Scoring first – does it really matter?

Scoring first – does it really matter?

27 Jan 2014 | Jarosław Grabowski

Team who score first goal in a hockey game is two times more likely to win it, a study conducted by have found.


Some may argue that psychological momentum is the most overrated concept in the world of sports and genuinely previous research into existence of it has produced mixed results, but whenever you watch a hockey game you hear the talk of how much scoring first matter. In this huge study we tried to analyse how much it really means in a hockey game to score the first goal. Nearly 14 thousand games from the last three seasons of top 8 European leagues (Elitserien, KHL, EBEL, SM-Liiga, Czech and Slovakian Extraleagues, NLA, DEL), NHL and World Championships were taken into account.

Our goal was to check what's the statistical probability of winning a game when you score first. Not surprisingly, results of our study show that aforementioned probability is quite high. All in all, teams that scored first won 69.4 % of games in analysed period, what means that if a team goes up 1-0, it is over two times more likely to win the game than team that concedes first goal. There is not a significant distinction between European leagues and NHL in that, since the rate of games won by teams scoring first is respectively 69.2 % for Europe and 69.8 % for NHL. In turn, scoring first gives teams even bigger chance to win in World Championships, with nearly 74 % games in the last three tournaments won by teams who scored first. This may be down to IHWC being less competitively balanced than top European leagues and NHL. There are more one-sided games and you generally expect stronger teams to open the scoring against weaker sides more often in the World Championships.

Percentage of wins by teams scoring first in top European leagues and NHL*

Regular season




68.90 %

71.33 %

69.16 %


69.72 %

70.88 %

69.81 %

Our research also shows how much this rate differs between regular season and playoffs. Common sense will tell you that in playoffs, when games tend to be tighter, every goal means more than in regular season, so first goal should also carry heavier importance. Again, our study confirms that premonition in general, however it doesn't apply to every league and Elitserien is the one in which not only teams scoring first win relatively more games in regular season than in postseason, but also difference in favor of regular season is the biggest.

An average of winning 69.1 % of games in all analysed leagues in regular season (European leagues and NHL combined) rises to 71.2 % when it comes to playoffs. However, while statistical probability of winning game in regular season in Swedish league according to our study is 73 % for teams who score first, it drops to only 61.3 % in the playoffs. What's more, 2011 Elitserien playoffs was an absolute anomaly amongst all seasons analysed with teams who broke 0-0 deadlock winning only 47.7 % of all games.

Quite amusingly, the study shows that while of all 8 top European leagues, scoring first gives you the biggest probability of winning regular season game in Elitserien, in playoffs it is totally opposite. Of all domestic competitions taken into account, Swedish league's rate of 61.3 % is the lowest probability of winning game in postseason.

But despite that, Elitserien's rate of wins by teams who score first in games reached 71.8 % for regular season and playoffs combined, thus being the highest of all leagues taken into account in the last 3 years. The lowest recorded score for any league was that of KHL, where it is 67.76 %.

Two other leagues in which scoring first tends to mean more in the regular season than in playoffs are Czech and Slovakian Extraligas, with a distinction in the former's case being marginal (less than 1 percentage point in favour of regular season).

Study shows that going 1-0 up is the most certain way to win a playoff game in Swiss NLA (80.5% games won by teams who scored first) and in regular season it means least in KHL (67.1%).

Percentage of wins by teams scoring first by league (top 8 European leagues)

Regular season



Elitserien (Sweden)

73.03 %

61.34 %

71.78 %

NLA (Switzerland)

69.00 %

80.51 %

70.33 %

EBEL (Austria)

68.87 %

74.56 %

69.53 %

Extraliga (Czech Republic)

69.60 %

68.63 %

69.48 %

SM-Liiga (Finland)

68.81 %

74.62 %

69.35 %

Extraliga (Slovakia)

69.31 %

63.56 %

68.62 %

DEL (Germany)

67.40 %

73.08 %

67.89 %

KHL (Russia)

67.05 %

73.12 %

67.76 %

All those numbers mean that our study confirmed that scoring first in a hockey game gives a team better chance of winning and while it surely isn't a surprise, research based on such huge sample of nearly 14 thousand games from different competitions, lets us stipulate that probability of winning game in which team takes the lead first account for just over 69 %. Study also confirmed that aforementioned probability rises when the playoffs start and that's one of the reasons why playoff goals in hockey are more important and leads are more precious.

* All numbers based on results of 13,720 hockey games from 8 European leagues and NHL in 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 seasons and IHWC tournaments between 2011 and 2013.

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