Thursday, January 29, 2009

First Game Back After a Long Road Trip II

In November I wrote a post about the effect of coming home after a long road trip. At the time the Oilers had just lost with some uninspired play against the Maple Leafs. Given that the Oilers were just blown out 10-2 by Buffalo, I was reminded of that previous post and thought that I might update the findings since the sample size will now be much larger. My hypothesis is that fans like to think of reasons why a team might underperform or otherwise "come out flat." One of the reasons generally accepted in Canadian hockey mythology is that of "the first game back after a long road trip."

In November, the results showed that the home team had a points percentage of 63.5% in the first game back after a long trip (the trip needs to be three consecutive road games or more) and a points percentage of 59.4% in all other situations. The results were very preliminary because at the time there was a total of 320 games and only 37 of those games qualified under the "first game back" criteria.

There has now been a total of 715 games, 93 of which meet the criteria for "first game back." In the 93 games that qualify the home team has a points percentage of 64.0%, a slight increase from November. The goal differential in these games (excluding shootout goals) is +42 (297-255) or +0.452 per game. In the other 622 games the home team has a points percentage of 61.4%, a much larger increase, but still 2.6% behind. I think that this sample is large enough to conclude that there is certainly no negative effect from coming home after a long trip and that there may be a slightly positive effect when the team first gets home.

Now the easiest objection is that three games is not enough to constitute a long road trip, which may well be fair. As such, I have collect those situations where a team was coming back from a trip of 5 games or more. I think that it is pretty certain that this should constitute a long road trip, but there are still only 23 games that qualify here, so not all of the teams are even represented. Nonetheless, the results in those 23 games have the home team achieving a points percentage of 63.0% with a goal differential of +20 or +0.870 per game. The points percentage has slightly decreased, but the goal differential has close to doubled. These disparities are probably the result of a small sample size. In the other 692 games the points percentage is 61.7%, so still over 1% behind. These last numbers are still too small to come to a firm conclusion but they do support the conclusion reached above: there is no negative effect on the home team in their first game back after a long trip. If anything, there is a slightly positive effect.

Perhaps I'll check back at the end of the season to see if these conclusions, especially with regard to road trips five games or longer, still hold up.

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