The Underrated Importance of Scoring The Third Goal

There’s a lot of weight placed on scoring the first goal of the game, to get off on the right foot so you don’t open the game chasing and trying to catch up. While scoring the first goal of the game is important, a more underrated aspect is scoring the third goal of the game.

During the 2016/2017 NHL regular season, each team played 82 games for a total of 2460 games played. As each game takes 2 teams, there is a total of 1230 games, which allows for 1230 games in which a team scored first. Teams who scored first had a cumulative record of 809-277-144, for a win percentage of 0.716. Over the course of a full season, that is 117 points, which is good enough to regularly fight for a President’s Trophy. Point being, if you score the first goal of the game, you’ve given your team a good chance to win.

Now compare this with the records of teams who scored the third goal of the game. As not every game has 3 goals, there were fewer games than the first goal example. The third goal was scored 1147 times this past season, for a record of 773-256-118, for a win percentage of 0.725. Over the course of a full season, that is 119 points, or 2 more points/1 more win than if you score the first goal.

With parity being such a big thing in today’s NHL, even 1 more win could be important. This season, 2 non-playoff teams could’ve made the playoffs had they gotten one more win. So overall, scoring that third goal is very important.

There are 3 possible scenarios for which the third goal can be scored for your team: to make it 3-0, 2-1, or 1-2.

3-0: The game is slipping away, and your team is on the verge of a blowout. This is obviously the best scenario for which a team scores the third goal. Of the 264 games in which a team went up 3-0, the record was 253-3-8.

2-1: You just broke the tie, so now your team is ahead. Momentum is on your side, so if your team keeps pushing, this tie-breaker can lead into a win.

1-2: You were down by 2, but now you’re back to within 1. This is still a game. Again, momentum is on your side, so if your team keeps pushing, you can ride that momentum into a win. This scenario did have the lowest percentage of all 3, as the team is behind, but in general, scoring that third goal is beneficial.

It also worked out that the best teams in the NHL were the most frequent teams to score the third goal, while the bottom of the league rarely scored the third goal of the game. The top 5 teams in the league for third-goal scored were San Jose, Montreal, Nashville, Dallas, and Boston. The bottom 5 team were Buffalo, Detroit, Arizona, Colorado, and Vancouver. Teams that had the best records in third goal scoring games were also the teams with the best records in the NHL, just as with the records when the first goal is scored. Also besides the Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres, who had 34 and 33 points in 34 and 29 games, every team had an 82-game point pace of 97 or higher, good enough for a playoff spot in either conference. Compare that to the records of team who scored the first goal, where the bottom 6 teams wouldn’t have made the playoffs with their 82-game point pace for their records in games where they scored first.

To summarize, “momentum”, although unquantifiable, benefits teams, as that third goal, regardless of the scenario, leads teams to a record of 773-256-118. Scoring the third goal is be more beneficial than scoring the first goal, as teams averaged more points by scoring the third goal as opposed to the first goal. Scoring the third goal of the game, in general, leads to wins, and the team that scores the third goal of the game generally wins the game.

Stats Regarding Third Goals of the Game:

Most Third Goal Scoring Games: San Jose Sharks, 49 Games

Least Third Goal Scoring Games: Buffalo Sabres/Detroit Red Wings, 29 Games

Highest Win Percentage: Pittsburgh Penguins, 0.919

Lowest Win Percentage: Colorado Avalanche, 0.500

Most “Losing 2-1” Wins: New York Rangers, 7

Least “Losing 2-1” Wins: Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets, 0

Most 3-0 Leads: Washington Capitals, 18

Least 3-0 Leads: Colorado Avalanche, 4

Most “3-0 Lead” Losses: Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2 (Buffalo had 1 OT Loss, Toronto had 2)

All Team Stats:

Team Games Wins Losses OT Losses Points 82 Game Pace Win %
ANA 39 28 8 3 59 124 0.756
ARI 33 17 11 5 39 97 0.591
BOS 43 31 10 2 64 122 0.744
BUF 29 14 10 5 33 93 0.569
CGY 38 27 11 0 54 117 0.711
CAR 39 25 5 9 59 124 0.756
CHI 40 28 8 4 60 123 0.750
COL 34 16 16 2 34 82 0.500
CBJ 41 33 6 2 68 136 0.829
DAL 44 23 14 7 53 99 0.602
DET 29 19 7 3 41 116 0.707
EDM 40 30 8 2 62 127 0.775
FLA 42 25 12 5 55 107 0.655
LAK 35 22 10 3 47 110 0.671
MIN 35 28 4 3 59 138 0.843
MTL 44 33 8 3 69 129 0.784
NSH 44 28 9 7 63 117 0.716
NJD 37 20 9 8 48 106 0.649
NYI 42 30 8 4 64 125 0.762
NYR 41 31 8 2 64 128 0.780
OTT 35 22 8 5 49 115 0.700
PHI 36 25 9 2 52 118 0.722
PIT 37 33 2 2 68 151 0.919
SJS 49 36 9 4 76 127 0.776
STL 37 26 8 3 55 122 0.743
TBL 36 27 6 3 57 130 0.792
TOR 38 22 9 7 51 110 0.671
VAN 35 21 9 5 47 110 0.671
WSH 38 32 3 3 67 145 0.882
WPG 37 21 11 5 47 104 0.635

Cumulative Stats:

Games Wins Losses OT Losses Points 82 Game Pace Win %
1147 773 256 118 1664 119 0.725
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2 thoughts on “The Underrated Importance of Scoring The Third Goal

  1. If you’re comparing the win percentage of 1st goal scoring teams and 3rd goal scoring teams, how do 2nd and 4th goal scoring teams fare?

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    1. As there isn’t a lot of data regarding this statistic, I basically had to go through every game played this year and marked down who scored the third goal. It would take some time to compare it to the results of the 2nd and 4th goal scoring teams, but it’s definitely something I can and will look in to.

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