Fighting has always been an essential proponent in hockey. It draws audiences and generates interest in casual fans. Many players fight for retribution reasons, to defend their teammates, or to create momentum shifts. People think that when a fight breaks out, losing teams gain energy from them and are more motivated to score a goal, but how often does that happen? Do fights actually help change the outcome of a game?

In recent years, fighting has decreased significantly as players have started to take better care of their bodies and as more concussion research is done. Now, the sport values players with great speed and puck handling capabilities, where as before, it was all about grit and build. Because fighting isn’t as common as it used to be, when a fight does breakout, it causes more of a buzz on the bench than in the past.

I went through all fights that resulted in both players receiving fighting majors in the third period from the 2017-2018 season and concluded whether or not the fight helped shift momentum to the losing team. I gathered information about the scores before the fights, the final scores, and the winner as concluded by hockeyfights.com (a site that compiles fights and allows fans to vote on who “won” the fight). I decided to only look at  fights that took place in the third period because they are usually a result of players acting on frustration and desperation.

There were a total of 60 fights in the third period and at least one goal was scored after 31 of those 60 fights (51.7%). Within those 31 fights, 17 fights (54.8%) resulted in a goal being scored three minutes or less afterwards. And of those 17 instances, only four times (23.5%) were the goals scored by the team who was losing when the fight occurred. That being said, of the 60 fights that took place in a third period last season (to most likely change momentum), only four of them successfully did so.

What’s interesting is that the four times the momentum did possibly shift, three of the fights were “won” by players from the losing team who’s team went on to score. And while the four fights might have resulted in a goal, none of these losing teams ended up winning the game in the end.

Game 1 (3/18): Washington Capitals (TJ Oshie) vs Philadelphia Flyers (Travis Konecny)
Winner: TJ Oshie
Score before the fight: 1-4 Flyers
Final score: 3-6 Flyers
Goal: Capitals scored roughly three minutes after the fight.

Game 2 (2/24): Pittsburgh Penguins (Jamie Oleksiak) vs Florida Panthers (Nick Bjugstad)
Winner: Nick Bjugstad
Score before the fight: 3-5 Panthers
Final score: 5-6 Panthers
Goal: Penguins scored 14 seconds after the fight.

Game 3 (1/31): Philadelphia Flyers (Brandon Manning) vs Washington Capitals (Alex Chiasson)
Winner: Brandon Manning
Score before the fight: 2-5 Capitals
Final score: 3-5 Capitals
Goal: Flyers scored 38 seconds after the fight.

Game 4 (12/12): Columbus Blue Jackets (Nick Foligno) vs Edmonton Oilers (Jujhar Khaira)
Winner: Nick Foligno
Score before the fight: 5-0 Oilers
Final score: 7-2 Oilers
Goal: Blue Jackets scored 38 seconds after the fight.

Here’s a look at how many fights (in the third period) each NHL team took part in last season.

Capture

With the information gathered, this past season shows that fighting in hockey isn’t as necessary as it might have once been. Since fights rarely seem to impact the outcome of a game, it isn’t worth the potential injuries fighting may cause, especially in the regular season. There are other ways to gain momentum for a losing team that don’t jeopardize a player’s career, or worse, their life.

One thought on “Does Fighting Really Shift Momentum in a Game?

  1. It’s really admirable work and an excellent idea to challenge this hypothesis as we look at whether or not fighting still has a place in the game, and the article is excellently written. What I would just urge you to look over a second time is the math itself. The 17-18 season gave a huge sample size, one of the great things about sports, I know it’s arduous to have to wade through more than 60 fights, but I would urge you to do it, and if you don’t want to do it because your argument is predicated on the third period data, I would urge you to go back through more seasons unless you can make a compelling argument about why those seasons would possibly impact your hypothesis.

    The other thing is it’s important to be careful in your language. You can’t conclusively state that the momentum shifted, even on those four occasions, and you knew that, but I would just have said, on only four occasions out of 60 did that result in a goal and the team lost anyway. That’s telling enough. But above all, when you’re slinging numbers around, you have to look into statistical significance. This tells you if your numbers hold water. You might get a really cool result, but if your p-value is .5 (which essentially means 50% of the time your data could be wrong) that’s not helpful.

    And don’t forget the difference between correlation and causation. With the type of analysis you did, all you can know is that these two things are linked, not the direct impact. I see a lot of sports fancy stats bros who are really lazy with this one, because common sense can tell me if I have a data set of really high UV indexes and a number of people with sunburns, these things are not just related, but that the sun is causing the sunburns. That said, you can guarantee that the lazy stats bros *know it*.

    All in all, you’re off to a great start and I wish you the best of luck.

    Like

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