Swing Goals and What They Mean

One of the most commonly used talking points in hockey broadcasting is “the next goal”. At some point in every broadcaster’s career, they’ve brought up the idea of “the next goal” being the most important one, “the next goal” being the one that will decide the outcome of the game, and for certain teams “the next goal” seems to predict the outcome of games with startling accuracy.

The first goal has an obvious significance–it’s the one that creates the first lead of the game. Road teams can take the air out of an arena by scoring the first goal, or conversely the home team can pump up their crowd with an early gino. The third goal in the game is one that seems to be more important than ever in post-lockout era hockey. In a 2-0 game, the third goal can seal the fate for a frontrunner or cut a lead in half in an instant, and in a 1-1 game the team with that third goal gets an important lead.

Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild, Ryan Suter, NHL, Hockey
Zach Parise and Ryan Suter  (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

For better or for worse, the 2014-15 Minnesota Wild seem to be the team most effected by these first and third goals in games. Here are the records for the team in first/third goal scenarios. Note: OT losses are recorded as just losses in this stat, and only games with three or more goals scored were recorded.

When scoring the first goal, but not the third 10-8

When scoring the third goal, but not the first 8-6

When scoring both the first and third goals 18-1

When scoring neither the first nor third goal 1-16

When scoring the first goal 28-9

When scoring the third goal 26-7

No, the concept of a team winning a lot of games in which they score the first and third goals isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but what should be tough to swallow for Minnesota is that horrible 1-16 record in games in which they can’t put home the first or third goal. This is a come from behind scenario that the Wild are just completely unable to handle at this point.

(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)
(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s obviously impossible to judge intangibles on stats–and I absolutely love the character of the leadership core in Minnesota–but it’s troubling that a team not just has such a poor record in games without a swing goal, but is even playing in that many games without a swing goal. For reference, over in the Eastern Conference the New York Islanders have played just seven games this season without scoring either the first or third goal, and they’ve won five of them.

If Minnesota is to make the playoffs, which I suspect they will, they’ll need to take a look at how they react to getting punched in the teeth if they want to make any sort of impact.

What do you think?