Who Scored the Most Goals in a Single NHL Hockey Game?

by Alaina Johnson | Posted On: April 7th, 2022
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If you’ve ever seen a hockey player score a hat trick during a game, you know how exciting it is for both the team and the fans alike. Scoring three goals during a single game seems like a lot and that’s because it is during this modern era of hockey that has evolved from the game of the past.

However, over 100 years ago in January of 1920 — Joe Malone scored a whopping 7 goals during a single NHL while he played for the Quebec Bulldogs. Of course, the game was different back then, but it’s an impressive feat nonetheless. The most recent occurrence of a player scoring 6 goals was back in 1976 with Darryl Sittler, who also collected 4 assists on the same night.

The Player With the Most Goals in a Single Game

Joe Malone was an early star in the NHL and he would go on to win a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1923-1924 season. On the night that he scored 7 goals, his Quebec Bulldogs were playing against Toronto and the Bulldogs would eventually go on to win the game 10-6.

Even more surprisingly, Joe Malone would have had the 8th goal that same night if it hadn’t been called for being offside by the official. Even without adding another one to his total tally, his record has stayed strong for well over a century and there have been no signs of it being broken anytime soon.

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Joe Malone went on to play 126 games during his career and would collect an impressive 143 goals during this time. The Quebec native played from 1917 until 1924 and was later inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame for his impressive career.

How Hockey Has Evolved Over the Years

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Photo by Stephen Yeargin licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Due to teams having fewer players on them back then, it wasn’t uncommon for each player to be on the ice for upwards of 50+ minutes during the game, thus giving them more scoring opportunities. These days, the shifts are shorter and even the best players spend more time on the bench than they do on the ice over the 60-minute game.

Combined with the fact that the rules were different and the goalies weren’t on the same level that we see now, it isn’t surprising that we don’t see that kind of high goal-scoring from current players. The teams are larger, so there isn’t such a heavy reliance on one player needing to be the main scorer for the whole team — this responsibility is shared.

As the game continues to progress and evolve, it’s increasingly unlikely that we’ll see any players scoring 6-7 goals during any single game. Hat tricks are relatively rare and occurred in less than 8% of games during the 2018-2019 season.

If fans begin to throw their hats onto the ice when a player scores three goals, it’s hard to imagine what the crowd would do after 7 goals!

Why is NHL Goal Scoring Lower Than It’s Been in the Past?

Back in the 80s and early 90s, you had players like Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull who were collecting 70 to 90 goals during a given season (Gretzky’s record was 92) and in recent years, the top NHL goal scorer has been around 50 goals.

This is quite the gap and it may leave you wondering, why? Well, there is a multitude of reasons such as goaltenders, defense-minded forwards, and just general player athleticism and size.

Goalies are simply bigger and better than they were in years past — with the average height of a goaltender reaching a record 6’3. Their physical size combined with the more modernized pads, which allow the goaltender to cover more of the net while offering them increased protection means that it’s harder to get the puck past them.

Nowadays there tends to be an increased focus on the team as a whole blocking shots when they’re presented with the opportunity. Instead of solely relying on the goalie, you may see forwards blocking shots and just having a more defensive-minded playing style in general.

Professional sports are an ever-changing race to the top, with teams always wanting to keep an edge and using different coaching strategies and techniques to push their players to the best of their abilities. Not to mention, rules are tweaked over the years and this can have an effect on scoring as well.

5+ Goal Games from Recent History

In this more modern era of hockey (the 2000s, and onwards), no player has collected 6 goals in a single game. However, a few players hold the bragging rights to notching 5 pucks into the net during one game.

It’s interesting that from 2007 to 2017 — there had only been two instances of a player reaching the five-goal milestone. Since then, the past four years have seen three different players reach the same achievement.

If the trend continues, we may very well see a player reach six goals again within this decade. The goaltenders are more skilled these days, which means offensive players have needed to up their game as well and refine their shooting and accuracy skills.

The Ever-Changing Game of Hockey

NHL Hockey Players
Photo by Kaz Andrew licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We may even still be surprised at what the game of ice hockey looks like in another 10 to 20 years. The game looks much different than it did in the 1970s and 80s and there’s undoubtedly still room for it to evolve.

Players will naturally find ways to evolve along with the game and increase their chances at scoring and defending their net. Goaltenders will continue to develop their skills and equipment and padding will likely change along the way, as it has over the past several decades. As long as Joe Malone’s record is in place, NHL players have something to strive towards and it’s a record that young players can look up to and dream of.

Simon, the founder of Brave Stick Hockey, started playing hockey in 2003. He launched this website in 2018 to help new hockey players and fans learn more about the game and have more fun while learning.