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Worst Cliche in Hockey


 

In an otherwise excellent piece criticising the Ottawa Senators for their collapse in game six against the Penguins, Wayne Scanlan remarks that the pressure was building as the Senators “set out to defend what Don Cherry always calls the worst lead in hockey: the two goal advantage.”

Now I know what he’s getting at: With a one-goal lead, a team keeps its focus, and with a three goal lead it would require a serious collapse to lose. But two goals? It’s close enough that you need to stay focused, but big enough to convince you that it is OK to relax. But is there any indication that a two goal lead is, objectively, a worse lead to have than a one- (or three-) goal lead? I find it hard to believe.

First thing to keep in mind is that all failed two-goal leads are also failed one-goal leads. That is, on its way to squandering a two-goal lead, a team must also squander a one-goal lead. So, it is analytically the case that the number of squandered one-goal leads is equal to, and empirically a certainty that it is greater than, the number of squandered two-goal leads.

There is one way the cliche might be true: a team might have a better record of holding the lead when it goes up by only one goal than when it goes up by two goals. In which case, the obvious coaching strategy when up by a goal would be to insist the players try not to score. Has there ever been such a team?


 
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Worst Cliche in Hockey

  1. With a one-goal lead, a team keeps its focus, and with a three goal lead it would require a serious collapse to lose. But two goals? It's close enough that you need to stay focused, but big enough to convince you that it is OK to relax. But is there any indication that a two goal lead is, objectively, a worse lead to have than a one- (or three-) goal lead? I find it hard to believe.

    I'm fairly certain that Leafs fans are quite secure in the knowledge that no lead is ever a safe lead.

    • A heck of a lot of presumption built into that. When do they ever lead?

  2. Or when faced with a two goal lead, should a team score on its own net?

  3. Perhaps the discussion and analysis should look at how the one-goal lead was attained – by scoring from a tie, or by being scored upon with a two-goal lead. Which team is more likely to score next? Is that other sports cliche "momentum" a fact or a myth?

  4. “In which case, the obvious coaching strategy when up by a goal would be to insist the players try not to score. Has there ever been such a team?”

    Don’t think there is in hockey. In soccer however I think Italy’s national team frequently display that quality (to my frustration).

    • The sports are so different though, and goals come so rarely in soccer that it's often a good strategy to sacrifice further scoring to hunker down and protect the lead (it happens in hockey too but it's so much more obvious in soccer).

    • "West Germany versus Austria was a 1982 FIFA World Cup game that changed the rules of future World Cup tournaments."
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Germany_v_Austr

      Slightly off topic but not entirely. Austria needed to lose 1-0 or 2-0 to progress in World Cup and that's what they did.

      And Italians love to defend. Little boys grow up wanting to be centre-halfs. I am hoping Inter lose tomorrow against Barca because I don't like Italian football.

  5. Maybe the two goal myth comes from teams playing kitty by the door with a two goal lead and so changing the style that got them the lead to begin with. The only way to find out would be to pull the scores from, say, 10 years of hockey and analzye the data. Is there a hockey Bill James around? After that we could destroy the momentum myth once and for all….

  6. "But is there any indication that a two goal lead is, objectively, a worse lead to have than a one- (or three-) goal lead? I find it hard to believe."

    This question could be answered by doing a statistical analysis of hockey game logs. But I guess most journalists, particularly sports journalists, wouldn't want to take this approach because it's, you know… research and too closely resembles work.

  7. I wasn't aware anyone took that cliche seriously; even for people who use it I'd always just assumed it was hyperbole.

  8. But once the other team shaves the lead from two to one, it gains what is truly the biggest cliche in hockey: Momentum.

    • No, no, no. Momentum comes only after 'facing adversity'.

  9. Conjecture: when two-goal leads are squandered, a disproportionate amount of the time those two goals are scored in rapid succession.

