Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win: sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. In this edition, we look at when the underdogs are going under.
Here’s a hockey truism: teams that lose a lot tend to get outscored. There’s actually a cause and effect relationship there: if you score fewer goals than the opposition, you will lose. Score fewer goals than your opposition a whole bunch of times, you will lose a whole bunch of times.
That’s not exactly breaking new ground. The teams with the worst records in the NHL also have the worst goal differentials, headlined by the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have been outscored by a whopping 54 goals this season. But I want to get a bit more specific.
When are things going wrong for the NHL’s basement dwellers? In what period are they getting outscored the most?
The answer is a little different for each team, but the general pattern is that each team gets outscored significantly more in one period than the others. For the NHL’s worst teams, 20 minutes per game is what’s costing them.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
For the Lightning, their problem period is the first one. Their goal differential is minus-28 overall; they are minus-20 in the first period. They are the second worst team in the league in goal differential in the first period, with only the Ottawa Senators below them at minus-25.
The difference for the Senators is that they are even in the second period and plus-12 in the third. The Lightning are minus-7 in the second and minus-3 in the third, so they’re getting outscored all game long.
Here’s the weird thing: the Lightning have actually scored first in more than half of their games. To get outscored by 20 goals in the first period while still frequently scoring first is quite remarkable.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
The troubles come in the third period for the Islanders. They have identical minus-3 goal differentials in the first and second periods (and overtime) but that goal differential dives down to minus-18 in the third period.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Islanders have the second worst winning percentage in the league when leading after two periods. There is some excuse, however slight it might be: the Islanders have allowed the most empty net goals in the league at 11, which accounts for a large chunk of that third period goal differential. It’s still significantly worse than their goal differential in the first two periods, however.
The Hurricanes are an odd team. The first period is no problem for them: they have a goal differential of plus-6, which is tied for 7th in the league with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and, well, Montreal. Things fall apart for them in the second and third.
The Hurricanes are minus-10 in the second period, then get even worse in the third period at minus-17. As a result, they have the worst winning percentage in the league when leading after the first period. They also have the worst goal differential in overtime, having lost 7 games between the end of regulation and the beginning of the shootout and winning only 2.
The most telling statistic: the Hurricanes haven’t won a single game when trailing after two periods.
As an illustration of how difficult it is to escape the basement, the Ducks have gone 11-2-3 in their last 16 games and they’re still third last in the Western Conference. The issue for them is also third periods, as they are minus-13 in the final frame.
Like the Hurricanes, the Ducks have no wins when trailing after two periods and have managed to force only one game into overtime. There still seems to be some hope in Anaheim that the Ducks can make a run over the final stretch and potentially make the playoffs, but they better hope they get out to a lead in the first 40 minutes.
The Oilers are plus-4 in the first period and have scored first in 29 of their 54 games. Jumping out to an early lead hasn’t helped, however, and the third period once again appears to be the culprit. They are minus-18 in the final frame, but have allowed 10 empty net goals.
They have the second worst winning percentage when leading after the first period, just ahead of the Hurricanes.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Saving the best for last, we come to the Blue Jackets. Their goal differential is absurdly bad, but may not end up reaching the depths that the Oilers fell to last year, when Edmonton had a league-worst minus-76.
Columbus has the third worst goal differential in the first period at minus-18, but it’s not even close to being their worst period. That honour goes to the third period, where they are minus-31. To be fair, that does include 10 empty net goals, but it’s still an astounding number.
Put into perspective, their second period goal differential of minus-4 isn’t bad at all.
The only team that comes close to their third period goal differential is the New Jersey Devils at minus-27, which is also horrifyingly bad. The Devils, however, make up for it with a league leading plus-26 in the second period.
The Blue Jackets have scored first in 24 of their games, but have only held that lead through the period 9 times. It becomes pretty easy to see why they’re last in the NHL when looked at this way.