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Super 16: Analytics say rest goalies on back-to-backs

by Corey Masisak / NHL.com

As more people embrace the idea of analytics in hockey, one of the things they find out is it's more about ideas than statistics.

It's not all about a player's Corsi numbers; it is about his ability to possess the puck and the principle of keeping the puck as a fundamental part of the way the game should be played. There are lots of principles in hockey analytics. Most started as an idea, and then someone or someones sought out a way to prove them.

One such idea is teams should never play the same goalie when faced with games on back-to-back nights. The premise of this is pretty simple: Goalies tax their body a great deal in any given NHL game, and when they do so on back-to-back nights it decreases their ability to perform at an optimal level.

Eric Tulsky wrote a definitive post for Broad Street Hockey on the subject, and the baseline for a new analytics philosophy was set: Even if the starter is elite, play the backup in a back-to-back situation.

Every theory needs to be tested, and re-tested when more information is available. Olivier Bouchard of LNH.com ran the numbers for every season dating back to 2007-08, and the results were pretty interesting.

Prior to the years of Tulsky's study (2011-12 and 2012-13), there was little difference between playing a "rested" goalie versus a "tired" one. Over a seven-year span, the difference is minor, but the gap has widened in favor of the "rested" goalie in the past three seasons.

Why is that? Well, the past two seasons have had condensed, quirky schedules because of a lockout and an Olympic break. That doesn't fully explain what looks like a trend that started in 2011-12 though.

Part of the puzzle is the rise of goaltending depth around the League. There are more competent goalies available now than there were in the past. Look at the number of guys who started the 2013-14 season at No. 3 on the depth chart who had success (Frederik Andersen, Cam Talbot, Martin Jones, Darcy Kuemper, Philipp Grubauer and Jeff Zatkoff just to name a few).

If the quality of the backup option is better, the coach will be more willing to rely on him. And teams are clearly starting to use the backup more in these situations.

Here is a look at the data just from 2013-14 (with many thanks to Bouchard for collecting it). In the following graphics, "tired" means the team started the same goaltender on back-to-back nights while "rested" means the team used the other guy. First up, here is each team's decisions for its back-to-back games:

West
"Tired" "Rested" East "Tired" "Rested"
Anaheim 4 10 Boston 7 11
Arizona 7 5 Buffalo 4 12
Calgary 5 7 Carolina 6 16
Chicago 7 12 Columbus 10 7
Colorado 4 8 Detroit 5 11
Dallas 8 5 Florida 3 12
Edmonton 4 9 Montreal 4 14
Los Angeles 5 10 New Jersey 9 13
Minnesota 6 8 NY Islanders 6 13
Nashville 7 8 NY Rangers 5 9
San Jose 3 7 Ottawa 9 8
St. Louis 5 10 Philadelphia 6 8
Vancouver 11 6 Pittsburgh 4 14
Winnipeg 5 5 Tampa Bay 4 8
Toronto 7 11
Washington 6 11

Now here is how each team did with respect to performance. Again, the sample size is small and one great or bad game would affect these numbers a lot.

Still, it is pretty clear that just saying "oh, this team has a great backup," or, "this team has an elite guy so ride him," doesn't play out consistently in the numbers.

It is quite possible the 2014-15 season will play a large role in helping determine the future of this analytics principle. If the "tired" goalies have a bounce-back season, does that cast some questions about the data from 2011-14?

The answer here might go beyond the numbers. Like a lot of analytic principles, the numbers are rooted in common sense. Teams are looking for chances to rest their No. 1 goaltender because they've clearly decided to scale back the number of games even a workhorse goalie is going to play.

If that's the case, then back-to-back games is a perfect spot. Not only does it give the starter a rest, it might give the backup a chance to play against a tired team if each club is pulling back-to-back duty.

If a team has 15 back-to-backs over the course of a season, that's 15 games a coach could pencil in for his backup and he might only need to find 5-7 more depending on injuries.

For what it's worth (not much yet), there have been 14 chances for an NHL coach to play a rested goalie in a back-to-back situation through the games Wednesday, and 11 times he has done so.

