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Surprise: Study Shows Fighting Increases Penguins Winning Percentage

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Pittsburgh Penguins lines, Zach Aston-Reese

It’s less a debate than it is a complaint because some things will never change. Fighting is penalized with only a five-minute penalty to both combatants and the game moves on. Fans in the arena stand and cheer, as if captives to the primal release of energy, while fans on social media decry hockey’s dark arts. Some teams benefit from dropping the gloves, including and perhaps most surprisingly the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Just play?

The Pittsburgh Penguins’ closest rivals and traditional brawlers, the Philadelphia Flyers do not.

No, really. The Penguins increase their winning percentage to an elite level when they fight, and the Flyers lose more games than they win. Go figure.

NHL Fights

A new study from OnlineGambling.ca looked at the last seven NHL seasons. Fighting has dramatically declined by 77%, from 0.65 fights per game at its peak in 2001-02 to just 0.15 in 2019-20. Fighting majors increased last season up to 0.22 fights per game, the highest since 2017-18.

Perhaps players were as irritable over politics on Facebook as the rest of us? Regardless of the motivations, it’s an interesting study by gamblers looking for an edge, so you know they did their homework.

Over the last five seasons, the Anaheim Ducks, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Boston Bruins, and Tampa Bay Lightning have been the most punchy teams. When fights broke out, the Anaheim Ducks (0.35 fights per game), Florida Panthers (0.32), and Ottawa Senators (0.31) ranked as the top three most “active” teams in recent seasons.

Only one player had more than six fights in 2021. The Ottawa Senators led the league with 23 fights in 56 games. The Tampa Bay Lightning (23), New York Rangers (22), Anaheim Ducks (20), and Florida Panthers (18).

Obviously, not all of those squads have been successful. And not all of those teams were built for fighting, specifically the New York Rangers who were a soft team that was often roughed up. 

For the teams on the bottom of the standings, often losing precipitated the fights. So, there’s no correlation between fighting and winning. However, Tampa Bay and Florida didn’t give an inch.

Hockey Fighting Affecting Results

Stats showed the New Jersey Devils, Arizona Coyotes, and Winnipeg Jets substantially increased their chances of winning by dropping the gloves. Get this: The New Jersey Devils won 51.3% of the games in which they fought. That’s significantly better than the 37% they won when they didn’t.

Perhaps the Dougie Hamilton signing wasn’t the best choice for the Devils?

The Arizona Coyotes had a similar jump in winning percentage when the boys threw knuckles. They won 51.2%, compared to just 40% when they didn’t scrap. And the Winnipeg Jets won a whopping 64.1% of games when they fought, and won just 53.8% when they didn’t.

Maybe Phil Kessel will start throwing?

The Lightning’s already high winning percentage (62%) was such that fighting didn’t have a significant impact either way.

The Penguins are known for Mike Sullivan’s mantra, “just play.” The Penguins are also known for their anti-fighting stance and the Penguins fans are perhaps the most boisterous anti-foil fans.

However, the Penguins won 66.6% of their games in 2020-21 when they fought. They won 58.3% otherwise.

What do you think Pens fans–want to see Brian Boyle toss a few punches?

Pittsburgh Penguins Rivals & Fighting:

According to the folks at OnlineGambling.ca, here are the Metro Division teams and their results when fighting. If I told you the Flyers would lose games when they drop the mitts, would you have believed me?

The Columbus Blue Jackets drop was surprising, as was the slight drop in Washington Capitals winning percentage.

TeamWin % With FightingWin % Without Fighting
Carolina Hurricanes49.452.7
Columbus Blue Jackets38.351.8
New Jersey Devils51.337.2
New York Islanders49.852.2
New York Rangers43.747.2
Philadelphia Flyers37.751.2
Washington Capitals59.561.5

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Katz
Katz
23 days ago

That’s no surprise. The opposition will instigate when Pittsburgh is leading , thinking they can intimidate them. When the Penguins are losing there is no reason for the opponents to fight, only perhaps run them more for both intimidation because they can.

Therefore Pittsburgh winning when they fight, and that’s rare , is simply a product of them leading at the time the fights occur. Also Pgh if 25th out of 31 teams in fights.

Ironically the N. Y. Islanders ate last , 31 out of 31. So the Islanders winning when they fight is a deceptive stat.,

https://www.hockeyfights.com/leaders/teams

Tony C
Tony C
23 days ago

I think you nailed it when you said, “often losing precipitated the fights. So, there’s no correlation between fighting and winning.”

It is common for a team which is down a couple of goals to start a fight. That team usually still loses the game… and the team which won… registers in your data as a team which won while fighting.. when, in fact, they would have won anyway.

Tony C
Tony C
23 days ago
Reply to  Tony C

Well, more accurately, there is correlation… just not causation.

Katz
Katz
23 days ago
Reply to  Tony C

Yes. I would think a more useful stat would be either holding a lead or winning vs physical teams. The last 3 playoffs suggest the Penguins are unable to win in that situation especially in important (playoff) games.

Katz
Katz
23 days ago

Duplicate error

Last edited 23 days ago by Katz
trackback

[…] PittsburghHockeyNow: An interesting story by Dan Kingerski on how fighting can be a catalyst for success for the Pittsburgh Penguins. There’s data that supports the theory that when the Penguins fight, they win the game more often than not. […]

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
23 days ago

As someone who doesn’t mind a good hockey fight, I’ve argued with many pens fans online about this. The general refrain you hear from the anti-fight crowd is that there’s no proof it does anything one way or another (other than the fact the players almost unanimously say it affects the game, but what do they know?). The argument always seemed to be it doesn’t ALWAYS make a difference, therefore it NEVER does, which is a huge gap in logic they love to make based on their feelings towards violence. If it can’t be found on naturalstattrick, it isn’t a… Read more »

Cal
Cal
23 days ago

Love the fighting aspect in the game…so do most people..look in the stands when a fight is going on….And I would bet that Ridley Greig might not have been so eager to bash Dubois face in with his stick (a real danger in hockey) if he knew someone was going to fight him for his actions.

Katz
Katz
23 days ago
Reply to  Cal

Greig is a 20 y/o 1st Round pick trying to make his mark in preseason. Not even Mike Tyson on skates would have deterred him now.

Last edited 23 days ago by Katz
Cal
Cal
22 days ago
Reply to  Katz

I get what you saying…but we will see how that move works out for him.

talisker66
talisker66
22 days ago

Given the quantities, 56 games overall, the Win Pct numbers mean absolutely nothing. The differences are not statistically significant. Using stats this way give ‘hockey analytics’ a bad name.

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