Edmonton Oilers Clutch Scoring, 2010-11

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).

It’s not something just believed by fans, either. Mike Smith, the former general manager and founder of Coleman Analytics, charges NHL teams for this information (background here and here).

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
Taylor Hall 1 4 3 5 6 1 2 22
Dustin Penner 1 1 3 8 3 1 4 21
Jordan Eberle   3 5 4 2 1 3 18
Ryan Jones 1 2 4 3 4 3 1 18
Sam Gagner 1 3 2 4 4 1   15
Magnus Paajarvi   2 1 5 1 3 3 15
Ales Hemsky   3 1 6   3 1 14
Andrew Cogliano 1 1 2 3 4     11
Shawn Horcoff 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 9
Kurtis Foster 1     1 6     8
Gilbert Brule     1 3 2 1   7
Tom Gilbert     1 2 2   1 6
Linus Omark   2   2     1 5
Jean-Francois Jacques       1   2 1 4
Theo Peckham           2 1 3
Colin Fraser     2 1       3
Teemu Hartikainen       2   1   3
Ryan Whitney     1     1   2
Jim Vandermeer         1 1   2
Ryan O’Marra       1       1
Jeff Petry           1   1
Taylor Chorney     1         1
Alexandre Giroux 1             1
Liam Reddox     1         1

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
Kurtis Foster 8 87.50% 12.50%
Gilbert Brule 7 85.71% 0.00%
Tom Gilbert 6 83.33% 16.67%
Andrew Cogliano 11 81.82% 9.09%
Dustin Penner 21 66.67% 23.81%
Sam Gagner 15 66.67% 6.67%
Taylor Hall 22 63.64% 13.64%
Average 4 62.30% 14.14%
Jordan Eberle 18 61.11% 16.67%
Ryan Jones 18 61.11% 11.11%
Shawn Horcoff 9 55.56% 22.22%
Ales Hemsky 14 50.00% 7.14%
Magnus Paajarvi 15 46.67% 20.00%
Linus Omark 5 40.00% 20.00%

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.

  • Kodiak

    So if a player scores 3 goals all year but they are all pivotal they are a more clutch player than someone who scores 30 with 15 being pivotal? Not in my books. Hall scoring 14 pivotal goals is a lot more clutch in my books than Gagner scoring 10, regardless of what the percentages are.

  • Aitch

    All people who question the study of sport and the use of math are 100% tools and there mom wiped there ass cause they were not skillled enough to do that or any other physical motor skill. that is 100%. Go tell the world about your feelings on math you stuart Smalleys.

    Just presenting the study from the (stuart Smalley)to dumb to understand stats club.

    The study expressed here is not the view of said presenter. But, it is important as any other feelings based opinion on this site.

  • A metric could be developed to attempt to show this, it’s just that it would be enormously complex and very hard to create because hockey is such a fluid game that involves a lot of interations between players and events.

    Until a metric comes around maybe it’s enough just to learn the game well and watch and see who brings home the bacon. Your brain can do that (for a reference: Gladwell’s Blink) if you learn what makes good hockey and what is not good play, or what type of play makes players successful.

    I didn’t need the great blogs on stats to know Jones is a sinkhole, just had to watch him play a bit.

  • Puritania

    Cool story, my favorite part was where Willis said Terry Jones, and only Terry Jones dislikes Penner.

    I felt he went over the line when he suggested he would kick a nun in the *expletive deleted* if anyone suggested otherwise, bad Willis!