Yesterday, I showed off the New Jersey Devils’ records of the last nine seasons when they and their opponents were able to rest before they played each other. And also when they and their opponents were not able to rest before they played each other. The idea of rest is a big wrinkle in the Devils’ schedule as they have tended to play a large number of back-to-back sets. In this coming season, they will have eighteen. That is an increase of six games where the Devils will be tired over last season’s twelve sets. The good news is that the Devils have performed rather well when they were tired. Today, I will focus more on the concept of a rest advantage.
This is all possible due to the work of Dr. Micah Blake McCurdy. Here are a series of Tweets that highlights how much a rest advantage or disadvantage matters.
Over the past nine seasons, home teams have taken 60% of the available points, road teams 51%. That's home-ice advantage in numbers.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 20, 2016
When they have a rest advantage of this type (did not play last night vs a team that did), home teams take 61% of the points.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 20, 2016
Road teams with a rest advantage take 60% of the points.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 20, 2016
With a rest disadvantage, home teams take 50% of the available points. When the road team has a rest disadvantage, they also take 50%.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 20, 2016
This was enough to get me interested enough to see how the Devils and their opponents performed with and without rest. Dr. McCurdy provided me his dataset upon request so I was able to show that off yesterday. Today, I will be focusing more specifically on what he brought up in these Tweets. How the Devils performed when they were rested but their opposition was not and how the Devils performed when they were tired but their opposition was rested. I can tell you how often that will happen in 2016-17:
"Tired" (played last night") vs "rested" (did not play last night) for the 16-17 season. pic.twitter.com/QbiJUkuj6X— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) June 25, 2016
The Devils will have a rest advantage in 10 games this season. They will be at a rest disadvantage in 8 games this season. That’s a pretty favorable ratio and it takes some of the sting out of having to play 18 back-to-back sets of games. It isn’t as favorable as, say, Edmonton; but its better than what it was in previous seasons.
When the Devils & Their Opponents Are Tired
Given that the Devils have 18 back-to-back sets in 2016-17, the above graphic means they will play 10 games where both the Devils and their opponents played the night before. If history carries on, that latter situation may be to the Devils’ benefit.
While the population size of these games is small in each season, the Devils’ results have been very good in these situations. They were perfect last season and you can see some solid records despite some sparse game totals. They’ve only had one season where they didn’t earn at least half of the points in these games - 2012-13 - and even then it was only three games. If the Devils end up with a record in double-tired games similar to the last time they had ten of them (2010-11), then that’s a positive. The low number of games makes me hesistant to make any conclusions about the GF% (goals for percentage) and CF% (5-on-5 Corsi for (all shooting attempts) percentage) values. Only last season’s squad really got hammered in possession, but it was only three games and the +5 goal differential makes me think some score effects were in play.
Now that we know this, we can take the charts from yesterday and identify rest advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at the negative first.
Rest Disadvantages: When the Devils Are Tired But Their Opponents Is Not
The Devils definitely had a break last season with only nine games where they had a rest disadvantage. Definitely an improvement over previous seasons of at least twelve games. Overall, the Devils managed to take half of all possible points. Unfortunately, that’s buoyed by some excellent results in 2009-10 (10-2-4!) and 2011-12. The Devils only broke even in those games once among the five playoff-less seasons in this chart. The last two seasons points to this disadvantage being, well, a disadvantage despite not-as-bad overall result over the last nine seasons.
Dr. McCurdy pointed out that since a rest disadvantage is about the same as playing on the road from a points percentage perspective. That got me to thinking about how many of these 106 rest disadvantage games from the last nine seasons were on the road. Here’s how the Devils performed:
It appears that most of the Devils’ rest disadvantage games were on the road. Some seasons showed a more even split, like last season where 4 of the 9 rest disadvantage games were away from Newark. Other seasons were more skewed, such as 2009-10 where 13 of the 16 Devils’ rest disadvantage games were on the road. The results of road rest disadvantage games were worse overall. While three of four playoff-bound Devils teams managed to overcome the disadvantage, the 2007-08 Devils did struggle. The playoff-less tams? With the exception of 2013-14, they got bodied. It appears to me that having a quality squad is better way to overcome such a tough situation in the schedule. Although, that’s not really news that good teams find ways to succeed in less-than-ideal conditions. It is a good thing the Devils will only have eight games with a rest disadvantage in 2016-17. Hopefully most of them won’t be on the road.
