Some blogs out there (cough, cough) take everything the press says with a big 'ol bag of salt. A couple of things recently dismissed as myths are 1) the importance of the first goal, and 2) the assertion that third period comebacks have indeed made a comeback. There are a lot of foolish myths the hockey media perpetuates, but they are at least a little bit right about these two.
First Goal Wins
I amassed the records of teams scoring first over the first 100 games of the '03-04 and '05-06 seasons through the end of overtime. I counted shootouts this year as ties. In '03-04, the team scoring first went 69-19-10 for 148 points in those 100 games. Note that those numbers do not add up to 100 because of a pair of scoreless ties (the ultimate evidence of the importance of a first goal?). Had a team managed a first goal in those games they would have pushed that record up to 152 points. In '05-06, the team scoring first went 62-28-10 for 134 points. The first goal is clearly less important this season than it was last season.
Some contend that the first goal is no more important than the second or third goal. Looking at stats from games ending in a 2-1 score appear to support that claim. Games where the first goal is most important are unlikely to end in a 2-1 score. The first goal is obviously most important when it stands up as the game winner. Saying the first goal is no more important than the next assumes that there is a next goal, and that the other team scores it. Next, the assertion that all goals are equal assumes that strategies and tactics remain the same, independent of the score. Even if a coach preaches a constant game plan, individual plays will always depend on the score - more risk-taking when behind, more conservative when ahead.
I tabulated the team records when scoring 1st, 2nd, etc:
The points do not include the OT loser points - this is straight up 2 for a win, 1 for a tie and includes OT. In '03-04, teams scoring 1st collected 148 out of a possible 200 points. Those scoring 2nd collected 122 out of 200, etc.
The second goal of the game corresponds to the most points in the '05-06 season so far. Interesting. Over time, I think the first goal will emerge as the most important again, but it won't be as big as last season.
Revenge of the Comeback
According to the nhl.com stats as of last night, I compiled this table to compare team records in '03-04 vs '05-06 when leading/trailing after the 2nd period:
With the banishment of ties, I had to convert the '03-04 records to '05-06 points by dividing the 89 ties into 45 wins, 44 OT losses for the leading teams and 44 wins and 45 OT losses for the trailing teams. I think this is very generous to the '03-04 trailing teams - one would expect that the better team would typically be leading after 2, and would typically put up a better than .500 record in the OT/SO. This may be negated by the fact that I'm comparing the early '05-06 season to the whole '03-04 season and teams may figure out how to play better defense as this year progresses.
Given these assumptions and limitations, on a per-game basis, teams that are trailing after 2 periods are doing about 15% better this season than they did over the '03-04 season.
In summary, there are a lot of idiotic myths perpetuated by the media. However, the myth of the first goal and the myth of the third period comeback do have a kernel of truth to them. Whether the media exaggerate these truths is subject to reader/viewer interpretation.
The Habs blueliners have netted one goal so far this season. Patrice Brisebois has scored five. First Patrick Roy, now this. I dub it 'The curse of the Nords.'