During the Stars’ eventual playoff run last spring, they played one of the weirdest games in their history. It was weird for two simple reasons: First, they started the game down by a goal scored at 0:00 by a player who didn’t play in the game although he did play in the game that didn’t count because of the whole Rich Peverley incident. Maybe that is more than one reason, but Second, Lindy Ruff wasn’t happy with only one "earliest ___ ever" record and proceeded to pull Tim Thomas with around 13:00 minutes left in the period. This was during a power play on which the Stars scored. It was awesome.
Personally, I remember having a rather loopy grin on my face after Daley finally slammed the puck into the net. That game was filled with emotion from the very start, but those frenetic minutes during the 6-on-3 seem to have been a good microcosm of the season. The Stars were able to eventually achieve their modest objective (a goal in one case, a playoff berth in the other), but it took full and sometimes extreme efforts from everyone to get there, before ultimately falling short of the larger prize. At least, it strikes me that way. Maybe you still think Ruff was out of his gourd that night. That's okay.
The question that stayed with me after that game, though, was this: When is the best time to pull your goaltender? The general rule is to send out your sixth attacker around the 60- to 90-second mark, depending on factors like score deficit, faceoff location, puck possession and penalties. I was looking through an article my brother sent me from a library archive in the ‘70s, and while I can’t republish that article here, there were a couple of interesting points from the piece that I'll summarize. For some background, I'll mention that in 1976, teams down by a goal tended to pull their goalie around the 1:00 mark. Again, these are from the 1970s.
1) Teams with above-average power plays should pull their goalie sooner than other teams.
This seems obvious, but I had never really thought about this. Granted, it depends on whether your top players are fresh, but it does seem to make sense that if you’re especially good at scoring during a 5-4 advantage, you just might want to increase the time you have a 6-5 advantage. Apples to oranges, of course, but I thought the point was interesting. What I found even more interesting is that the only source for power play statistics in 1975 was an interview with NHL assistant coach. Apparently the league wasn’t quite as statistically-oriented as, say, baseball, back then.
2) Teams who are trailing do not tend to pull their goaltender soon enough to maximize the increased scoring probability resulting from it.
Similar to 1), but this is more of a general rule. And more recent research seems to indicate that this was a pretty good conclusion, especially considering that it was reached while guys were still playing with wooden sticks and no helmets. (You can use math anytime, anywhere.) It’s little wonder that the risk-averse league has yet to really start employing this strategy. After all, teams are still signing John Scotts just because they are supposed to have "toughness." Change is slow in the NHL.
While giving up a goal with significant time remaining is a critical event, teams that can already hang on to the puck for long stretches (see: Chicago and Los Angeles) may want to take a good look at doing this more often. In fact, they probably already have. But will teams not coached by Patrick Roy continue to pull their netminders primarily after the 18:00 mark for the forseeable future? Probably. Coaches who try these sorts of strategies can put their jobs at risk if it backfires, and it’s no secret that an NHL coaching position is already tenuous even in the best of times. (Ask Dan Bylsma about that.)
But the revolution may not be dead yet. On power plays in particular, it would seem almost silly not to make a habit of adding another attacker for longer 2- or even 3-man advantages—especially if you’re as woeful on them as the Stars were this year. Lindy Ruff and Patrick Roy aren't the only ones willing to do it, either. Take Dave King, for example:
King is an experienced international coach, who has worked in Germany and in Russia. In Germany, a handful of teams would occasionally pull their goaltenders, mid-game, if they had a two-man advantage in order to make it a 6-on-3. Uwe Krupp, the German Olympic coach, was prepared to try it in Vancouver, but the opportunity didn't arise.
I hope we do see more of this. I’ve been at two different games where a team pulled their goalie way before the end of the game, and in both cases the rink started going berserk (although in neither case did the team on the advantage score). Pulling the goalie is an exciting event within a larger exciting event named ice hockey, and I think we all want to see more of it. We are rabid and mindless fanatics, after all.
When do you think a team should pull its goalie?
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Hump Day Links!
I am not tired of reading about how awesome the Stars are because of Jim Nill. Sports Illustrated is the latest to write such a piece. [SI]
Toby Petersen has found a new home as a coach with Springfield of the AHL. How long before TP finds his way back to the NHL? [Colorado Springs Gazette]
Remember how all the smart people were saying Nashville should sign Ribeiro? Well, they did, along with Kevin Connauton trade bait Derek Roy. Some good stuff in this article about Ribeiro trying to put his marriage back together, and how he even called David Poile and Peter Laviolette to ask if he might be a fit on their roster [Miami Herald]
Interesting take on the Ryan O’Reilly situation from an unexpected source. Also, what is a Carmelo Anthony? [Blueshirt Banter]
Are you a Chicago prospect in line for the NHL? Take a number, because it might be a while. [Sun Times]
This website is pretty awful, but it has an article about the Stars being good now from a Chicago perspective, kind of. Seriously, don’t blame me if you hate this website. [Blackhawk Up]
Icethetics has wrapped up their look at the 1990s. Do you agree with the lament about Dallas abandoning North Stars green? [Icethetics]
Hockey by Design has a really cool piece on the historical link between hockey and soccer uniforms. This is the last link containing soccer references for a long time, I promise. [Hockey by Design]
Puck Daddy takes a look at the "victims" of buyouts, and where they are now. Again, how repugnant is that Lecavalier contract looking? [Puck Daddy]
Remember the project Josh & Co. are doing over the summer? It looks like they were ahead of the game, as a Carolina fan has embarked on a similar quest. (Go help Josh if you’re bored!) [Shutdown Line]