The overtime conundrum.

During a sprawling end-of-season interview with reporters last week, I asked Kings general manger Dean Lombardi about his team’s overtime problem.

Whether it was 4-on-4 during the regular season (when they went 1-4) or 5-on-5 during the playoffs (when they went 0-3), the Kings didn’t take kindly to the whole sudden-death thing. Of course in the regular season, there was always the promise of a shootout to bail them out; no team did better in the skills competition last season than the Kings (10-2).

But that didn’t mean much in the playoffs. As many observers feared, the regular-season trend continued and the Kings lost all three overtime games against the Sharks, costing them the series.

Is there something to that?

“You wonder that if you get to an overtime that that’s when now it swings more toward the offensive side of the equation,” Lombardi said. “It was said to me yesterday, actually … ‘defense wins games, but offense wins overtimes,’ is the way it was put to me. This hockey person is pretty sharp. He wasn’t sure on it, but if you think that, there might be something to that.”

Digging a little deeper, some general conclusions can be drawn about which teams performed well in overtime in 2010-11. But there are notable exceptions that preclude any hard-and-fast rules. And the general conclusion is not as simple as “offense wins overtimes.”

Starting with the premise that goals per game is a reliable indicator of a team’s offense, we ranked the teams 1-30 based on that statistic. Immediately, it’s clear that goals per game and overtime success — looking only at games that ended in OT — are unrelated:

    Team             GPG  OT record
1. Vancouver      3.15       5-4
2. Detroit            3.13        9-6
3. Philadelphia   3.12        3-5
4. Chicago         3.07        4-4
5. Boston           2.98       1-5
6. San Jose        2.94       5-4
7. Tampa Bay     2.94       8-5
8. Calgary          2.94       2-5
9. Buffalo           2.93       10-9
10. St. Louis      2.88        3-5
11. Anaheim      2.87        9-3
12. Carolina       2.82        6-6
13. Pittsburgh    2.78        5-5
14. Phoenix       2.76        2-7
15. NY Islanders 2.74       8-6
16. NY Rangers  2.73       3-2
17. Dallas          2.71        5-4
18. Colorado      2.70        5-8
19. Washington  2.67       9-5
20. Atlanta         2.66       10-5
21. Nashville      2.60        2-7
22. Montreal      2.60        5-5
23. Toronto        2.60        2-5
24. Columbus    2.56        5-5
25. Kings          2.55        1-4
26. Minnesota    2.48        5-3
27. Florida         2.33        6-5
28. Edmonton    2.33        2-3
29. Ottawa         2.32        2-5
30. New Jersey  2.08        7-3

When you group these teams into clusters of five, the opposite trend begins to emerge – a better offense predicts a poorer overtime performance – at least among the top 20:

Rank   Record

1-5:     22-24
6-10:   28-28
11-15: 30-27
16-20: 32-24
21-25: 15-26
26-30: 22-19

Another revealing stat: The Pittsburgh Penguins went 2-2 in overtime games before February 1, when both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were in the lineup. After Feb. 1, they went 3-3.

Clearly something else is at work here, but it only starts to show up when we isolate the best and the worst overtime teams.

Eight teams finished at least three games below .500 in overtime this season:

Boston   1-5
Kings     1-4
Nashville 2-7
Phoenix  2-7
Ottawa    2-5
Toronto   2-5
Colorado 5-8

The first four teams on this list have a couple things in common. They were all extremely good 5-on-5 teams, and they mainly relied on their ability to limit opponents’ scoring chances. Their offenses are committee-driven, possessing varying degrees of talent, but not dependent on one of their top two lines being on the ice. Toronto started to play this way in the second half, too. I don’t know what Ottawa’s identity was this season; I didn’t watch them enough to draw any conclusions (and even keen observers might have been confused about the Senators’ m.o. – they only managed a 74-point season, which resulted in the firing of their head coach). I’m willing to exclude the Avalanche from this list since they did win five overtime games, and played unconscionably worse in the second half than the first.

Five teams finished the season at least three games above .500 in overtime:

Anaheim       9-3
Atlanta        10-5
Washington   9-5
New Jersey   7-3
Tampa Bay   8-5

There are some commonalities here, too. The Ducks, Thrashers and Lightning tended to give up more scoring chances than most teams (Tampa more early in the season than late), and were relatively poor 5-on-5 teams. Washington was a good 5-on-5 team and got much better defensively as the season went along, while New Jersey simply doesn’t belong on this list. Based on Jacques Lemaire’s system, you would expect to see the Devils on a list with the aforementioned poor OT teams. The data makes their string of clutch wins in the second half that much more impressive.

Also, excluding Atlanta and New Jersey, three of these teams can put at least two elite forwards on the ice at any point in time.

The closest thing to a rule is this: Good 5-on-5 play and offensive depth do you no good in overtime. For the Kings, this was the case in both the regular season and the playoffs. For Nashville, the rule didn’t translate to the playoffs, where they are 2-1 in overtime with at least one more game left to play. Boston is 4-0 in playoff overtime games, while Phoenix’s playoff run ended after four regulation losses to Detroit. Maybe this is where those “varying degrees of offensive talent” begin to show up.

There’s more homework to be done on the topic, but we’ll leave that to Lombardi.

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About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.