Pulling a goalie in hockey usually means something exciting is going to happen. The team with the empty net might score the tieing goal, or the opposition might add to their lead. It’s like lighting a fuse; it’s a trigger event for hockey excitement.
Hockey isn’t always about fast skating or aggressively going after the puck; sometimes, it involves strategy. Power plays are significant because they allow a team to have a numerical advantage.
But what if there is no power play? Pulling the goalie strategy is a smart way to still get a number advantage.
Pulling the Goalie Definition
When a team is down in goals, it can pull the goalie and replace the goalie with an attacking player giving it a numerical advantage. When this happens, there is an empty net, leaving the team vulnerable to an empty-net goal. That said, many teams have tied a game using this strategy.
Empty Net/Pulling the Goalie Strategy: Key Takeaways
- A goalie is pulled to give a numerical advantage to a team when they are down in goals.
- An empty-net goal can be the result of pulling the goal, but so too can a goal by the team who pulls its goalie.
- There are typically two times a goalie is pulled, to create a numerical advantage, at the end of the game or when there is a delayed penalty.
- Usually, at the end of a game pull, there is a minute or two remaining in the regulation time.
When is the Goalie Pulled?
A goalie is pulled on two occasions. The first is at the end of the game if the team with fewer goals thinks they can catch up. Either one or two goals deficit will warrant a goalie pull. Let’s first address pulling a goalie at the end of the game.
Near the End of a Game
The losing team is trying to pull a Hail Mary; they are desperate and will try anything to take away the other team’s lead is risky because it leaves the net open for the other team to score. Even so, they are hoping to overload the offensive zone therefore, it’s worth the risk.
I recently watched the Montreal Canadiens play the Toronto Maple Leafs, leading the Leafs. Montreal pulled their goalie at over six minutes remaining trying desperately not to lose. The reason for this highly early pull? They were in a playoff game and were losing the series thus far.
This is asking a lot of your team, though. It is hard to expect to block shots and keep the leading team out of their neck. This is not usually done until one to two minutes are left in the game.
The goalie can be pulled sooner, but this comes with more risk. I will discuss more on that later, but for now, you can see what I mean with the amazing video below where the Leafs are behind by three goals and pull their goalie at around 4 minutes.
Pulling the Goalie Video
The second reason to pull the goalie is when a team is about to gain a power play. There is a delayed penalty coming to the offending tea in this instance. However, this penalty will not happen until the offending team touches the puck. Therefore, the other team wants to capitalize on this advantage and will pull its goalie.
In the following video, you will see why this strategy makes sense. With this particular delayed penalty, it took Tampa Bay a total of 1 minute and 25 seconds before they touched the puck. This gave the New York Islanders a lot of time to try and get a goal by pulling the goalie even before going on the power play.
Delayed Penalty – Pull the Goalie Video
And while usually, this is a good thing, sometimes the team that is about to be penalized will score. Or even worse, watch in the following instance when it backfires and the Dallas Stars score on their empty net.
Empty Net Goal Video
Ties Versus Loses
I previously mentioned a team wanting to reduce the lead or even tie it up. Still, there is more behind this. It truly is about winning a game in the e during a playoff series, but it’s more about points during the regular season.
If a team loses a game, it gets zero points. If a team ties a game by the end of regulation time, it gets one point. Think of it this way. A team ties ten games thanks to pulling its goalie. Now it has ten more points than if it hadn’t tied those games. And ten points can be critical when securing a spot in the playoff season.
Sometimes when a team ties it, you may even see each team play less aggressively. This is referred to as playing for a tie. When points are on the line, each team would instead get one point than none. Once overtime commences, they can return to playing as aggressively as they want.
Is Pulling the Goalie an Effective Strategy?
It’s a gamble. While stats do change from year to year, I would say that it works about 15% of the time where a team who pulls a goalie scores a goal. Approximately 50% of the time, it backfires, and the other team scores an empty-net goal.
History of Pulling the Goalie
As this was before my time, I needed to dig a little. According to my findings, the first time a goalie was pulled was either in the 1939-40 season or 1940-41. The credit goes to Frank Boucher, the coach of the New York Rangers. He started to do this at the end of the game when his team was trailing in goals.
The Future of Pulling the Goalie
Remember how I said there are two occasions when a goalie is pulled; a delayed penalty and at the end of a game. Technically, I lied. Although not something I have seen in the NHL, at least not to this extreme, there is one more occasion that a goalie can be pulled in other minor hockey games.
This is in a power play where the team with a numerical advantage of two players, that is, 5-to-3, will pull its goalie to create an advantage of 6-to-3. Although for the moment, this has been reserved for international hockey or minor leagues, there could be a spot for it in the future.
That said, former Montreal Canadiens goalie Patrick Roy, and later coach of the Quebec Remparts and the Colorado Avalanche, had pulled his goalie during a power play when his team was down. But this was during a 5-on-4 power play. He didn’t wait until the end of the game either.
Want to see that happen? Check out the video below that shows Patrick Roy pulling his goalie at around ten minutes.
Pulling the Goalie for a 6 – 3 Advantage Video
Since this time, we have started to see goalies leaving their nets earlier than ever before. When once it was when the clock showed around a minute left of play, now it is not uncommon to see this at two or three minutes. However, most aren’t as brave as Patrick Roy is… yet.
The strategy behind pulling the goalie and leaving a team’s net open is two-fold. First, they are trying to decrease any lead, even tie the game. Second, they hope to gain a point or win the game in overtime. And while it may not always work, when it does, it’s magical!
By Danielle L’Ami
Danielle is a Canadian writer who loves to show support for her Habs by dressing in Habs’ jerseys, pants, socks, you name it, and then forcing her children to dress the same. She is excited to be writing about one of her favorite sports.
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