  10. Also, any 3 goal lead is in fact at one time a 2 goal lead.

    Sports commentators say a lot of dumb things in part because they need to fill up the time.

    If there is any truth to this at all, it would be because some coaches change tactics when reaching a two goal lead. The new tactic of playing less aggressively and more defensively causes them to lose more often, because the best defense if a good offense, and the easiest way to gain territory is when others hand it over as they back up.

  11. Don Cherry was a coach and from a coach's perspective a two goal lead is a dangerous situation. If your team goes into the 3rd with a 2 goal lead, your owner, senior management, fans and local media expect "you" to win. If you don't you choked and when a team chokes it is the coach's fault.

    It is a little like having a four foot putt or a thirty foot putt to win the Masters. Of course, you would prefer the shorter putt, but if you miss it (and lose the playoff) you will be deemed to have choked under pressure.

  12. Macleans can't get politics right, now they are trying hockey? Please spare us and leave the subject to the pros like Cherry and quit while you are 2 goals down!

  13. "First thing to keep in mind is that all failed two-goal leads are also failed one-goal leads. That is, on its way to squandering a two-goal lead, a team must also squander a one-goal lead."

    Yes but this leads to some other favourite hockey cliches. Having gone soft with a two goal lead and allowed it to become a one goal lead, the leading team has "let their foot of the gas pedal" and "can't just flip on the switch again" to play with the intensity a one goal lead requires.

  14. Don Cherry seems to, though he's ALL hyperbole so it is hard to tell.

  15. I like screwing

  16. In terms of the 2 goal lead, many, MANY hockey players have told me that after a game, they like to engage in heavy screwing.

  17. Same cliche for football. It's called the "prevent defence". Also known as the prevent yourself from winning defence. Same in any sport and just what Team Canada did in Vancouver. Instead of pressing the attack and continue doing what was successful to that point, fall into a defensive shell and allow the opposition to pepper your goldie with about 20 shots in a row. Guess what? Eventually the other team pops a couple in. This syndrome has always driven me crazy. The other team can't score if the puck is in their end. You know, doing what got you the 2 or 3 goal lead in the first place!!!

  18. As a Rangers fan I get nervous with a five goal lead.

  19. The two goal lead *is*, in fact, not just a bad cliche. The fact is that when a team loses focus, the other team gains momentum and, in dominating the resulting play, it gains a significant advantage – often for the remainder of the game.

    Teams win and lose by having momentum and composure. This is often squandered more easily with a two goal lead. Simple statistics will not reveal this, but it is a fact.

  20. if a team has a 2 goal lead, the coach need to pressure them to make it a 3 goal lead and not sit on the two goal lead. cherry is saying a 2 goal lead causes a change in play by the leading team. the coaching challenge is to keep them hungry to extend the lead to three goals.

    the correct question is when a team is up by two does the opposing team score more often than when a team is up by one. that can be verifited statistically to determine if the 2 goal lead is harder to maintain than the one goal lead.

  21. to me the question is after a two goal lead how likely is the next goal to be from the team behind, relative to how often the opposing team scores to tie when behind by one. the question is about the difficulty of retaining a two goal lead relative to the difficulty of retaining a one goal lead. obviousy having the lead increases the chances of winning.

  22. Before I'm willing to accept this premise, you'll first need to demonstrate that "momentum" in sport actually exists., or at least define it in some sensible manner. Teams lose because the other team put the puck in their more times than vice versa. How that happens is a combination of the physical abilities of the players (the team with better players normally wins), the physical stamina of the players (players who are tired, sick, jetlagged, etc. won't play as well), the strategy of the team, and dumb luck. A better team with tired players may open the scoring early while their players are fresh, but may lose in the long haul as exhaustion catches up with them.

  23. Sam: right on.

  24. Do people actually believev what Cherry says??!!

  25. Here's another cliche ."Original Six" they were actually the remaining six!

  26. You aren’t taking into consideration the obvious aspect of the momentum tilting to the team making the comeback

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