Losing points made the 2018-19 Pittsburgh Penguins number three. Take those points away and they barely make the playoffs at the expense of the Montreal Canadiens. (Both would have ended on 88 points – with tiebreaker, regulation, and overtime wins that favored Pittsburgh by one.) And the Arizona Coyotes would have made the Western Conference playoffs this year if the losing points hadn’t increased the Colorado Avalanche record. The New York Islanders, not the New York Rangers, would have played in the qualifying round of last year’s playoffs if the losing points hadn’t given the Islands the advantage.
The losing point results in less of a split in the overall standings which can add more excitement to more teams as they push for the playoffs. It can also make the postseason racing messy in a short season, as we’ll see in 2021.
Almost 29 percent of the games exceeded the regulation, a significant jump compared to previous years, when the seasons with the most overtime were 2013/14 (25 percent), 2014/15 (24.9 percent) and 2009/10 (24.5 percent) Percent) were.
In a 56-game season where teams only play against opponents in their own division, these non-regulation scores become even more important. In essence, every game is a four point game, which means teams can swing the standings by four points (adding two for themselves and rejecting each for their opponent) by getting a regular win. Failure to get at least one point in these matchups can quickly get you out of the competition.
“It’s huge to score points in a shortened season,” Florida Panthers defender Keith Yandle told reporters last week. “You have to find ways to win games, whether it’s regulated games or overtime. These points could be very important at the end of the season. “
The East Division is full of teams that benefit from losing points. On Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabers had received at least half of their table points from overtime games or shootouts, and the Bruins led the league with 10 points from overtime wins and shootouts. The Penguins, in fourth place in the division, had only one regular win and received nine of their eleven points from overtime wins and shootouts. The Washington Capitals, fresh from two regulatory losses, were close to a 50/50 split, earning eight out of 15 regulatory points.
On the way into Friday night, no division head had more than a one-point cushion on their closest rival, and the team finishing fifth in each division was no more than one point from a playoff spot. If the league didn’t award loser points, the races for playoff spots wouldn’t be nearly as close.
The short season format reinforces this effect. From 2005-06 through 2019-20, the average team earned 92 points per 82 games, with two-thirds of the league being within 17 points of that average. That is a clear spread. If we rate this season in the same way, the teams earn an average of 93 points per 82 games, with two-thirds of the league within three points of that average, indicating a much tighter top-down race.
Last season the islanders showed what can happen if you get into the playoffs by all means. That squad was sixth in the Metropolitan Division, but earned 32 of their 80 points in overtime or shootout, enough to get them a place in the playoffs, despite having the second-smallest regulatory wins in the division. They seized the opportunity and reached the final of the Eastern Conference before losing to the eventual champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the 2011/12 season, the Los Angeles Kings finished the 40-27-15 with 95 points and took the last playoff place in the Western Conference before the Dallas Stars (42-35-5, 89 points), despite two wins booked less. Had it not been for the losing point, the Kings would not have enjoyed their first Stanley Cup title of the year.