Which Goal is the Biggest in a Hockey Game?

We intuitively know that not all goals are equal in terms of helping our team win. If we are winning 7-0, we already have such a massive lead that scoring an eighth goal is not going to increase the likelihood of us winning much. But how many goals will our team have to score to pick up a win? And which goal is the biggest?

From their listing of the 1230 games from the 2013-14 season, Hockey‑Reference.com can help us figure this out. We (er, Excel) can count the number of games in which each team scored X number of goals, which looks like this:

Games Per Goals Scored

This same info tells us that the average team scores 2.74 goals in each game. And while we’re at it, the standard deviation is 1.58. So teams are scoring 2, 3, or 4 goals in about 2/3 of their games. Not exactly breaking news.

Let’s get to the wins though. Unsurprisingly, as goals increase so too does win percentage:

Win Percentage Per Goal

I probably do not have to explain that teams who never scored, never won and teams who scored six or more times always won. That is the part we understand before looking at any numbers; we are after what happens in between. Teams who scored once only won 8.4% of the time; not surprising considering they would need to shutout the other team. Teams who scored twice—the most common goal total—won just under one-third of their games. Scoring that second goal increases our win percentage by 22 points (8.4 to 31.8), which makes sense given the added leeway; we can still give up a goal and get the W.

Our biggest jump in win percentage, however, comes in our third goal. Whereas two-goal teams won just under one-third of their games, three-goal teams won just under two-thirds. It is a 32-point jump in win percentage, which is a larger boost than any other goal will give a team on average. Teams that score four goals get another nice 19-point boost of, up to an 82% chance to win. Beyond that, teams win such a high percentage of the time that there is not much room for an extra increase and we arrive back with the intuition we began with—scoring six goals or more means you are going to win, at least for the 2013-14 season. Here is all of the data if you’re curious:

Goals Scored, Win Percent Data

All we have done is quantify what we already knew: Scoring more goals increases our chances of winning. Perhaps you will cheer a little more after that third goal from now on though.