One of the most frequent requests I get via Twitter and email is for data on clutch scoring. There’s a common belief that some players pad their totals in meaningless games, while others switch off when the game is out of reach (for good or ill).
Given the wide belief in this sort of thing, and the requests I’ve received, I put together data on when individual Oilers players scored in 2010-11.
I should start by saying that I’m not a big believer in clutch scoring.
Actually, that’s not precisely true. I do believe that various players perform better in high-pressure situations than others, so I suppose I do believe in clutch scoring. What I don’t believe in is the idea that we can sit back, crunch numbers or watch games, and from a critical distance identify those players – I think that’s the statistical equivalent of witchcraft. Random chance, team situations and context (who a player plays against, when a coach utilizes him based on tactical concerns) muddy the picture too much. For instance, the typical 10-goal scorer on the Oilers last season would score six goals with the game within one, and one with the game out of reach – but two key saves over an 82-game season would drop him to well-below average territory in terms of ‘clutch’ goal-scoring, while two decent bounces in out-of-reach situations would put him at 300% in terms of ‘useless’ goal-scoring. That’s a chance effect alone, and it makes our player look like a schlub, before we even consider that he might be prone to playing in close/not-close situations (for example, a tough player might spend an inordinate amount of time on the ice with the game out of reach).
Anyway, here’s the data:
|Player||Up by 3+||Up by 2||Up by 1||Even||Down 1||Down 2||Down 3+||Total|
And here’s a more focused look, based on what I call ‘pivotal goals’ (ones where the game was within a single goal) and ‘pointless goals’ (ones where the score was uneven by three or more goals):
|Player||Total Goals||Pivotal Goals||Pointless Goals|
The data is interesting, in a lot of ways. For instance, Kurtis Foster was the best player on the team in terms of scoring ‘clutch’ goals – six of his eight goals came with the team down by one, meaning that he tied things up, and one of his eight goals gave the Oilers the lead.
Then there’s the Dustin Penner data. If you’re reading this and you don’t like Penner (say you name is Terry Jones, for example) you can point to goals that came with the game out of reach – look, Penner scores when it doesn’t matter more than anyone else on the team! What a bum! Now, say you’re reading this and you think Dustin Penner’s the greatest thing since sliced bread – you can point to ‘clutch’ goals – not only is Penner above average here, but he outshines both Taylor Hall (the franchise) and Jordan Eberle (Mr. Clutch himself).
As far as I can tell, there’s absolutely no value in this sort of study, at least over a single season.