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Your favorite team probably doesn’t allow as many first career NHL goals as you think they do

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Well, unless you’re a Senators fan.

Philadelphia Flyers v San Jose Sharks Photo by Brandon Magnus/NHLI via Getty Images

On Saturday, the Flyers came out of the Christmas break and proceeded to play maybe their worst game since October in a 6-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks. San Jose took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission and made it 2-0 early in the second on the strength of goals from two guys named Mario Ferraro and Joel Kellman.

If you had never heard of either of those two players before Saturday’s game, or if you had already forgotten either of those names between the time of that game and the time you’re reading this sentence, it wouldn’t be a surprise. They were playing in their 34th and fourth career NHL games, respectively, and neither of them had scored in the NHL before that game. For you mathletes out there, yes, that does indeed mean that these were both of those players’ first career goals in this here National Hockey League.

Now, admit it: you read that sentence, rolled your eyes, and thought “well, of course that happened, the Flyers always give up players’ first career goals”. Or you thought that on Saturday as you watched it, if you were unlucky enough to have stayed up and actually watched that game.

Yes, “giving up first career goals” feels like one of those things that every fanbase believes to be true about their team. It’s up there with “we always lose to/get stonewalled by backup goaltenders”, or “we always give up goals that end long goalless streaks”, or “we always lose games to break other teams’ losing streaks”, or things of that nature.

So is it actually the case for our one and only Philadelphia Flyers? Does this really just ... happen to us?

Turns out: no, it does not. In fact, Ferraro’s aforementioned goal was the first first-career-goal allowed by the Flyers since December 12 ... of 2018, when Calgary’s Rasmus Andersson did it in a Flames win. And if you can believe it (or even if you can’t), the Flyers actually give up fewer of these goals than any team in the National Hockey League.

That’s right. Even after giving up those two goals on Saturday, no team has given up fewer first career NHL goals than the Flyers since the start of the 2010-11 season, with the exception of the Vegas Golden Knights who of course have only been around for 2.5 seasons. (First goal data via hockey-reference.com’s awesome Play Index.)

First Career Goals Allowed, October 2010 - December 2019

Team First NHL Goals Allowed
Team First NHL Goals Allowed
OTT 52
NJD 47
NYI 46
BOS 43
CAR 41
ARI 40
DAL 40
TBL 37
WSH 37
VAN 36
EDM 36
SJS 36
CBJ 36
CGY 35
MIN 35
BUF 34
MTL 34
ANA 33
COL 33
NSH 32
DET 31
NYR 29
WPG 28
FLA 27
PIT 26
LAK 25
TOR 23
STL 21
CHI 21
PHI 18
VEG 8

Shoutout to the Ottawa Senators, who have finally managed to win at something other than being generally dysfunctional.

In all seriousness, is there much of significance to be gleaned from this? Probably not. If one really wanted, they could twist this into arguing that the Flyers’ lack of first-goals-allowed means that they ... do good advanced scouting on young players? I have no idea. Forget that I wrote that, that’s silly. More than likely, there’s just a lot of straight-up random chance involved in this, because it is extremely unlikely that teams play in a certain way against players who have never scored in the NHL before that makes it more or less likely that they give up goals to said players.

Still, though: the next time the Flyers give up a player’s first career goal, do your best to not let confirmation bias get the best of you and say that this always happens to them. (Or do, I guess. Nothing stopping you, even if it’s not really true.)

Tip o’ the cap to @morehockeystats on Twitter for pointing out that an initial version of this table, which I tweeted before publishing this article, had a calculation error.