A hockey truism that I’ve heard a few times in the past is that the first home game after an extended road trip is a “trap” game, and that the longer a team is on the road the less focused they are when they finally return home. Supposedly, the players are so happy to be back home after a grueling trip that they don’t always show up for that first game back. I’ve never given much thought to this idea, but it always struck me as a bit odd.
The other night I was watching the Sportsnet pre-game show and Colby Armstrong made the peculiar statement that it was “scientifically proven” that the first game back after a road trip is a difficult one for teams to win. That kind of statement piqued my interest enough to actually grab some data and see if there’s any truth to this idea.
I looked at all NHL games played over the past 10 seasons.
The first thing to note is that home teams win 55.0% of the time. So, yes, home ice advantage is a real thing. However, it’s only the first home game back that I was interested in. Of the 11,790 games played in the past 10 seasons, only 5,423 were games where the home team was playing its first game back from the road. And how did they do? The home teams won 2,968 of those games, or a win percentage of 54.7%. A slight drop from 55%, sure, but not enough to be a “thing”.
In fact, when breaking it down by the length of the preceding road trip, I found even more interesting results that contradict the 2nd part of this truism: that longer trips mean even less success upon return home. Take a look at the chart below:
Surprisingly, teams back from 4, 5, and 7 game road trips perform better than average home success. In fact, with the exception of 6 game trips (which may simply be a sample size issue), 1 game trips seem to have the worst affect on the success of the following home game. This could possibly be attributed to quick turnaround and busy travel schedules.
Overall, there seems to be little support for this idea. Home games are home games, and with a large enough sample size there seems to be very little deviation from the standard 55% home win ratio.
And yes, there was one 14 game road trip… (Bonus points if you can figure out who and when).