What is a penalty shot in hockey?

If you are at a hockey game and you want to hear the crowd go crazy in anticipation, cross your fingers that you get to see a penalty shot. The penalty shot is a unique, one-of-a-kind play in ice hockey. Let’s look at this exciting play!

What is a penalty shot in hockey? A penalty shot is when a player gets to take the puck in from centre ice and have an unimpeded shot attempt at the goalie. A penalty shot happens during regulation and overtime of the game (versus a shootout at the end of overtime) and comes as a result of certain types of penalties.

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Penalty shot vs shootout: what’s the difference?

Although the penalty shot and the shootout are the same play — a player who gets to go in from centre ice with the puck, uncontested with no other players around, and take an opportunity to score on the goal — they have very different functions.

So, what are the differences?

Penalty shot:

A penalty shot happens during the regulation and overtime periods of game and is the result of an infraction towards the penalized team that has taken away a scoring chance. If the player scores, it is counted as a goal on the scoreboard, in the players stats and against the goalies stats.


The shootout is used to decide which team will win the game if the game is still tied at the end of regulation and overtime. Each team gets to select three players to take a shootout shot. The team with the highest cumulative total goals of the three players will win the game. If the game is still tied after the three shooters, each team will select one shooter apiece until one of them scores and the other does not.

The goals that the shooters score do not count towards their personal stats, and the saves and goals against do not count towards the goalies. The team winning the overall shootout gets a goal on the scoreboard but, again, no player is awarded a goal in their personal stats.

When is a penalty shot awarded?

  • A player on a breakaway who is fouled from behind
  • The net is dislodged intentionally by the goalie or player while a player is on a breakaway or when there is not enough time to serve the penalty in regulation or overtime
  • If a player in his defensive zone (other than the goalie) places his hand on the puck or picks up the puck while the puck is in the goalie crease (doing this outside of the crease results in only a minor penalty awarded)
  • If, while a player is on a breakaway, an opposing player leaves his bench to try and stop that player
  • If an object (stick, glove etc.) is thrown by a player or a spectator at a player on a breakaway
  • If a player throws a stick or other object at a player in the defensive zone and it takes away a scoring chance

Who takes the penalty shot?

  • The penalty shot will be generally taken by the player who possessed the puck and had been impeded by the penalized team
  • The only exception to this is when the puck has been illegally grabbed while in the goal crease, or if the officials cannot accurately determine who the offended player was. In these cases, the coach shall designate a player of his choice to take the penalty shot.

The procedure after a penalty shot is awarded:

  • The player designated to take the penalty shot will be announced (the crowd goes crazy – in cheers or boos)
  • The referee places the puck at centre ice
  • The referee blows the whistle at which point the player will skate in on the goalie
  • The puck must be kept in forward motion towards the net at all times; once the shot goes in for a goal or is stopped by the goalie, the play will be considered complete.
  • Players are not allowed to score on their rebounds and the play does not continue like soccer.
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What a player is not allowed to do on a penalty shot

A player is not allowed to do just anything on the penalty shot. Here is a list of things that are not allowed and will result in the penalty shot coming to an automatic end:

  • There will be no rebound shots from the goalie
  • The play does not continue on (as it does in football), a faceoff will take place after the penalty shot
  • No spin-o-rama where a player does a complete 360 degree turn is not allowed
  • The player is not allowed to stop completely (slow down – yes) and then continue moving forward
  • A player cannot play a puck that goes off the goalpost, the penalty shot has ended

Penalty Shot Percentage in the NHL

On average, one out of every three shots — 32.12% of penalty shots — result in a goal. Below is a chart that lists the last fourteen NHL seasons with the number of penalty shot attempts, how many scored and the success rate:



Where is the faceoff after a penalty shot?

  • After a goal, the faceoff will be at centre ice
  • After a missed penalty shot attempt, the faceoff will be at the faceoff circle in the zone of the goalie who made the save

Related Questions

Do Penalty shots count as goals in the NHL?

Yes, penalty shots do count as goals towards the final score and in the players overall stats, whereas shootout goals do not count towards the final score total or towards a players stats.

Can a team switch goalies for a penalty shot?

Yes, a team can switch goalies for the penalty shot. However, this is not advisable, as the goalie on the bench is coming in ‘cold’ and would not stand a better shot at stopping the shooter (no matter how much more skilled they are). As well, the goalie switched in must stay in net until the next stoppage of play after the penalty shot.

These are shootout goals and not penalty shot goals, but they are too good not to show. Pavel Datsyuk was simply the best at this. Watch in amazement!

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Welcome to Hockey Answered: a resource for anyone curious to learn & understand more about the great game of hockey.

I am a lifelong fan who grew up in a major market (Calgary), and I have played, coached, and watched a lot of hockey!

As my daughter began watching NHL games with me, I realized how many questions come up about the sport. Hockey Answered is full of, well, answers! If you are a new fan or lifelong enthusiast, I hope that you can enjoy hockey even more by learning something new around here.

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