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The value of the first goal

Some analysts place a high premium on getting the first goal. Is it really uniquely important?

This photo confuses me.
This photo confuses me.
Marianne Helm

TSN employs someone who calls himself a stats guy. Sorry, The Stats Guy. Or at least I think they do -- come to think of it, he doesn't have a check mark on Twitter and isn't one of the literally 51 accounts listed on TSN's Twitter page.

In any event, whoever this person is pretty much just spews random numbers from the stat pages and gets made fun of by people who actually understand hockey stats. But there was one that caught my attention as being worth looking at a little, since it echoes a sentiment I've heard elsewhere.

This is true. Teams that score the first goal win 67 percent of the time. So that first goal really sets the tone, huh?

But here's the catch: teams that score the second goal win 68 percent of the time. And teams that score third win 68 percent of the time. So, uh, about that super-important first goal...

How is this possible? Well, it turns out that the team that wins usually scores more goals than the team that loses. (This is the kind of sophisticated analysis that you can only get at Outnumbered.)

Suppose a team wins a game 4-2. They scored 67 percent of the goals. If no goal is any more important than any other, the odds that they scored the first goal will be 67 percent. The odds that they scored the second goal will be 67 percent. And the odds that they scored the third goal will be 67 percent.

So you know why teams that score first win two-thirds of the games? Because winning teams score about two-thirds of the goals.

There's nothing magical about the first goal, no matter what The Stats Guy might tell you.

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