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Empty-Net Goals and One-Goal Games

In the last 90 seconds of a one- or two-goal hockey game, the trailing team gets much more value out of scoring a goal than they do out of preventing one.  Hence the strategy of pulling the goalie.  The net result is that lots of one-goal games become two-goal games, and lots of two-goal games become three-goal games.  If we eliminate empty-net goals, we can see how many "true" one- and two-goal games there are:


1-goal 32.5 24.3
2-goals 20.6 22.5
3-goals 11.9 17.9


This table includes games from 2001-2009. 

There is one minor wrinkle in this analysis: teams are more likely to tie a game or go from two down to down one goal when they pull the goaltender.  So if we ignore the disadvantage they have when they pull the goalie, we also need to ignore the advantage they get from doing it.  We can remove the effects of pulling the goalie by looking at the score before the last two minutes of the third period:


Prior to 18:00 No ENG ENG
1-goal 33.3 32.5 24.3
2-goals 21.7 20.6 22.5
3-goals 12.2 11.9 17.9


It turns out to be a very minor difference.  But fundamentally, there are a lot more one-goal games and a lot fewer three-goal games than we'd think based on the score at the end of regulation.