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The risks (and rewards) of emptying the net

May 7, 2010, 3:30 PM EDT

emptynet.jpgIt’s depressing to watch a goal go into your favorite team’s empty net. Up until that point, you could hope against hope that your team would magically end up scoring during that frantic last minute. When it does, it’s pure magic. Just look at Zach Parise’s last minute goal in the Olympic gold medal game. 

Still, when that puck instead enters the wrong net, it’s that feeling you get when Sunday afternoon turns to Sunday night; the tunnel at the end all that light becomes bigger.

The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek wrote a stat-packed and fantastic piece about how often the net-emptying strategy worked during the regular season and how infrequently the success carried over to the playoffs so far. Here are a few snippets.

“According to statistics compiled by the Elias Sports Bureau, there were 86 extra-attacker goals scored in the 1,230 regular-season games played – more than almost anyone would think.

… In total, there were 204 empty-net goals scored in the regular-season, meaning what many people believe is a strategy of desperation – pulling the goalie – actually had a fairly high ratio of success this past year.

For reasons that are difficult to quantify, however, that hasn’t carried over into the playoffs, where teams – and gleeful poolies – are cashing in on a whole lot of empty-net goals – 18 as of Thursday, including three more in the last 72 hours.

By contrast, only three times thus far in the playoffs did the extra attacker work – once meaningfully, for the San Jose Sharks, when a goal by Joe Pavelski in Game 2 vs. Colorado sent it into overtime in a game the Sharks eventually won … “

Interesting stuff there. I’ve seen the strategy work enough times (see also: Talbot, Max in Game 5 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals) to know that it’s certainly “worth it.” Who cares if the opposing team gets a “fake” goal, aside from the fact that game’s coffin is sealed a little bit earlier?

Phoenix Coyotes assistant coach Dave King summed up why it’s good to empty your net aggressively (and, in that, to be aggressive in general) later on in Duhatschek’s story.

“So it lights people up and it makes the game exciting and I think the most important thing about it is, you’re showing your team that you’re never giving up. Because we pull our goalie sometimes with our team down two goals with two minutes to go. That’s what you’re trying to make your team understand – that you never give up on them. When you don’t pull your goalie, you’re giving up on your team – and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be. So there’s a strong message for your team when you pull your goalie; and when you score, it’s a bonus.”

  1. Matt - May 7, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    “Who cares if the opposing team gets a “fake” goal, aside from the fact that game’s coffin is sealed a little bit earlier?”
    The owners/team presidents might. They can say “hey, you lost 5-3 tonight to Detroit. Giving up five goals in a playoff game is unacceptable!” But if they just lost 4-3, they may say “tough one-goal loss to a good team”.
    It’s the same reason football coaches call for punts down 10 points in the 4th quarter in their own territory. They don’t want the opposition to score again and have it hanging on their heads that his team gave up another touchdown and seven more points, regardless if the game was already out of hand.

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