Using Numbers Badly: The False "Rinne Dominates the Blues in Nashville" Narrative
A lot of people on Blues boards often wonder why I often make the points I do about numbers. ".500" is meaningless, win percentage vs. using raw points in the standings, to name a couple.
The reason is that numbers, used badly, undergird narratives which turn out to be false when held up to scrutiny. There's a great example of it in Dan O'Neill's post-game writeup after the Nashville loss.
"From a historical standpoint, the Preds are 22-11-7 all-time against the Blues at Bridgestone Arena, including 6-2-3 in the last 11 meetings.
And a big reason for that disparity is the presence of goaltender Pekka Rinne."
Meaning there's a narrative about how huge an edge Nashville has against the Blues in Nashville. 6-2-3, wow, that sounds like dominance lately due to Rinne. Wait, the Blues are 5-3-3 also in that last 11? But, that's ... that's "well above .500!"
In fact, since Rinne entered the picture beginning with the 08-09 season, the Blues have faced him in nine of 11 contests in Nashville. In those nine games, the Blues are 3-2 against him prior to the shootout, and he's won 3 of the 4 games that have gone to shootout. So it's basically been a split when facing Rinne in Nashville. Totally against the narrative Dan O'Neill is pushing – he went back 11 contests and carved out that stat specifically because that's how long Rinne's been there. Taking nothing away from Rinne, who is a fantastic goaltender, but the fact is he hasn't dominated the Blues in Nashville as O'Neill tells you he has.
The Blues are actually 15-15-7 + three ties in Nashville all-time. So they've gotten half the available points in Nashville. (For some reason O'Neill folded the three ties in and counted them as Nashville OT losses when expressing 22-11-7 but whatever.) Point is, the narrative makes it sound like some mammoth losing record. Yes, Blues have .500 and the Preds are over .500 in their games in Nashville, but it's not some huge disparity as O'Neill is selling you on believing.
In games decided in regulation and 5-min OT, Blues are 12-16 in Nashville (and the Preds 16-12, obviously). Not great, but nowhere near as lopsided as O'Neill would have you believe (11-14 in regulation, 1-2 in OT fwiw). The Blues are 3-6 in shootouts and there have been three ties. Nashville's been a solid team for some time and the Blues had a lot of rebuilding, so I'd venture to say this road record's actually pretty competitive.
Remember, numbers get used to make narrative, and lots of times that narrative is false. We can debate whether a player's stats reflect his real performance and we endlessly do (and should), and this is why we see Tarasenko's impressive numbers but still want to see him play with our own eyes to verify it's real (in his case, yes, thankfully). However, on black-and-white factual analyses like how standings should appear and using records to tell a story there should definitely be more scrutiny and skepticism.
Great job Pocket! Did you do any research on records in St. Louis? I'd love to see how the numbers truly add up when he's away as well. We all know he's an amazing goalie, but how does he stack up when compared to other teams at home? Howard has to be around the same numbers at home.
In St. Louis, Rinne is a tad better. 4-3 against the Blues in regulation and 1-0 in OT, 2-0 in shootout.
Basically, he's 5-1 against the Blues in shootouts in both buildings.
He's 1-1 in the 5-min OT.
He's 6-5 in regulation.
Rinne's a great goalie and he's got a winning record against the Blues. But nearly all of it's attributable to the shootout, and the Blues are terrible against everyone in the shootout, not some special thing with Rinne.
Instead O'Neill writes, "The NHL is waiting for Tom Stillman and his group to satisfy terms and buy the team from Dave Checketts and Company. Perhaps it would speed things up if the league just recognized that Rinne owns the Blues."
Just because I point it out on a message board won't stop this from being the new narrative, knowingly-stated, among Blues writers and analysts. It'll probably get even wider play than that. Then fans will assume it's true. But, it isn't.
I would say it's less deliberate manipulation and more "here's what this thing feels like so let me throw numbers at you." In many ways one of the core rotten pieces is the way a record like 6-2-3 seems like some huge winning record. That particular way of expressing records gives way too much leeway to writers who want to spin a thing a particular way when coming up with the angles for their pieces. Dan O'Neill is actually a writer I like because he's not afraid to be fun. So I truly don't mean it as an indictment of him if it comes off that way.
What happens after a piece like this gets written is that then his co-writers like JR, Miklasz, Gordon, Korac, the radio folks, they pick up on the piece and don't go back in to unpack the numbers. So it's the old "the lie is halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on" kind of thing. Now the next time the Blues face Nashville we'll hear ad nauseam how "Rinne owns the Blues."
Players are human beings just like us. They hear the narratives just like us. Rinne owns us, Blues players may eventually allow into their heads. Our Rinne owns them, Preds players may think. It's maybe a tiny bit of confidence for them and a tiny bit of tighter-stick syndrome for the Blues. We've all certainly seen goaltenders on lots of hockey teams get into opposing players' heads at playoff time, so the phenomenon's real.
Now, will this translate to anything? Maybe, maybe not. If it does, it's bad, and thus we should push back early. If it doesn't, what's the harm in pushing back since the thing is false? Pushback with the truth is always a freeroll.
So if you really want to look at the stats, you should look at his Sv% in those games.
It's still possible Rinne is "dominating" the Blues and posting like a .960 Sv% against them in all the games we play so it seems like he's owning us even if his record isn't that great, simply because the Blues are limiting shots against and goals against better, etc.
I don't know what the numbers are and I'm sure Rinne's numbers will most likely be right around his career averages, but yeah.
Anyway, it's typical of sports journalism. I'm not sure whether it's "right" or "wrong" to do stuff like that. For fans like us, who have huge interest in the game and like to analyze it and really know everything that's happening with our team, this kind of thing can be grating. But for the average fan, it makes a good story, and that's really what sports journalism is about - building an interesting narrative around what's happened. I'm ok with them doing that, even if they have to fudge it a little. Though, it'd be better if we got the best of both worlds.