Could happen…

As of now, three teams have already clinched playoff berths: Colorado, Calgary, and Philadelphia. But given the parity in the NLL this season, it’s far from settled who else will make it. Here are a few scenarios that could still happen:

Bandits win the East

Buffalo is having one of the worst seasons in its history but unbelievably, they could still win the East Division. If the Bandits win their four remaining games, they end up at 8-8. They already own the tiebreaker with the Rock and if they win out, they’ll own the Knighthawks one as well. As long as the Rock win no more than twice and the Knighthawks don’t win out, the Bandits finish no worse than second. The Wings own the tiebreaker with the Bandits so if they win even once more, the Bandits can’t catch them. But if they lose out, the Bandits win the east outright. Not bad for a pathetic stupid team with no heart.

Knighthawks win the East

If the Knighthawks win out and Philly loses twice, they end up tied at 9-7, with Rochester owning the tiebreaker. As long as the Rock don’t win three times, the Knighthawk win the East.

Rock miss the playoffs

If the Rock lose their last four, they end up 6-10. As long as Buffalo and Rochester each win twice, the Rock finish last in the East. If Minnesota beats Philly twice, Edmonton beats Toronto twice and Calgary once, and Washington beats Minnesota, Toronto, and Buffalo, they all finish at 7-9 and the Rock are out.

Philly finishes last in the East

If Philly loses out, they end up 7-9. If the Rock beat Edmonton twice, they have 8 wins. Rochester will get a win against Philly and if they beat Calgary twice, they’ll also have 8 wins. If Buffalo wins out, they finish with 8 wins too, and the Wings are last. As I said, the Wings have already clinched the playoffs; in this scenario, Edmonton will lose three more games, putting them at 6-10.

The Wild Wild West

Calgary and Colorado have locked up first and second in the West – each has 10 wins and nobody else can end up with more than 9. But I think there are scenarios where each of Edmonton, Minnesota, and Washington can come in third, fourth, or fifth, and in some of those cases, fifth place will cross over and make the playoffs.

Are back-to-back games a disadvantage in the NLL?

In a recent article on IL Indoor, Teddy Jenner examined the teams that have played back-to-back games this season. He discovered that more than two thirds of the teams that had two games in a weekend won the second of those games. The results were better for teams playing at home on the second night and less so if playing away.

Those are pretty interesting numbers, but they only cover three-quarters of one season. If only we had such statistics on previous seasons – but for that we’d need information on all previous NLL games. But wait! We have that! Let’s fire up Graeme’s Super-Amazing Magic NLL Statistical Database-inator™!

I did some queries looking for two games involving one team played within 3 days of each other. This will include not only games on consecutive days, but also games played on Friday and Sunday of the same weekend. I ended up doing four queries: the team in question plays at home both games; away both games; home first and then away; and away first and then home. I then combined these numbers for the aggregate record. We’ll deal with home-and-home series (i.e. both games involved the same two teams) below.

If you’re not interested in the raw numbers or statistical analysis, click here to skip to the conclusions.

The Numbers

From 1987 to 2011, I found 394 instances where a team played more than one game in a weekend. Here are the numbers:

Type Games Win-Win Win-Loss Loss-Win Loss-Loss
Home-Home 5 1 1 2 1
Home-Away 166 44 44 33 45
Away-Home 148 45 26 38 39
Away-Away 75 12 18 20 25
Totals 394 102 89 93 110
Totals (%)   25.9% 22.6% 23.6% 27.9%

Strangely, teams have played two home games in the same weekend only 5 times, but teams have played two away games 75 times. The percentage totals show that when a team played two games in a weekend, the most common scenario is that they lost both games. Winning the first and losing the second is the least common.

Looking at the numbers a different way:

Type Wins first game Wins second game
Home-Home 2 3
Home-Away 88 77
Away-Home 71 83
Away-Away 30 32
Totals 191 (48.5%) 195 (49.5)
Home Totals 90 (52.6%) 86 (56.2%)
Away Totals 101 (45.3%) 109 (45.2%)

So 48.5% of the time, the team won the first of back-to-back games, and 49.5% of the time, they won the second. Unsurprisingly (?), the numbers are better at home.

But the real question is not “what was the most common outcome of such series?” but “can we make inferences or predictions based on past behaviour?” To answer that question, we must do some statistical analysis.

Statistical analysis

Here’s where we get into the stats stuff a little more. Don’t worry if you’re not a stats geek, I’m not going to describe the tests I did in great detail or describe how or why they work, primarily because I have no idea. (Or more accurately, I don’t remember since it’s been over twenty years since I studied this stuff.)