It just makes sense and the numbers, from the past three seasons anyway, back it up.

DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information.

1. Chicago Blackhawks (2-0-1)

The Blackhawks attempted to shoot the puck 96 times against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night. That's the most in a regular-season game for Chicago, according to War on Ice since the start of the 2008-09 season, six more than a game in October 2009 against the Florida Panthers. At 74.42 percent, it wasn't the team’s highest Corsi-for percentage, regardless of situation. That was March 3, 2010, when the Blackhawks out-attempted the Edmonton Oilers 80-25 (CF percentage of 76.19).

Calgary won in overtime. Sometimes it isn't supposed to make sense.

MUST READ: Mexico is trying to qualify for the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in women's ice hockey and it's a pretty incredible story, writes Jorge Arangure, Jr. for Vice Sports.

2. Los Angeles Kings (2-1-1)

Social media is great for a lot of things, but unquestionably one of the biggest stars of this modern era of communication is the Stanley Cup. Fans love posting photos with the Cup on various social media platforms, but the real boon has come from when the Stanley Cup champions spend the summer celebrating with Lord Stanley's silver chalice.

Instagram, Twitter and the like have allowed fans access to "Summer with Stanley" in a way like never before. One of the most famous stories about a Cup celebration was from the early 1990s when it reportedly ended up at the bottom of Mario Lemieux's pool.

Fast forward to 2009 and the Cup returned to Lemieux's pool after the Pittsburgh Penguins won a third title, but this time there were Facebook photos to prove it.

The Los Angeles Kings have been the NHL's leader in social media, from the famous Twitter account to the way the Cup's travels were documented this summer. There was an amazing collection of "Summer with Stanley" photos, so consider this a power rankings inside a power rankings.

Here are the best photos from this past summer as Kings celebrated their title:

1. This photo from Dave Sandford, which ended up on the cover of The Hockey News, is an iconic portrait of the NHL's rise in Southern California:

http://instagram.com/p/pT6ef1JCf2/?modal=true

2. Gustl, unofficial first dog of the NHL, and his pal Anze Kopitar enjoyed breakfast:

https://twitter.com/keeperofthecup/status/488216962225672193

3a. Colin Fraser took an updated family photo:

https://twitter.com/keeperofthecup/status/501058331444649984

3b. Here was the original version in 2012:

https://twitter.com/keeperofthecup/status/226149608164827137/photo/1

4. Martin Jones hung out with … an owl?:

https://twitter.com/keeperofthecup/status/502522705053118464

5. An ALS Ice Bucket challenge with coach Bill Ranford and his nephew Brendan combined the forces of the Stanley Cup and the Calder Cup:

https://twitter.com/keeperofthecup/status/502613923565428736

6. Jeff Schultz looked awfully dapper for this pool photo:

https://twitter.com/keeperofthecup/status/500064969350586369

7. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz was a big hockey fan and owned a rink, so general manager Dean Lombardi took the Cup to his museum and Snoopy's doghouse:

http://www.trbimg.com/img-54039599/turbine/la-sp-sn-dean-lombardi-stanley-cup-20140831

8. Stanley Cup in a Delorean? Check:

https://twitter.com/keeperofthecup/status/515199421525794816

MUST READ: Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times writes about how the Kings' acquired taste for winning motivates them to defend their crown.

3. San Jose Sharks (3-0-0)

Despite all the wackiness during the summer, the Sharks are still really good and can still be great. If everyone gets along this well and keeps saying the right things about letters on jerseys and playing time, it is going to be a far less wacky regular season than a lot of people probably anticipated.

MUST READ: Craig Custance of ESPN.com writes about how the Sharks have tried to move on from an unorthodox offseason.

4. Anaheim Ducks (3-1-0)

Giving up six goals in the first real game after giving up six goals to end the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff run wasn't an ideal start, but three straight road wins was a nice rebound. The Ducks have five in a row at home coming up, and there's still a lot of moving pieces in the Anaheim lineup. What they did to the Buffalo Sabres was mighty impressive, even if Ted Nolan compared his team to a peewee outfit.

