Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy – The Late Period Goal

"Gah! If only that had happened one second later"

“Ah, you got to be fucking kidding me, 40 freaking seconds left in the period!”
I feel like I yell that all the time. The Bruins play a fantastic period and are right in the mix: either up a goal, tied or down a goal. Then we enter into the last four minutes of the period and as time ticks down, I start to get nervous. I’ve seen it so many times, I can just feel its coming. A bad giveaway, a poor timed change, stupid penalty, soft goal, or just one shift where the line is out of gas, and a puck winds up in the back of the Bruins net. The biggest momentum killer ever, the late period goal.

The Bruins came out roaring in their home opener this season against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Offensive zone pressure was high throughout the entire first period, but no goals were scored. After outplaying the Penguins for 18:51, Miroslav Satan, fresh out the box, knocked a rebound past Tim Thomas. Wave bye-bye to any second period momentum for the Bruins. The game ended in a 2-1 shoot out win for the Penguins. The Bruins rebounded nicely and played a solid game, but if they could have just held on for another 1:09 in the first period, it could have been a vastly different game.

This finally pushed my curiosity over the edge, how many late goals do the Bruins really give up? I went through the entire 2007-2008 regular season and tallied all the goals given up by the Bruins in last four minutes of a period; then broke it down by period and goal strength. Once I finished with the goals against, I realized I had nothing to compare it to, so I complied the late period goals (both for and against) for the Northeast Division and the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings. Please keep in mind the assumptions I am going to make in the rest of this piece are based on this small sample size and this is pretty much my first venture into a heavy duty statistical break down.

View the tables side by side

The total amount of goals scored and allowed in the last four minutes of the periods actually makes a lot of sense. 12 minutes is 20% of a hockey game, and the total amount of late period goals scored, were between 15-25% of a given teams season total. I’d be interested to find out what part of a period sees the most goals scored, but the late period goal totals seem to be proportionately correct.

As it turns out, the Bruins actually scored more late period goals then they allowed (58-52).Detroit and Montreal also finished with more goals scored then allowed, while Ottawa broke even, and Buffalo and Toronto gave up more goals. Time for a wild conjecture: Buffalo and Toronto didn’t make the playoffs, while the other four teams did. Toronto may have been a lost cause, but if Buffalo finishes positive in this stat, do they win a few more games and sneak into the playoffs? My guess would be, yes.

Part of the reason I wanted to compile this information was to try and find a link between the stereotypical flat 2nd period from the Bruins and a late first period goal against. Now, the flat second period can’t really be quantified, nor do I have any specific games to point to, but ask any Bruins fan and they will back me up on the frequently lame second period. The Bruins scored one more late first period goal than they allowed (11-10), so I don’t think I can point to this as the sole contributor to the problem. Before I gathered all the numbers, I thought the Bruins were getting slammed at the end of periods (especially the first), but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Granted these numbers don’t take the scoring from the entire period into account, but if teams like Ottawa, Buffalo, and Toronto are giving up more goals in the last four minutes of the first period, they may be having to engineer more come from behind victories.

Not surprisingly, the third period had the most goals scored/allowed, due to the empty netters. If you take the empty net goals out of the equation, it evens out the number of goals in the second and third periods. More pucks are winding up in the net in the last four minutes of the second and third as opposed to the first; fatigue may play a factor in their higher goal totals. One of the things that intrigued me was that between all the teams the amount of goals scored/allowed per period and strength were similar. I was expecting (and hoping) to catch a few anomalies come out, but the numbers match up fairly well. Part of this may be attributed to the sample size, since the teams in the Northeast Division are playing each other eight times each a season, almost half their games come against each other, so it may skew the numbers a tad.

Detroit may not have scored the most late period goals, but ran the table in goals allowed. Only a tie for 1st period goals allowed with Montreal (9) was the only category Detroit didn’t win straight out. Montreal finished a distant second in total goals allowed with 46 to Detroit’s 35. The data in this respect doesn’t tell us anything new, if you keep the puck out of the net, you win games. The Bruins scored more total goals than they allowed, a difference of six (58-52), but Detroit did twice as well with a difference of 12 (47-35). Something interesting that doesn’t come through in the tables is how poorly Ottawa did in this category after Christmas. The wheels really fell off on the back end of the season, and it showed with the majority of these late period goals coming in the second half of the season. It the end it evened out, as they did about as well as Boston, so I suppose it’s a wash.

Even strength was when most of the goals were scored/allowed. This is another stat that gets bolstered by the empty net goal, as almost all of them came at even strength. The Bruins fared well on the power play as the matched Montreal with 16 late period man-advantage goals. Sadly, that was almost a third of all Bruins PP goals, while the late period PP goals accounted for less than a fifth of Montreal’s. The Bruins penalty kill fared about the same allowing 14 goals, which was only about a fifth of the total PPGA. A better percentage for the PK, but its just due to the fact that the Bruins PK was less than stellar last season and let in their fare share of goals.

The late period goal only represents a microcosm of a full game of hockey, but the numbers show that not too much changes in the last four minutes of a period (besides the 3rd period empty net goal). The same strengths or weaknesses a team have during the rest of the period are present in the last four minutes, i.e. Boston’s PK is weak or Detroit just shuts down everyone regardless.I wasn’t really sure what I would find once I gathered all this together, and there are definitely some components missing that would put these late period goals in better context.Sometime in the future, I’d like to go back and see whether a late goal: gained the lead, tied, closed the gap, or was a game winner. In addition, I’d want to know how many multiple goals were scored in the last four minutes and how many bounce back goals were scored – after team A scores, team B then also scores before the end of the period. It might be a while before I can get that all together, but until then you have plenty of late goal statics to chew on.

-John

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2 responses to “Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy – The Late Period Goal

  1. BearBeatsIndian

    Well done John. One of way quantifying a “momentum change” caused by a later period goal would be to tally games where the bruins led for the first period, but then there was a last min goal against, and record if the game was either won or lost. Alternatively, look for games where a last min goal was scored, and then in the following period the other team outshot/outscored the B’s. Remember, shots on net can be a huge indicator of how one team is playing. Might be interesting to do some more in depth stats too, not just goal totals. Finding averages and standard deviations can be a much better indicator than simply comparing totals. Also, I blame the new girl for last nights loss.

  2. A most excellent analysis. It would be interesting to know which players are scoring these goals, what their “late period +/-” stats would be, and so forth. I have a feeling that this boils down not just to teams, but to specific players and especially goalies who choke under pressure.

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