Our default assumption, or “null hypothesis”, is that each of the four outcomes of a two-game series (win-win, win-loss, loss-win, loss-loss) is equally likely. Basically, we make no assumptions that there are any patterns of any kind, and let the numbers tell us if we’re wrong. Our observed values are shown in the chart above, so we want to see whether the differences between those values and the values that our null hypothesis would predict are statistically significant.

As an analogy, say we flipped a coin 100 times. Our null hypothesis is that each outcome is equally likely (i.e. our coin is fair), so we’d expect 50 heads and 50 tails. If our actual results were 52 and 48, that’s likely to be close enough for us to conclude that our null hypothesis is probably correct. If our results were 70-30, we’d reject our null hypothesis and decide that one outcome is more likely than the other, and so we likely (the numbers can’t conclusively prove anything) have a rigged coin. But what if the numbers were 58-42? Is that close enough to 50-50 for the differences to be insignificant, or is it more likely that your coin is unfair?

We can use a test called the chi-squared test to calculate the probability that the differences between a group of observed results and the expected results are due solely to chance, or if it’s more likely that there’s something else involved causing the differences. I calculated (well, Microsoft Excel calculated) this probability using the chi-squared test, though I omitted the Home-Home row because all of the expected values were too low. (Chi-squared doesn’t work very well for expected values below 5.) The p-value calculated was 0.059793, or about 5.98%. What this means is that the probability that the values we observed would have been observed if our null hypothesis was true is almost 6%. To be considered statistically significant enough to reject our null hypothesis, this value should be less than 5%.

The long and the short of is it that we cannot reject our null hypothesis. The numbers do not indicate that playing two games in a weekend has an effect on the likelihood of winning either one. Playing two games in a weekend is no different than playing two games a week apart.

Home-and-home

Now let’s look at home-and-home series. Note that there has never been a weekend where two teams played each other twice in the same location, so we’re only dealing with each team playing one game at home and one away. There are four possibilities here: a split where the home team wins both games, a split where the away team wins both games, a sweep where the home team wins the first game, and a sweep where the away team wins the first game. There have been 53 such series’ in NLL history (1987-2011):

Type Games
Sweep – Home, Away 16
Sweep – Away, Home 16
Split – Home wins 12
Split – Away wins 9
Totals 53

The most common occurrences have been sweeps, but after applying the same chi-squared test as above, I came up with the p-value number of 0.453534, or about 45.4%. This is way over the 5% required to be statistically significant so these numbers really tell us nothing, likely because of the small sample size. Similarly, the numbers do not indicate that any outcome of a home-and-home series is more likely than any other.

Conclusions 

To summarize the conclusions I’ve drawn above:

  • The evidence does not indicate that playing two games in the same weekend affects the likelihood of winning either game.
  • The evidence does not indicate that any of the four possibilities of a home-and-home series is more likely than any other.

A team playing two games in a weekend is no different than that team playing two games a week apart. The numbers tell us that it simply doesn’t matter. There are always going to be outliers, but for every team that loses the second game because they’re tired, there’s another team that’s energized from playing the night before.

Just to be clear, these numbers don’t tell us that there is no pattern. They simply say that the data does not indicate a pattern. It also tells us that we can’t use the numbers to make predictions; in the past when a team played two games in a weekend, the most common outcome was that they’d lose both games. This does not mean that in the future when a team plays two games in a weekend, they are more likely to lose both than any other outcome.

Many thanks to Dan Shirley from In Lax We Trust (and a math undergrad at Washington State University – go Cougars!) for his help in interpreting the statistics.

Game Report: Toronto 15 @ Buffalo 9

The Rock have traditionally played well in Buffalo; they were 13-6 in Banditland (including one playoff game) before Saturday night’s game. Given that, plus the fact that the Rock beat the Knighthawks convincingly last week and the Bandits lost even more convincingly in Calgary before coach Darris Kilgour questioned the heart of “everybody but about four people” on his team, it seemed inevitable that the Rock would prevail in this game. But this year, the inevitable may not happen, and what “can’t possibly happen” does. That’s why they play the games.

In this case the inevitable did indeed happen, as the Rock beat the Bandits 15-9 in a game the Bandits were only in for the first quarter and a half. Toronto took a couple of early leads, but never led by more than two. The Bandits tied it up early in the second before Garrett Billings’ second goal put the Rock up 5-4. The Toronto defense really stepped up their game at that point, and the Bandits offense didn’t get much in the way of good looks after that. Luke Wiles was shut down entirely (one assist) and Tavares was kept to 4+1. This year if you can shut down Wiles and JT, you’ve got yourself a win against the Bandits (and keeping JT to only 5 points is shutting him down). The Rock led 7-5 at the half, having already scored 4 power play goals. They would score another three in the fourth quarter.

