Infographic: Hockey Is Won By Penalties, Not Goals

This hypnotic five-minute video documents every goal and penalty toward the Stanley Cup as one big shootout.

The team that scores the most goals may not win the Stanley Cup, so long as they accrue the most penalty minutes. That’s what I learned from this animated visualization by Bård Edlund. It’s a 16-headed hockey rink, tracking every single shot of the NHL’s 2012 playoffs, in the actual order they occurred (even accounting for games played simultaneously). It also tracks overall team penalties as a radial graph in the center of the rink—suitably spreading across the ice in red.

As we all know now, the eighth-seeded Kings defied their record and clenched the cup. But what you might not have known, unless you’re a hockey fan who keeps up with the sport, is that it was the Kings’ physical play—brute force rather than stick finesse—that won them the cup. You can read about it here, or you can see the exact same story play out in the data of this video. Fascinating, no? Both the designer and the sports writer end up in the same place.

Click to enlarge.

“Some might argue that this could have been done as a static graphic, by just showing the final frame. … But I found that if you immerse yourself in it, there is an almost hypnotic quality that reflects the marathon effort that goes into winning the Stanley Cup,” Edlund tells Co.Design. “It’s also interesting to see the stats change over time—for example, the Sharks take a lot of penalties early on, but by the time they’re eliminated, three teams have caught up. Or, watch how the Kings have what looks like an unremarkable start, but end up gaining more and more momentum. They come from behind in penalty minutes as well, ending up with the most of any team!”

As for the graphic itself, some may have qualms with the tiny pucks and goals, writing them off as skeuomorphic. But in reality, they’re iconographic (figuratively representative rather than faux ornamental), making the entire visualization immediately recognizable—the perfect literal stand-in for stacking and organizing this data set. There’s also a whole level of audio storytelling taking place, as you can not just see, but hear, when each team scores a goal (their tone correlates with their seed, so the high notes were the favorites, and the low notes were teams like the Kings).

Click to enlarge.

On my laptop speakers, the Kings are so low, in fact, that I can’t decipher the sound. It’s as if they aren’t worthy of anyone’s attention, until they crack some skulls and take it all.

[Image: iofoto/Shutterstock]

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20 Comments

  • Peterrogersesq

    As others have said the author apparently didn't pay attention to the data or doesn't know the sport very well. Even the creator of the animation admits that of course as teams move on, they continue to accumulate penalty minutes and goals compared to teams that were swept. The rate of penalty minutes to goals would be more interesting than total number because it would seem obvious as a team's PMs go up, their rate of scoring would drop. This would be more interesting comparing the rate of change to their opponents. Phil vs Pitts was a wildly high scoring series with plenty of guile so it might have been the one series of games that would buck the trend. As it is, it's just a cute thing that really doesn't add anything other than fuel to the expression, "Figures don't lie, but liars do figure." and a casual glance at an infographic can be worse than liars figuring. 

  • JFinney

    Well, of course LA had the most penalties, outside of NJ they played the most games. If you look at all of LA's opponents, you'd see that 3 of the 4 (NJ being the exception), had a higher PIM per game than LA. That means that the opposite of what you're saying is true. You can't compare total stats of teams when some only played 7 games and some played 20+. 

  • beingbobbyorr

    Penalties should be expressed in PIM/60ES (penalties in minutes per 60 minutes at even strength) .... not total PIMs.

    The goal differential (GD = GF-GA) would be better visualized as a color ( dark blue = smallest GD ..... bright yellow = biggest GD) instead of 'mo pucks-in-the-net.

    I appreciate the out-of-the-box thinking with the tonal, timeline rink motif, but I guess I'm too old-school: I need to see a scatter-chart (16 points, X-axis = PIMs, Y-axis = GD) with a least-squares curve-fit and a correlation coefficient ..... and to see this done over the last 10 or more playoff years .... before I start drawing conclusions.

  • Sancho

    this did not indicated in any way whatsoever the large reason why the KINGS, or any of the Final Four made it so far...GOALTENDING. 

  • Gabe

    This is an exciting way present information, but it completely fails to provide any insight into the playoffs. Yes, the Kings accumulated the most penalty minutes. They also had a truly abysmal power play. This graphic implies they score the majority of their goals with a man-advantage, but in fact they were dominant in five-on-five play. This is the second consecutive year that the Stanley Cup champion has won despite extremely one-sided special teams play. The 2010/2011 Bruins were similarly dominant at even strength, but until encountering Roberto Luongo in the Cup final were borderline useless when opponents were down a skater. Power plays are obviously still a positive, but this graphic points to some incorrect assumptions about the Kings' success this spring.

