How to Overreact to the First NHL Games

By Carl Landra, originally published at

So, your favorite team has played their first game. You are most likely thrilled that your team exceeded expectations or trying to convince yourself that it’s not a rebuilding season. But does it actually matter? Is one game out of 82 any more valuable than another? Let’s look at what the numbers tell us. Looking back at the last two seasons, let’s start by looking at what winning your first game means. When we look at the 2016-17 and the 2017-18 seasons, 32 teams made the playoffs. Of those teams, 63% of them won their first game, as the table below shows.

Won their first game Lost their first game
Made the playoffs 20 12
Missed the playoffs 14 15

Does that mean that losing game number one is a death sentence? Well, not for the other 37% of those teams. But, it does mean that you have some work to do. Data also shows that 59% of teams that won their first game made the playoffs. Want to make the playoffs? It’s almost like winning games helps with that.

Now, all is not lost if you lose the first game. Let’s recall that last season the Winnipeg Jets lost 7-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs. That did not end The Steve Mason Experience for the Winnipeg Jets. No, they let him give up another 6 goals against the Flames and then 5 goals against the Blue Jackets, before moving him to the bench. The Jets’ blowout at the hands of Auston Matthews and company does beg the question: What if you’re really bad?

Obviously, for the Winnipeg Jets, they managed to bounce back from a rough start and finish the season with 114 points. On the flip side, the Chicago Blackhawks won their first game 10-1, and finished out of the playoffs with 76 points. How does performance in the first game equate to future results? Well, it doesn’t. Below, the first game goal differential is studied, to see if it trends with total season points.

This graph looks like Dion Phaneuf was taking shots on it. There is no trend or correlation. In fact, if one was going to try and explain this with a trend, it’s that the more goals you score in the first game, the less points you’ll score. (We have the Blackhawks 10-1 victory to thank for that!) What does all of this mean? It means that no matter what your favorite team does in their season opener, that there are still 81 more games to be played. If they lose 7-1, everything is not lost. The Winnipeg Jets rebounded, and so can your squad. But, if they win, well, with the odds being in your favor for making the playoffs, it’s time to start planning the parade!


The 4th Line Podcast
About The 4th Line Podcast 46 Articles
Coming from Calgary, AB and Nanaimo, BC, Carl and Joel provide their own unique and fun view of hockey. Catch the 4th Line podcast each and every Sunday on NBS Radio!

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