Nick Rose had another solid outing for the Rock. In his second career start, Rose gave up 9 goals on 44 shots. He didn’t have to stand on his head, but was tested more than he was in Rochester last week, and made a number of very nice saves. The defense played very well in front of him once again, and a couple of people on the Wingzone message boards commented that Troy Cordingley was quite calm, cool, and collected behind the Rock bench because of it. (I was sitting up in the 300 level – best two seats I could get together on Thursday – so I could barely see Troy, let alone judge his mood.)

Late in the first, I wrote in my handy-dandy notebook that the Rock were passing very well, looking like a well-oiled machine. I then realized that this is a little easier to do when there’s five of you and only four of them. The Bandits were in penalty trouble much of the night, leading to the aforementioned 7 PP goals. It’s not even that the Bandits did dumb things and took penalties, they did dumb things at dumb times. Case in point: Doyle was given an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty (which should really have been a delay of game) at 14:59 of the first, I believe for taking a shot after the shot clock had run out. Troy Cordingley must have disagreed with that rather vehemently, as the Rock were also given a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct (which was likely not really a delay of game). So the Bandits would have started the second quarter with a power play (they already had a man in the box) for 1:17, and then a two-man power play for 43 seconds after that. But what happens? Tom Montour takes a penalty 3 seconds into the second, and we play 3-on-3 lacrosse instead.

The biggest story of the game was the play of Garrett Billings. The man was everywhere. Four goals, eleven assists, fifteen points. He was involved in every goal scored by the Rock, and the NLL has said that this is the first time that’s ever happened. Seems weird that Stephan Leblanc can put up 4+5 and Doyle 2+6 and they barely get mentioned. Brendan Thenhaus also scored two, and it must have been nice for him to score a couple against the team that cut him earlier this year.

Other than the penalty thing, the Bandits didn’t really play all that badly. Thompson wasn’t at his best but wasn’t terrible, and did make a number of really good saves. Cosmo, on the other hand, was terrible. The Rock had 60 shots on net, but you have to wonder how many of those were on the PP. Take away the 7 PP goals for the Rock, and this is a 9-8 game with the Bandits winning. But you can’t just dismiss “the penalty thing” saying “if we just fix that, we’ll win more games”. Taking undisciplined penalties against a team with such a potent power-play unit is a recipe for disaster, and taking undisciplined penalties is fairly standard for Banditball. Whether it’s this year or not, the Darris Kilgour era in Buffalo will end at some point, and it will be very interesting to see the evolution of Banditball in the years following.

Other game notes:

  • Mark Steenhuis looks terrible in the picture they put up on the Jumbotron when he scores. His curly hair hangs down to his right shoulder in what looks like the weirdest comb-over you’ll ever see. Good God, man.
  • Just to continue the Bandits reputation as fighters and goons, there were two trivia questions asked by the in-game people at this game, and both involved penalty minutes. One was “who currently leads the Bandits in penalty minutes?” (answer: Travis Irving), and the other was “what is the Bandits record for most penalty minutes in a game?” (answer: 70).
  • Tom Montour scored a goal early in the fourth and then turned around and started stomping his foot and raising his arm in the air. I’m sure it was an inside joke of some kind, but that might have been the weirdest goal celebration dance I’ve ever seen.
  • My season tickets for the Rock are right at centre, seventeen rows up behind the player benches, and I love those seats. But at this game, my son and I were sitting (waaaaaay up in the 300 level) in a corner to the left of (and behind) the goalie at one end. In the first, Colin Doyle picked up a loose ball and ran behind the net and I could see, just as Doyle could, that Thompson was standing a little to the left and looking over his left shoulder. I thought to myself “there’s a hole on the right side! Jump and tuck it in!” just a split second before Doyle did just that. It was very cool to see the entire play develop, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that from the centre.
  • I have heard stories about fans wearing jerseys of the opposing team being taunted, harassed, or even physically attacked at sporting events, but I haven’t heard any such stories from Buffalo. I have never had an issue there in the ten years I’ve been going to Rock games there, and this time was no different. I even had a nice conversation with the Bandit fan whose young son was sitting next to me. I’m sure there are Bandits fans who are jerks (just like there are Rock fans and Wings fans and Stealth fans who are jerks), but I’ve never met one. I remember going to a Bandits game shortly after the 2002 Olympics, and a group of Bandits fans who saw our Rock jerseys stopped us and shook our hands, congratulating us on Canada’s double-gold performances in hockey.