You heard it once, you heard it a million times. A team would get out to a two or three goal lead and someone, somewhere be it at the bar or on the Internet would say, “that’s the most dangerous lead in hockey.” Since it was almost always a flippant remark and never taken seriously unless the team in front blew the game, you wouldn’t have another thought about it until later.
If you wondered if some teams were better or worse than others at giving up a seemingly big lead, there’s one blogger who went back through all of last season’s games to figure out just what, exactly, the most dangerous lead in hockey was. The guys at PuckScene.com went through all of last season’s regular season results and figured out just what kind of cushion was the most perilous for a team to have. Their results aren’t exactly shocking in some ways and rather eye-opening in others.
For the purposes of their study, they looked at things this way:
For the purpose of this analysis, a lead is considered the maximum goal margin before the game reverts to a tie. For instance, if a team starts a game with a 3-0 lead but wins the game 4-2, the lead is considered a three-goal lead because that was the maximum lead margin. A lead is considered surrendered whenever a game reverts to a tie. For instance, if one team jumps out to a 3-0 lead but becomes a 5-5 tie, that lead has been surrendered. All leads include regulation only, as it is impossible to surrender an overtime lead.
Simple enough for us. Also keep in mind that surrendering the lead doesn’t necessarily mean losing the game either.
As you might expect, the absolute most dangerous lead in hockey is the one-goal lead as 85.35% of those were surrendered. That means either a game was tied up or the opponent took the lead back from them. For instance, the Islanders were the worst team in the NHL with a one-goal lead as they gave it back every time last season. The Islanders had to get ahead by more than two goals according to Puck Scene’s numbers as they gave up a two goal lead 42% of the time they had one of those. They were flawless when up three or more.
As for the rest of the NHL, a two goal lead was given up 39.52% according to their results. While a one-goal lead is always perilous, seeing a two-goal lead given up nearly four out of every ten times is incredible. Think of the “dead puck” era when a two-goal lead essentially meant the game was over. Now? Not so much. Of the 463 times a team held a two-goal advantage, 183 times that team gave it up.
While Florida was the worst team in the NHL with a two-goal lead, surrendering them at a 77.78% rate, Pittsburgh was in the top (bottom?) five giving up a two-goal lead 57.14% of the time. Two playoff teams were in the top five with Anaheim giving up the two-goal lead 71.43% of the time and joining Pittsburgh in that ignominy.
Even a three-goal lead had its perils last season as Puck Scene’s analysis shows that a three-goal lead was given up 10.34% (30 out of 290 times). Leads of four goals or more were lost a mere 0.91% of the time (2 out of 219). Of those two times, Montreal recovered after blowing a 4-0 lead against Calgary in January to beat the Flames 5-4 in overtime. The Penguins survived blowing a 4-0 lead to Detroit back in March to beat the Red Wings 5-4 in a shootout.
Colorado had the hardest time holding leads, period, and made their fans cringe any time they had the lead as they gave up a one-goal lead 94.87% of the time, a two-goal lead 42.86% of the time and a three-goal lead at a 40% rate. Even if that’s two times out of five, that’s two times too many. The NHL’s worst team, Edmonton, was equally terrifying with a lead losing a one-goal lead at a 88.89% rate and a two-goal lead 50% of the time.
Winnipeg fans might have to invest in Pepto Bismol next year if the Jets don’t improve on their final Thrashers days as they gave away a one-goal lead 90% of the time and fared no better with a two-goal lead (61.54%) nor a three-goal advantage (20%).
Obviously these numbers have no bearing on how things will play out next year, but the next time you hear a fan joking around about how the two goal lead is the scariest in the NHL… They’re not too far off in how right they are, just remind them that it could be worse. It could be a one-goal lead.