I came across an interesting post that Dirk Hoag wrote last September. I’d quote a chunk of it but it seems to screw up the formatting of my site, so I’ll just mention his key point. There appears to be something of a platoon advantage in the shootout. Through two years, right handed shooting players were shooting 29.7% against left handed catching goalies and 36.4% against right handed catching goalies. Left handed shooting players were shooting 36.0% against left handed catching goalies and just 24.8% against right handed catching goalies.
This strikes me as pretty interesting. It’s essentially a reverse platoon advantage from that which exists in baseball. Goalies who catch with their left hand do better against right handed shooters than left handed shooters and goalies who catch with their right hand do better against left handed shooters than right handed shooters. This makes intuitive sense, I think – a right handed shooter coming down on a right handed catching goalie (and a left handed shooter on a left handed catching goalie) have an advantage in that they can go high to the blocker side without having to shoot across their body. If they deke, they can go forehand and not have to worry about beating the glove hand.
It also doesn’t surprise me that the platoon advantage appears to be most severe for left handed shooters shooting on right handed goalies. Every goalie sees tons of right handed and left handed shots in practice. Not every shooter sees tons of right handed catching goalies though – last year, probably only Edmonton, the Panthers, the Islanders, Colorado, Anaheim, Minnesota and LA had any kind of time shooting against a right handed goalie in practice. This might not be such a big deal for right handed shooters, for whom there’s seemingly an advantage in shooting against a right handed catching goalies but for left handed shooters, it might be something that really throws them off.
This is enough to make me wonder, so I looked at last year’s numbers. What do we have? Well there appeared to be no platoon advantage last year with respect to left handed goalies – right handed shooters actually did better against them than left handed shooters did. With right handed goalies though, the effect was tremendous. Right handed shooters shot 33.8% against them, a success rate that falls right in between the 33.1% and 34.7% achieved by left and right handed shooters respectively against left handed catching goalies. Left handers though, got destroyed by right handed catching goalies, succeeding at only an 18.4% clip. (Sample size: ridiculously small.)
I put together the numbers for all of the goalies to see if someone was distorting it (basically, Garon’s big year). Even without Garon’s big year, there’s a substantial edge for the right handed catching goalies against left handed shooters, as can be seen in the chart.
Another interesting fact from last year: left handed shooters on teams that have a right handed catching goalie: ie. teams where the left handed shots have some experience facing right handed goalies because of practice, went 5/20 against them in shootouts, for a 25% shooting percentage. Players on teams without a right handed catching goalie went 11/67, or 16.4%. The samples are too small to mean anything but that conforms with what I expected.
There’s enough here that I’m at least suspicious that this effect is real. Having gone this far, I thought I’d look and see whether there’s any team that might have benefitted from being aware of this. I came across one: the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks, who missed the playoffs by three points last year, lost five shootouts of those shootouts to teams with right handed catching goalies.
On November 14, 2007, the Canucks played the Oilers. Scoreless after 65, they went to the shootout. Mathieu Garon turned aside lefties Byron Ritchie (I don’t understand this selection at all) and Brendan Morrison as the Oilers won 1-0 in three rounds.
On November 20, 2007, the Canucks again played the Oilers. The game was tied at 4 after 65. Mathieu Garon stopped lefties Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison and the Oilers won 2-1 in a five round shootout. Righty Trevor Linden scored for the Canucks, who also threw righties Ryan Kesler and Brad Isbister at the Oilers.
On December 15, 2007, yet another Canucks and Oilers game went to the shootout. Edmonton won again, 2-1 in 4 rounds. Vancouver threw lefties Alex Burrows (see my thoughts about Ritchie) and Taylor Pyatt at the Oilers – neither scored.
On February 1, 2008, Vancouver and Florida went to a shootout. The Canucks threw a trio of lefties at righty Tomas Vokoun. They lost the shootout 1-0 on Nathan Horton’s goal in the first round.
Finally, on February 27, 2008, the Canucks lost their fifth shootout of the year to a right handed catching goalie. They only got two shooters into this one, as Colorado went up 2-0 but one of those shooters was Mason Raymond.
All told, the Canucks went 1/14 with left handed shots against right handed catching goalies. Replace those with righties and maybe they get an extra 2 or 3 goals…not a certainty but, given that there’s a bit of an historic trend here, that might have been something that they wanted to look into doing.
One final note – the SO records for right handed goalies since 2005-06. In addition to the aforementioned guys, Martin Prusek and Nolan Schaeffer are right handed catching goalies who’ve played shootout games since 2005-06. The righties have a combined record of 60-35, good for a .632 winning percentage. When you take out the righty/righty games, the record looks even better: 56-31, which comes out to a .644 winning percentage.
I’m not completely sure that this is real as opposed to random, but it strikes me as amazing that a group of goaltenders who, outside of Vokoun and arguably DiPietro, have not particularly distinguished themselves over the past three years, have done so well in the shootout. This is neat stuff and a good catch by Hoag last summer.