MUST READ: There is a lot of pressure on coach Bruce Boudreau with expectations as high as they can be, writes Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register.

5. St. Louis Blues (1-1-0)

The Blues are going to be stuck measuring themselves against the Blackhawks and Kings until they can beat one of them (and maybe both of them) in the playoffs. They're in a similar situation to the issue for the Sharks and Ducks, in that what happens during the regular season is not exactly going to define 2014-15.

It can't be a lot of fun to be in that position, and the Kings offered another example why Wednesday when defenseman Jake Muzzin signed a five-year, $20 million contract that has an excellent chance to provide incredible value to Los Angeles.

Team (players) Total cost Avg. age Control through Team (players) Total cost Avg. age Control through
LAK (Doughty, Muzzin, Voynov) $14.16 24.3 2019 (Doughty/Voynov) NSH (Weber, Josi, Jones) $12.79* 24.3 2016
(Jones - RFA)
CHI (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson) $15.44 29.0 2016
(Seabrook)
MIN (Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon) $11.10 24.7 2016
(Spurgeon)
STL (Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk) $16.15 26.7 2017
(Shattenkirk)
SJS (Vlasic, Burns, Demers) $13.41 27.3 2016
(Demers)
PIT (Letang, Martin, Ehrhoff) $16.25 30.7 2015 (Martin/Ehrhoff) MTL (Subban, Markov, Gilbert) $17.55 30.3 2016
(Gilbert)
*If Jones reaches all of his bonuses, this total rises to $15.09 million
KEY: Total cost - in millions, against the salary cap in 2014-15; Avg. age - average age as of Wednesday; Control through - when is the soonest one of the three will become a free agent

Not only do the Kings and Blackhawks have great players, but Lombardi and Chicago GM Stan Bowman have been, with arguably an exception or two at most, excellent at managing the roster and the salary cap to ensure their team will compete for titles for years.

The Kings now have their top three defensemen (Drew Doughty, Muzzin and Slava Voynov) locked into team-friendly contracts for at least four years on each (and yes, Doughty at $7 million is very team friendly). They're all also young, making them if not the best 1-2-3 punch in the NHL then certainly the most enviable for opposing GMs.

MUST READ: Arik Parnass breaks down the potential shifting dynamics of how teams use the fourth line on AP Hockey.

6. Minnesota Wild (2-0-0)

The Wild's opening game of the season may have been the most impressive by anyone to date, as they obliterated the Avalanche in all facets. Colorado had a chance for revenge two days later, and Darcy Keumper shut them out again. It's hard to lose when the other team doesn’t score any goals.

MUST READ: The Wild appear to be at the forefront of what Parnass wrote about, opting for youth and skill in traditional grinder roles, writes Sam Hitchcock of Intelligent Hockey.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-1)

Steven Stamkos looks great and Victor Hedman looks even better than he did last season. Playing with Anton Stralman might be the final piece of a legitimate run at the Norris Trophy for Hedman. If the kids play well like they seem to consistently do for coach Jon Cooper, the top spot in the Eastern Conference is not that big of a stretch.

MUST READ: Speaking of lineup deployment decisions, Kyle Alexander writes about the curious case of Brett Connolly.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (2-0-0)

Yes, the Penguins looked fantastic in both of their victories. Patric Hornqvist is enjoying his time next to Sidney Crosby. The defense corps looks perfectly suited to handle coach Mike Johnston's system, which implores not just puck possession but retention at times when the traditional play would be to give it up. Neither Anaheim nor the Toronto Maple Leafs provided the neutral zone resistance other clubs certainly will. Let's see how the League adjusts before getting too crazy.

MUST READ: Justin Bourne of The Score writes about Sidney Crosby's unique way of fooling goaltenders.