  • Sharkravingmad

    Interesting!  I love looking at different data in graphical ways.  The program used here is cool.

    While I won't agree that the team with 'the most penalties wins the cup,' I do like bringing the discussion around to physicality. Typically, the teams that play a hard-hitting or punishing style will accumulate more penalties, it comes with the style unless you are insanely disciplined.  However, matched against a team that has enough fuel left in the tank and a working power play...that penalty-taking team will lose.  Looking back to 2011, one could argue that if the Bruins had been properly penalized, then the ensuing power plays may have changed the outcome (obviously, many more factors to consider).

    Look at the role Dustin Brown played for LA - right on the edge with massive, game-changing hits.  But it took more than that.  The players' commitment to Sutter's game plan was inspiring.  So, was it the penalties that won them the cup?  Nope, they won it despite the penalties.

  • JFSII

    A correction to my post. It's entirely feasible that a team could be routed 5-0 in 3 games and win 1-0 in the other 4, thus winning with fewer overall goals. But the game of hockey is literally won by goals, regardless of how the totals play out across a series and regardless of how many penalties a team takes. This headline is completely false.

  • JFSII

    Um, i think you'll find that the team that won each series had the most goals. It's irrelevant if two teams came together in the final series and the lower scoring team wins, they still had more goals for the series.

  • Frankfukiyama

    not necessarily true.   the series winning team could win 4 games by a combined score of 4-0, while the series losing team could win 1 game by a score of 5-0. this would result in a 5 game series, with the series loser scoring more goals (5) than the series winner (4). 

  • Logan

    Seems like the designer can't draw an accurate/useful conclusion from the data, and the author completely fails to recognize this - but instead chooses to digress into whether or not the pucks are skeuomorphic forms.

    Like others have said, and people that understand hockey know, penalties do not lead to wins. There might be something interesting in penalty analysis, but not here.

    Using the nets, the number of goals against each team would be more telling, as you could see a very low number of goals scored against Jonathon Quick.

    In either case, segmenting data into series or games would also establish context better. It's visually interesting, and the audio is very nice, but a 5 minute video shouldn't show this little information, and push the viewer to the wrong conclusions.

  • Bjmcinnis

    Its should be goals and penalty minutes per game. Of course either the Kings or Devils are going to have the most penalty minutes...they played more minutes than everyone else. I like the animation for the stats should be put into a per/minute, per/game statistic for better accuracy.

  • Mpv4gb

    Terrific visualization. Does anybody have an idea what software it was created with?

  • Martin Cohen

    I would find it helpful if teams that are playing each other were somehow linked, and the score in individual games, as will as total goals, were shown.

  • LeeDeCola

    i'm always interested in the integration of sound and data...how about a version 4x faster?

  • Tom Dolan

    As others have noted, interesting infographic, but the article is off the mark. Penalty minutes incurred are firstly simply a function of more games played (more games = more penalties). The teams that go furthest in the tournament play the most games and therefore incur the most penalties. Goals scored is of course only valuable when compared to goals against -- as the Flyers and Penguins demonstrated in their comical round one match up (where the Penguins scored 10 in one game but were still eliminated in 6 games). Nevertheless, nice effort by the creator. The audio perhaps the most telling "stat" -- the lower seeded teams scored as often as the higher seeded ones.

  • Pahbs

    This conclusion is just completely misleading. The comment above is correct in suggesting you need to normalize penalties in minutes by total minutes played. That would be just the most basic start to this analysis. This is a cool visualization but a completely erroneous treatment of the data, leading to misunderstanding, not greater understanding. 

  • Dave

    Interesting yes, but an oversimplification of a very complex combination of factors. Where is ice time (fatigue) for key players accounted for? Frequency, severity and impact of injuries? Etc? Etc?

  • Jim Stoller

    I don't have time right now, but someone sure figure the amount of penalties as compared to the minutes of hockey played. Yes the Kings, won, they didn't play all that many games considering they won, but they also got out of the first three rounds in about 15 games, which could've been 21. The teams that went farther along should have on more penatly minutes, but did they average more penalty minutes per minutes played.