Game Four of the 1919 Stanley Cup finals ended in a scoreless tie between the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans. For the fifth game, it was decided that from that point forward teams competing for the Stanley Cup in the playoffs would play overtime until a winning goal was scored. As fate would have it, the very next game ended in a draw, and Jack McDonald of the Montreal Canadiens scored the first-ever sudden-death overtime goal. Ninety years later, fans are still enthralled by the excitement of sudden-death overtime, where you can't miss a single moment because during any given play a single mistake or blown call or bad bounce or even a broken stick could end the game instantly, and could wind up being the difference between elimination and glory.
Eleven games have gone to sudden-death overtime so far in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs, with the home teams edging the visiting teams six wins to five. What happened in these eleven games when it went into overtime?
- More shots: a 20 percent increase in shots per 60 minutes, from 64 to 77;
- More goals: a 17.5 percent increase in goals per 60 minutes, from 4.5 to 5.3.
- Fewer penalties: 10 percent fewer power-play opportunities per 60 minutes, from 6.8 to 6.2.
The most important change in overtime is which players are put on the ice. In regulation time, coaches will generally roll all four forward lines and all three lines of defensemen, giving preference to their top units and perhaps half-shifts for their fourth line. In overtime, most coaches will only play their top two or three lines. Defensive players will continue to see plenty of action, especially if they can score, whereas coaches are far more careful about playing their more one-dimensional players.
Looking at the eleven overtime games played so far this year, which players got more time than expected in overtime? Based on their ice time during regulation, and how long overtime went, we can compile a list of which players got the most extra playing time. Given the relatively small sample size, it's more important for us to consider the types of players that appear, not the specific players themselves.
Player Team Extra Time
Darren Helm Detroit +3:27
Ryan Carter Anaheim +3:06
Ryan Getzlaf Anaheim +2:43
Alexander Steen St. Louis +2:39
Niklas Kronwall Detroit +2:24
Brett Lebda Detroit +2:22
Francois Beauchemin Anaheim +2:15
Henrik Sedin Vancouver +2:14
Keith Tkachuk St. Louis +2:01
Alexander Edler Vancouver +1:44
With the exception of players like Getzlaf and Sedin, there are not a lot of superstars getting increases in playing time in the extra frame, because they're presumably already playing as much as possible in regulation time. That's why you see Beauchemin on this list instead of Anaheim's top two defensemen, Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger, for example. The players who see increases in ice time in sudden-death overtime are the second-liners in whom their coaches have the most confidence defensively, and yet remain capable of offensively exploiting a lucky break.
Due to the method used, the above analysis is dominated by teams who have played a lot of overtime this year, notably the Red Wings and the Ducks. So, let's change gears and see which players had the highest percentage increase in playing time in the extra frames, either regular top-liners being double-shifted, or else third-liners getting regular shifts. We would expect to see the same types of players on this list as the first: skilled two-way stars.
Player Team Increase
Scott Walker Carolina +92%
Darren Helm Detroit +61%
Marc-Edouard Vlasic San Jose +57%
Alexander Steen St. Louis +54%
Michael Rupp New Jersey +52%
Jannik Hansen Vancouver +50%
Boyd Gordon Washington +46%
Rob Blake San Jose +45%
Chad Larose Carolina +39%
Frantisek Kaberle Carolina +38%
Minimum of five team minutes of OT
Many of the increases here can be explained by the shortened benches in overtime. For instance, defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Rob Blake of the Sharks both played a regular shift in regulation time, getting just under a third of the ice-time. In overtime, with the benches shortened, they each saw almost half the ice time. Alexander Steen of St. Louis and Chad Larose of Carolina fall into similar categories, but as forwards. The remainder of the players averaged fewer than 10 minutes of ice time in regulation, but played regular shifts in overtime. Still, these are the same types of players as we saw on the first list, players the coaching staff believes first and foremost are not likely to make mistakes , and yet are in a position to take advantage of any opportunities.
By contrast, which players get avoided in overtime?
Player Team Extra Time
Chris Chelios Detroit -4:42
Rick Rypien Vancouver -3:31
Brandon Crombeen St. Louis -2:36
Todd Marchant Anaheim -2:24
Patrik Berglund St. Louis -2:18
Ryan Whitney Anaheim -2:03
Jonathan Ericsson Detroit -2:04
Tomas Holmstrom Detroit -1:58
Kevin Bieksa Vancouver -1:52
Jay McKee St. Louis -1:42
You don't want to take a penalty in overtime, and offensively talented but defensively limited players are as likely to cost you the game as to win it. While there may be a few surprise exceptions in this list, such as Marchant and Berglund, by and large the pattern is to use your more aggressive players more sparingly when everything is on the line in that extra frame.
A lot has changed since Jack McDonald's historic goal in 1919 against Hap Holmes, but some things remain the same. To compete for the Stanley Cup, a team needs to be able to win in overtime, which means relying on not just your first-line superstars, but also your strong defensive second-line players like Francois Beauchemin and Alexander Steen. If you can count on your players to play responsible defensive hockey while seizing on opportunities to score, you're well on the way to hoisting hockey's ultimate prize.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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