Photo credit: Scott Cunningham
After the Capitals’ humiliating 7-0 loss to the Rangers in December, head coach Bruce Boudreau changed his defensive scheme to include the neutral-zone trap. I won’t go into the how and why this system works, but it essentially looks to keep small mistakes from turning into major breakdowns that lead to goals against.
Over the years, the trap has often been associated with teams that have a “defense first” mentality – you know, boring squads. That’s a far cry from last season’s “run ‘n’ gun” Caps team that lead the League in scoring by almost 50 goals while being merely average at keeping the puck out their own net. Most notably, it satisfies critics who feel the system employed by Boudreau over the past few seasons is incapable of winning in the playoffs. But is it?
Here’s what I did:
- I logged a team’s won-loss record in both the regular season and playoffs for every year since the lockout (2005-2010), for each day of the season.
- Teams were labeled as being an “offensive” or “defensive” team based upon their goals for/against relative to the average goals for/against for that season. If a team was higher above the league average in goals-for than goals-against, I labeled them as an offensive team. If their goals-against was better than the league average than goals-for, I labeled them a defensive team.
- Then, I looked for matched pairs of teams where one team was an offensive team and one team was a defensive team and the game was not decided in a shootout.
2,488 games have been played since the lockout where teams with differing styles met during the regular season. Those teams labeled as “defensive,” such as the 2006-10 New Jersey Devils or the 2006-07 Dallas Stars, won 1,304 of them — good for a .524 win percentage — while offensive juggernauts like the 2009-10 Capitals or 2008-09 Red Wings had a win percentage of just .476, showing that a defensive style of play has a clear advantage during the regular season when matched up against offensive powerhouses.
The playoffs, however, are a different story. Out of the 426 playoffs games since the lockout, opposite style teams matched up in 165 of them, with the defensive minded teams winning only 42.4% of the time, almost a fifth less than they did in the regular season.