can guess from the subject matter of this column, I am going to try.

Technically there is a stat that measures clutch.  It’s called game winning goals, but many would argue (myself included) that often such goals are more happenstance than clutch.  If you score your team’s third goal in the first period of a 6-2 blowout to take a 3-0 lead, was it really the game winning goal?  (I’ll leave that philosophical argument for another day and move on.)  One of my big beefs in the way fans act as enablers to their own confirmation bias is they’ll immediately discredit their scapegoat of choice when they score by scoffing and saying that X-player doesn’t score enough “when it matters.”  Well “when it matters” is up to interpretation, but it can at least be narrowed down a few different ways.  Thus I decided to measure the following statistics for the 2010-2011 season:

  • Points on game winning goals.
  • Points on game winning goals in one goal wins.
  • Points on game winning goals in one and two goal wins.
  • Total points accrued in goals decided by one goal (wins and losses).

Note: I did make one minor tweak to the scoring system.  As much as an NHL game shouldn’t be decided by a skills competition (the shootout), the fact of the matter is that games are occasionally decided that way, and that those goals are important.  I struggled with a way to tally those up and came up with this: if a player scored the deciding goal in the shootout, I credited them with a goal, if they scored any other goal in the shootout, I credited them with an assist.  It’s not perfect, but it does at least account for clutch performances in the shootout and how those performances help a team win.

Points on Game Winning Goals


That’s right, it’s another Thomas Vanek entry.  I apologize and admit, I am a Vanek fan, but what frustrates me so much is that the perceptions regarding Vanek are often so, so wrong.  One of the comments that came my way about Vanek this past week is that he’s invisible when it matters.  For anyone who was present for our first home win against Washington (me), or has watched any of our shootout wins this year (me, all of them), it’s evident that Vanek is pretty damn good when it counts.  Not surprisingly, he has tallied the most points on game winning goals out of any other Sabre, and that doesn’t even include this gem for which Myers was credited with an unassisted goal:

But like I said, game winning goals can too often be more coincidence than any measure of clutch, so let’s move on.

Points on Game Winning Goals in One Goal Wins


And there’s Thomas Vanek again, doubling up everyone else.  One of the most interesting things is just how good Vanek has been in overtime and the shootout.  He had shootout goals against Toronto (11-6), New Jersey (11-10), Ottawa (12-4), and Boston (1-1), and has figured into every overtime goal (goal vs. Washington (11-13), assists vs. Montreal (1-18) and Ottawa (1-25), and whatever you want to call the above against Vancouver (11-15)) except for Stafford’s game winner against Phoenix (1-8).  You can call many different things clutch, but a player’s performance in “next goal wins” situations haa to be one of them.

Points on Game Winning Goals in One or Two Goal Wins


I figured I’d expand a bit from one goal wins because two goal wins are often close until the waning moments.  There isn’t a whole lot to see here that wasn’t already shown above on the one goal chart, but for the record:

  • 4-2 win over Los Angeles (11-19) – clinching (4th) goal – Hecht from Pominville and Montador
  • 3-1 win over Toronto (11-26) – clinching goal – Kaleta from Gaustad (Shorthanded)
  • 4-2 win over Edmonton (12-28) – clinching goal – Mike Weber (Empty Net)
  • 4-2 win over Boston (1-20) – clinching goal – Pominville from Vanek and Hecht
  • 5-3 win over New York Islanders (1-23) – Pominville from Montador and Leopold (Empty Net)

Total Points Accrued in Goals Decided by a Goal


The above chart answers the question: who is putting up points in close games?  What surprised me was Grier’s and Niedermayer’s performances in one goal games.  As much as we bag on Niedermayer (and I still think it’s 100% deserved), he’s actually been alright when the score has been close.  Of course the flip side is that it hasn’t been enough to turn those one goal games into OT and SO wins and losses and a collection of extra points.  I also like what I see from Tyler Ennis.  If he can be a little less Maxim Afinogenov, and a little more Derek Roy (the good parts of Roy anyways), he will be a big difference maker down the road.

Final Word:

When the team needs a big goal, Thomas Vanek is your best bet, and Tyler Ennis is giving a good effort to soon be hot on his heels.  Just like I destroyed the arguments that Vanek is overpaid, I have destroyed the argument that Vanek isn’t clutch.  I’ll just leave you with some video footage that I took on November 13th along with the highlight so you can tell what you’re actually watching.

(love hearing Harry laugh in the background)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 04/16/11 8:35 PM

    Hey– just came across this, interesting post. Just wondering how you compiled your stats– did you comb boxscores manually?

  2. 04/18/11 11:38 PM

    Yes, I did have to do that unfortunately. I would love to have access to whatever raw data files ESPN and like sites use when writing their pages so that I could play with them. Plus it would save a lot of time on most of these articles where the most “automated” I get is copy-pasting large chunks of data into a spreadsheet.

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