Don't Worry About LA's Home/Road Split

Because the team that won three Game 7s on the road last year is not suddenly an awful road team.

After struggling out of the gate, the Kings are back to playing the solid, puck-possession game we've come to expect of them over the last three years. The Kings posted a 56.4% score-adjusted Corsi in November and December, tops in the NHL over that span. The Kings have had some tough losses in some close games lately but odds are, if the Kings keep playing like this, wins will start to roll in.

There is one troublesome narrative that has surrounded this season though--that the Kings can't play on the road. The Kings have the third best home record in the league (14-4-2), but only the Hurricanes, Oilers, and Sabres have posted a road record worse than the Kings (4-8-2). This has attracted some mainstream media comment: the LA Times and, among other places, have lamented LA's lack of road success.

But none of these outlets, to my knowledge, has offered an explanation for why the home/road split is so extreme. It is a puzzling phenomenon, on the face of it. After all, LA has had remarkable roster continuity over the past four seasons. This is the same core group of players that went 10-1 on the road in the 2012 playoffs, and almost exactly the same team that went 3-0 in road game 7s last year. Unless you think the additions of Andy Andreoff and Jamie McBain have ruined the team's road mystique, it's kind of hard to find an explanation for LA's problems. Except there is a pretty reasonable, if not very satisfying explanation: randomness.

I highly recommend Chase Stuart's article "Splits Happen": he's talking about the NFL, but the central point applies to hockey just as easily. If you divide a team's sample of games in half, you will inevitably get extreme splits sometimes, purely by randomness. This can happen with the Kings too. For instance, the Kings have a severe aversion to certain days of the week: if the game is played on a Monday, Tuesday, or Friday, the Kings are a wretched 3-6-4. If the game's played on any other day, they're a stellar 16-6-4. Another striking thing is that the Kings like to face newer franchises: they have 13 wins in 21 games against franchises that came into the league after 1975, but just 6 wins in 18 games against the NHL franchises that predate the NHL-WHA merger.

So do the Kings have a case of the Mondays? Should they talk to the schedule-maker about only playing games on Wednesdays and Thursdays (8-2-2!) from now on? Should the Kings chalk up the upcoming game against the Original Six New York Rangers as a likely loss?

No, of course not. Splits like these are the result of random chance. It's safe to think the home-road splits are, too--especially since no one has given a plausible explanation of why the same players who demonstrated such competence on the road in years prior should struggle now.

Of course, the home-road split is not entirely random. Home-ice advantage is a real factor, though a small one. Over the past three years NHL teams have posted a 51.5% Corsi at home, 48.5% on the road. Home teams tend to possess the puck a little more (and win a little more).

The Kings have actually not displayed that pattern this year, posting somewhat better score-adjusted Corsis on the road (55.9%) than at home (54.3%). I wouldn't expect them to keep that up (they'll probably fall in line with NHL norms and post better Corsis at home going forward), but still, that speaks against the idea that they've played poorly on the road. They've posted a rough road PDO (98.7) and a great home PDO (101.4). PDO is of course highly random, and that fluctuation explains most of LA's extreme split. The Kings are also 1-1 in home shootouts but 0-4 in road shootouts, another piece of randomness that makes the split look worse than it is.

Going forward, I wouldn't expect the Kings' home-road split to be completely even; home-ice advantage matters a little bit, so the Kings will probably win a little bit more at home than on the road. But expect the huge split that exists now to go away in the coming months. It is probably random and thus unlikely to continue over the long run.