9. Boston Bruins (2-3-0)

The Bruins are still trying to figure out the bottom of the roster. There's little penalty for picking the wrong guys at the end of training camp, and the top is so strong coach Claude Julien has plenty of time to decipher which guys will fill out the last few spots up front and who the sixth defenseman will be. If they get Milan Lucic going and keep this version of Carl Soderberg, they're still going to be great.

MUST READ: Lucic has struggled early on this season, but Evan Sporer breaks down where Lucic excels for Boston.com.

10. Dallas Stars (1-1-1)

Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin versus Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry is probably the final in a League-wide bracket for best line duo. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa (or Toews and Patrick Sharp) might have something to say about that. Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski too. Point is, Benn and Seguin are in that class and they provided a quality lesson Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

MUST READ: Josh Lile of Defending Big D breaks down how the Nashville Predators were able to frustrate the Stars in the neutral zone.

11. New Jersey Devils (3-0-0)

They don't have a home game until Saturday, but three wins away from Prudential Center is a nice way to start. The game at Tampa Bay was a good test after racking up 11 goals against two defense-deficient sides. Cory Schneider was at least one knucklehead's preseason Vezina Trophy winner [http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=733261], and so far so good on that front.

MUST READ: The Devils have found some forward depth, writes Alex Potts of In Lou We Trust.

12. Nashville Predators (2-0-1)

Maybe the Predators will be alright at center after all. The by-committee approach will look alright if Derek Roy continues to play well (not a given) and if Calle Jarnkrok remains a sturdy option in his first full NHL season (not a given). There are all sorts of fallback options though, and maybe guys like Roy, Mike Ribeiro, Olli Jokinen and Colin Wilson will take turns being impact players. Filip Forsberg has shown flashes of strong play, and he could help change the ceiling of this team.

MUST READ: Caroline Davis of On The Forecheck illustrates how well Roy is fitting in with the Predators.

13. Detroit Red Wings (1-1-1)

The Red Wings held the Bruins to 29 shot attempts Oct. 9. The 17 shots on goal is one thing, but 29 attempts is hazardously low for a bottom-feeding team, let alone the big, bruising, puck-dominating Bruins. Boston shot more in the rematch six days later, but the Red Wings still made it a low-event game (i.e. not a lot of shot attempts). If they keep playing this solidly and then add Pavel Datsyuk to the mix, the Red Wings will be near the top of the Atlantic Division.

MUST READ: The Red Wings will need to rely on speed, depth and youth, writes Katie Strang of ESPN.com.

14. New York Islanders (3-0-0)

Well, the new guys didn't wait very long to make an impact. Johnny Boychuk might not continue to maraud in the offensive zone like a young-ish Uwe Krupp, but he and Nick Leddy can continue to give the Islanders NHL-worthy depth and allow everyone to slot into proper ice-time roles. Jaroslav Halak's value was felt early in the blowout against the team from Manhattan. He made two or three very nice saves to keep the New York Rangers close, and then the Islanders capitalized on a couple of mistakes en route to a decisive win.

MUST READ: Michael Leboff of The Cauldron authors a stirring tribute to the curtain call for Fort Neverlose.

15. Montreal Canadiens (3-1-0)

Three road wins to start the season, though two were by shootout, but then … yuck. Tampa Bay sent a message about who might be top the challenger to Boston in the division with a thorough dismantling of the Canadiens. Still, it was at the end of a road trip so Montreal probably deserves a mulligan. Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau has had a couple of nice games to become a fixture in the top-six forwards. They'll be fine.

MUST READ: Chris Johnston of Sportsnet writes about how Montreal's young leadership core could be on the verge of something special.

16. Washington Capitals (1-0-2)

In case it wasn't clear last season, shootout wins or losses aren't going to have a lot of effect on these rankings. The Capitals played well against the Canadiens and Bruins and survived being squirrelly at times to force overtime against the Sharks. Alex Ovechkin is scoring and Andre Burakovsky looks promising. Matt Niskanen has played well, but Brooks Orpik has been inconsistent.

MUST READ: Rob Parker of Japers Rink breaks down how Ovechkin found space to score an even-strength goal on Boston's mighty Patrice Bergeron-led line.

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