Rest Disadvantages: When the Devils Are Rested But Their Opponents Are Tired
So if the Devils, in general, responded with not so favorable results - especially in the last two seasons - to having a rest disadvantage, then they would have performed better with a rest advantage. Right?
Well, they did overall and in most seasons. It’s definitely better than when they had a rest disadvantage. However, it isn’t to the 60% points-percentage level that Dr. McCurdy found across the league. Sure, there were four seasons where the Devils easily eclipsed the 60% threshold. But the other five ranged from at least breaking even to really failing to take advantage. The 2013-14 season sticks out like a really sore thumb with a 3-8-0 record. Their large CF% reminds me that it was a season where the possession was on point but not the scoring. Or the goaltending for over half of that campaign. Memories aside, this chart shows that the Devils did not make the most of a good scheduling situation overall. At least the CF% was higher, which suggests the performances were better - not that they guarantee good results. The results just did not always follow. The 2016-17 Devils will have ten of these games next season. “Going for it” will behoove them to improve upon a 50% points percentage the Devils earned last year in these games.
By the way, note that the Devils have only had 97 of these games over the last nine seasons - a differential of ten fewer games compared to the number of games where they had a rest disadvantage. Last season and this coming season were more favorable in that the Devils had and will have more rest advantage games than rest disadvantage games. That was definitely not the case in prior seasons; especially in 2008-09.
Again, let’s go back to what Dr. McCurdy wrote. If a rest advantage is worth about as much as home-ice in terms of points percentage, then a rest advantage game for the home team should be even better. Right?
Not necessarily. The Devils’ rest advantage games were mostly at home (65 of 97). While they earned more than half of the points overall, they really didn’t make the most of it. They had three losing records in these situations and just broke even in two others. Sure, the population sizes are small, so it is not as if we can look at this and easily determine this is why the Devils are where they are. But if the larger picture shows that one advantage (being rested against a tired opponent) plus another advantage (home ice) should be another advantage, then this shows that the Devils don’t really follow that. The weird thing is that the Devils put up better results in 2014-15 than they did in the two seasons that bookend that one. Returning to that form for these games would be an improvement. I don’t know how many of the ten games with a rest advantage the Devils will have this season will be at home. It’ll likely be most of them based on previous seasons. Regardless of whether you want the Devils to “go for it” or not, improvement for these games in 2016-17 - especially at home - would be ideal.
At the end of the day, the biggest factor for a team’s success is still tied into their quality. A favorable or unfavorable schedule is not necessarily going to turn a bad team into a playoff contender or vice versa. It may be more of a factor for the middle of the league where a few games could swing the standings. Still, I would say that it is something that can be considered. For a team like the Devils, the expectation should be that they will play a large number of back-to-back sets and so they have to make the appropriate adjustments and roster decisions to prepare for it. Such as more efficient scouting and planning for games; going into sets with plans for two games instead of one; having two capable goaltenders; and so forth.
The good news from all of this is that a Devils team without rest is not necessarily a death knell for them. Over the last nine seasons, they’ve earned a proportion of points while tired on similar level to when they were not. They’ve been rather successful in games where both teams are tired. With this coming season featuring ten of those kind of games, the hope is that history should continue to be on New Jersey’s side. A rest disadvantage has been a disadvantage, but not always a massive one. It is disappointing that their rest advantage games have also not been that much an advantage. Especially when you add in home-ice to those games. At least the Devils will have more rest advantage games (10) than rest disadvantage (8) games. Most of all, my main takeaway is that the Devils having eighteen back-to-back sets in 2016-17 (or in some other season) is not necessarily as bad as it may seem on paper. Knowing the amount of rest going into those games and others informs us to how bad it could be. Knowing how the Devils did in the past provides additional perspective. We’ll see how the Devils will handle these wrinkles in their regular season schedule soon enough.
Thanks again to Dr. McCurdy for his findings on Twitter that inspired me to look into this and providing schedule data set with days of rest and results to sort this all out. Without his help, this post and yesterday’s post would not have been possible. Thanks also goes to NHL.com and Corsica for having past records and CF/CA information by game, respectively. Let me know what you make of all of these findings with the Devils playing with rest advantage and/or disadvantage in the comments. Thanks again to you for reading.