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Would the NHL Head Coaches STOP Pulling the Goalie When the Team is 2 Goals Down?

April 27, 2010


Believe me when I tell you all that I have tried to find “hard” numbers to back-up what I’m about to post – but I have not been successful – yet. The Washington Capitals have inspired me to revisit this topic. I blogged about this a season or two ago and I am now even more convinced that any head coach who pulls a goalie at the 2 or 3 minute mark is basically just “lifting his team’s skirt” and sending out a free “hugs and kisses” goal for the other team. It makes no sense at all. There are much stronger risk-benefit advantages in pulling the goalie when the team is only 1 goal behind (and even then, it shouldn’t be an automatic, standard SOP), but at 2 goals down – it’s just plain dumb.

I know, who am I to question the decisions of an NHL head coach? Well, nobody really. Ignore me and write me off as ridiculous – but before you do – think about the fact that I do know the game pretty darn well and my strongest trait is recognizing patterns. Time and time again, a netminder leaves the ice when his team is 2 goals down. That does 2 very specific things. 1) It puts the defense in a position of feeling that it is now up to them to wheel it back and play goalie, hence AT LEAST one of the 6 guys is far less likely to be shooting and crashing the net. This is a natural reaction of many defense-minded players and happens instinctively. Your man advantage is mainly an illusion if the goal is to get shots on the net. 2) Has this ever won any team a game? I have been unable to find any examples where this has changed the outcome of a game. Maybe there is an example (anyone got something on this?).

Even if there are rare examples of this working; the odds are so low that having an extra attacker on the ice at 2 goals down will win the game for the team behind, I can say with confidence – “At no time is the risk worth the outcome.” Some may want to argue that the team has nothing to lose, so it makes sense. As in – it can’t hurt to try. Sure, that may be true. However, I guess that depends on how lovey-dovey the team behind wants to be to the team who is beating them. I call the empty net goals in these situations “hugs and kisses” goals. Example:  Last night’s Washington Capitals v. Montreal Canadiens game was at 3-1 in favor of Montreal.  At about 2 minutes or so, Varly is pulled by Boudreau and SURPRISE (not); Montreal was able to bring the score to 4 with an empty-netter. That was very sweet of Boudreau. It’s almost as though he was “saying” with that gesture “”hugs and kisses” Montreal – just ’cause we like you – I’m just going to “lift our skirt” for ya.”

I understand enough about game theory to know that 1) If a netminder stays in the game to the final buzzer and is able to keep another puck from going in the net, that goalie will leave the ice in a better state of mind – even if the team loses the game. 2) If the 6 skaters on the man-advantage leave the ice not scoring another goal AND allowing an empty-netter, they will leave the ice in a much worse state of mind than the 5 regular skaters who stayed as they were and fought as hard as they could for the last 2 minutes – to the very end – even if only to lose the game.

Yeah – what do I know? Maybe 5 offense guys on the ice will work better over time? Maybe putting the biggest guys on ice and giving the other team a few bruises against the boards will work better over time? I don’t have a “better” alternative, but I very happily stand by this:  “It’s better to do nothing than it is to pull the goalie at 2 goals down.”

Go goalies! Stop all the skirt-lifting, will ya? – peace – mia (

  1. billdc permalink
    April 27, 2010 10:02 pm

    The only time I’ve ever seen this work in person was when Boston University pulled it off vs Miami (Ohio) in the NCAA title game last year at Verizon Center.

    BU pulled their goalie with *three* minutes left in the game, losing 3-1. BU then got the two goals needed to tie. One with 1:00 left and the tying goal with :17 left. BU then won into OT.

    What was amazing was Miami could not get an empty netter in the two minutes that the BU goalie left the ice.

    One of the most incredible comebacks I’ve ever seen.

    • Mia permalink
      April 27, 2010 10:10 pm

      WOW – sorry I missed that game! At least I know this goalie pulling has worked at least once.

  2. marmaryke permalink
    April 27, 2010 8:00 pm

    I could not agree more! I am a Habs fan and squint every time a coach does that — regardless of the team. It’s an automatic goal for the leaders. Just hate it

    • Mia permalink
      April 27, 2010 10:11 pm

      Yup, it is tough to see when any team does that. Thanks!


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