The myth of momentum from fighting

Colin Greening's fights have been followed by goals scored by Ottawa. But in general across the team, that is not the case. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

It is commonly said that fighting changes momentum and often accepted because of that one time a goal was scored after a fight. But is that true over the course of a season? Do fights generate momentum? Not to mention, if fighting is generating momentum for one team, isn't it also inherently taking it away from another? Let's take a lot at the goals scored after a fight.

In the first 70 games of the season, players from the Ottawa Senators have been in 43 fights. In the five minutes immediately following a fight (while the fighter is in the penalty box), the Senators have scored 9 goals and allowed 9 goals. If one just considers the next goal regardless of when it is scored, Ottawa has scored the next goal after a fight 17 times and allowed the next goal 20 times.

Perhaps some players are better at "picking" their spots? Check after the jump for the breakdown of each player's fights.

Player # of fights Goals for in 5 minutes Goals against in 5 minutes Next goal (+/-)
Zenon Konopka 17 3 5 -3
Zack Smith 8 0 0 -1
Chris Neil 6 2 2 +1
Colin Greening 3 3 0 +3
Matt Carkner 3 0 1 -1
Nick Foligno 2 1 0 0
Jesse Winchester 2 0 1 -2
Jared Cowen 1 0 0 -1
Kyle Turris 1 0 0 +1
Total 43 9 9 -3


Of course the individual fight samples are very small, but it can be seen no one player has a significant positive or negative impact within the five minutes they are in the box. The one exception to this is Colin Greening. The Senators have scored immediately after each of Greening's three fights. In fact, Ottawa has scored within 61 seconds or less after every Greening fight. Zack Smith's fights seem to have the least impact, with Ottawa neither allowing or scoring a goal in the 5 minutes following any of his fights.

Maybe other teams are better at this, but for the Ottawa Senators, fighting has not impacted their games this season. Perhaps fighting increases the shot counts, and I haven't had the time to analyse the shots in the five minutes following a fight. However it seems unlikely that over the course of a season that one team or the other is generating a significant amount of extra shots but not scoring. The five minutes after the 43 fights represents 215 minutes of hockey, some of the fights are near the end of games, some overlap, so if that number is actually brought down close to 180 minutes, it's still roughly 3 goals for and 3 goals against per 60 minutes. This is of course only one team and one season, but it shows some trend, and I have yet to see any evidence showing momentum generated by fighting over a season

In my opinion, fighting is simply just a delay from the actual game of hockey, with no real impact on the outcome of games. Some people may find it entertaining for reasons other than actually affecting the outcome of a game, but it is wrong to continue to assume that is generates momentum.

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