Puck Daddy - NHL

(Ed. Note: Welcome to Stat Nerd Sunday, where we occasionally obsess over hockey numbers like a Dungeon Master obsessing over the level of his warrior elf. Here's Matt Barr, formerly of LCS: Guide To Hockey and Trolleytracks and now blogging hockey at Kertwang.me.)

There's an obvious reason the Chicago Blackhawks found themselves in 11th place in the Western Conference standings as play began today. Or at least, an obvious indicator. The defending champs are worst in the West this season at turning close games after two periods into points.

The Hawks' record in games where they had a one-goal lead after two periods is 10-6-2, a points percentage of .611. When tied after two, they've gone 4-7-1, .375. Both dismal sets of numbers trail all the other Western Conference teams. When they start the third period trailing by one, they've gone 2-7-2, .273, which isn't dead last, but isn't any good.

Here are the numbers for leads/trailing after two periods:

The table above shows the Western Conference teams' records in games that were close after two periods: a one-goal lead either way, or tied. It also breaks down each team's record in games where they led by one, were tied, or trailed by one after two. The Blackhawks have earned eight fewer points in those games to date (all stats through games of Friday, February 19) than have the West-leading Vancouver Canucks, in 10 more "close" games played. 

The table shows both the teams' win percentage (wins divided by games played) and point percentage (points divided by [games played times two]). The percentages in the leading/tied/trailing columns are point percentages.

With a few clicks on NHL.com, you can find out that the Blackhawks are 22-3-3 when leading after two periods, and 2-10-2 when trailing after two. As four million people have pointed out, this doesn't differentiate between a one-goal lead and a four-goal lead, nor a one-goal deficit and a four-goal deficit.

Not to keep picking on Chicago, but in addition to having the worst record in the Conference when leading by one after two, they've also had more one-goal leads after two than any Conference rival. If the Hawks protected a one-goal lead to start the third as well as division rival Detroit -- not a tall order for a championship team, as impressive as the Red Wings have been at 7-0-2 -- they would have 74 points in the standings, hold down the fourth seed and third-best record in the West, and be making more definite plans for April.

What else do these numbers mean?

It's not surprising to see the top seeds as of this morning - Vancouver Canucks, Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes, doing among the best jobs of coming out winners in close games; but hey, how about the Anaheim Ducks

Tied as of today with three other teams for sixth-through-ninth in the Conference, they owe it to a stellar record when leading by one or tied after two.

The Canucks are safely in first place in the West, but three consecutive overtime/shootout losses Jan. 18, 20 and 22 when they were tied after two periods had to leave a funny aftertaste.

Still, nothing to complain about overall in "close" games.

The best in the West when it comes to winning games tied after two? No surprise that it's Detroit, but second best? The Calgary Flames, who have roared back into the playoff picture after a Sutterectomy earlier in the year.

If they have serious aspirations of playing deep into the playoffs, the otherwise solid Phoenix Coyotes need to make more games tied after two go their way. Their .500 point percentage in games tied after two leads only Nashville and Chicago.

But the good news for the Yotes? By looking at one-goal leads and one-goal deficits after two and the final game results, you can suss out how many times a team blew their lead in the former and came back to tie in the latter. Among Western teams with at least 10 one-goal leads to start the third, Phoenix is the toughest to crack: They've relinquished that lead by the end of the third only three times. In the same number of games, Nashville has lost the lead seven times.

The Dallas Stars have at least tied a game they were trailing by one after two a Conference-best eight times. The Columbus Blue Jackets have done it seven times.

We'll take a look at the East in the near future, and we'll see whether the Hawks can start to play like champions in close games -- and whether it's already too late, if they do.

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