When a team is trailing by a goal late in a hockey game, the coach often makes a bold decision to pull their goaltender and replace them with an extra skater.
This strategy, known as the “empty net strategy,” aims to increase the team’s offensive pressure and create more scoring opportunities.
However, it also comes with inherent risks, as an errant pass or turnover can result in an easy goal for the opposing team.
Empty Net Strategies in Hockey Include:
- Overload One Side
- High Slot Presence
- Point Men
- Net Front Presence
- Quick Puck Movement
- Protect the Blue Line
- Safety Valve
- Rebounds and Second Chances
- Quick Line Changes
Below we look into deeper detail of the hockey empty net strategy, exploring its benefits, drawbacks, and the factors that coaches consider when implementing it.
Empty Net Strategies
Empty net strategies in hockey are employed when a team is trailing by a goal or more late in the game.
The idea is to pull the goaltender in favor of an extra skater, providing a numerical advantage in the offensive zone.
Here are some common empty net strategies:
Overload One Side
The team with the extra skater will often overload one side of the ice, creating a mismatch and forcing the defense to shift.
This can open up passing lanes and shooting opportunities on the weak side.
High Slot Presence
Positioning a player in the high slot area can be beneficial.
This player can act as a pivot, receiving and distributing passes, or taking a quick shot if the defense collapses down low.
Having two players at the blue line (usually defensemen) allows for quick puck movement and the ability to get shots through from the point.
These players should be ready to retreat quickly in case of a turnover.
Net Front Presence
Always have a player in front of the opponent’s net.
This player’s job is to screen the goaltender, deflect shots, and pounce on any rebounds.
Quick Puck Movement
Quick, precise passing can disorient a defensive team.
The idea is to move the puck faster than the defense can adjust, creating open shooting lanes.
Protect the Blue Line
Without a goaltender, it’s crucial to prevent the opposing team from gaining possession and shooting at the empty net.
The players at the blue line should be aggressive in keeping the puck in the offensive zone.
Even with the goalie pulled, it’s a good idea to have a player positioned in a more defensive posture, ready to retreat and defend against potential breakaways.
Rebounds and Second Chances
Shots on goal are crucial, but so is crashing the net for rebounds.
With an extra skater, there should always be someone ready to jump on loose pucks.
The more loose pucks you can get, the better your odds of scoring.
Quick Line Changes
Players will get tired, especially with the increased pressure and intensity of being down a goal late in the game.
Quick line changes ensure fresh legs are on the ice.
With the noise of the crowd and the high-pressure situation, communication is key.
Players need to be vocal about positioning, open passing lanes, and potential threats.
While these strategies can increase the chances of scoring, they also come with the risk of the opposing team scoring an easy goal into the empty net. Coaches and players must weigh the risks and rewards and decide when the right time is to employ these strategies.
The Benefits of the Empty Net Strategy
1. Increased Offensive Pressure
By adding an extra skater, the team on offense gains a numerical advantage over the opposing team.
This advantage can lead to increased offensive pressure, as the team can outnumber the defenders in the offensive zone.
2. More Scoring Opportunities
With an additional skater on the ice, the team has more options to create scoring opportunities.
The extra player can provide screens in front of the net, create passing lanes, and generate more shots on goal.
3. Momentum Shift
Implementing the empty net strategy can often create a momentum shift in favor of the trailing team.
The aggressive move of pulling the goaltender can energize the players and motivate them to push harder for a goal.
The Drawbacks and Risks
1. Vulnerability to Empty Net Goals
The most significant risk of the empty net strategy is the potential for the opposing team to score an easy goal into the empty net.
If the team on offense loses possession or makes a mistake, the opposing team can quickly capitalize on the open net and extend their lead.
2. Defensive Challenges
With the goaltender pulled, the team on offense is left with fewer players to defend against counter-attacks.
This can make it challenging to prevent the opposing team from scoring an empty net goal.
3. Increased Pressure on Skaters
The players on the ice during the empty net strategy face increased pressure to score a goal.
This pressure can sometimes lead to rushed decisions, turnovers, and missed opportunities.
Factors Considered by Coaches
1. Time Remaining
Coaches consider the amount of time left in the game when deciding to implement the empty net strategy.
The later it is in the game, the more likely they are to pull the goaltender, as there is less time for the opposing team to score an empty net goal.
2. Score Differential
The score differential also plays a big role in the decision-making process.
Coaches are more inclined to use the empty net strategy when their team is trailing by one goal, as it provides a higher chance of tying the game.
In must-win games, pulling the goalie earlier is also on the table.
We cover this topic in more detail below.
3. Offensive Zone Control
Coaches assess their team’s ability to maintain control of the puck in the offensive zone.
If the team has been consistently pressuring the opposing team and creating scoring chances, coaches are more likely to implement the empty net strategy.
When Should a Team Pull Its Goalies?
Pulling the goalie is a high-risk, high-reward strategy in hockey.
Here’s a guide on when a team might consider taking this bold step:
1. Trailing Late in the Game
The most common scenario for pulling a goalie is when a team is down by a goal or two late in the game, typically in the last 2-3 minutes.
This gives the team an extra attacker and a better chance to score the tying or winning goal.
2. Power Play Opportunity
If a team is on the power play late in the game and still trailing, they might pull the goalie to have a two-player advantage.
This 6-on-4 situation can be overwhelming for the defending team.
3. Face-off in the Offensive Zone
When there’s a face-off in the offensive zone, especially after an icing call against the defending team, it might be a good time to pull the goalie.
The offensive team can set up a play knowing they’ll start with possession of the puck.
4. During a Delayed Penalty
If the opposing team commits a penalty and the referee signals a delayed penalty, the team that was fouled can pull their goalie for an extra attacker until the whistle is blown.
This gives them a man advantage without waiting for the stoppage in play.
5. Desperation Mode in a Tournament
In knockout stages of tournaments or playoffs, where a loss means elimination, teams might pull their goalie earlier than usual, sometimes with 5 or more minutes left, if they’re trailing by multiple goals.
6. Analytical Decisions
Some coaches, influenced by advanced statistics, believe in pulling the goalie even earlier than traditional norms suggest, sometimes with 4-5 minutes left when down by two goals.
The idea is to maximize the time with an extra attacker and increase the chances of scoring.
7. Sending a Message
On rare occasions, a coach might pull a goalie not for tactical reasons, but to send a message to their team.
If the team is performing poorly, pulling the goalie can be a wake-up call, signaling that everyone needs to step up their game.
This is rare, however.
While pulling the goalie can lead to dramatic comebacks, it also comes with the risk of the opposing team scoring an easy empty-net goal.
Coaches must weigh the potential reward against the risk, considering the game situation, the opponent, and the overall context of the season or tournament.
Case Studies and Statistics
The Chicago Blackhawks
During the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, the Chicago Blackhawks were trailing the Boston Bruins by one goal in Game 6.
With less than two minutes remaining, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville decided to pull his goaltender.
The move paid off, as the Blackhawks scored two goals in 17 seconds to win the game and eventually clinch the championship.
Empty Net Goal Statistics
According to NHL data, empty net goals are scored in approximately 15% of games.
This statistic highlights the risk involved in the empty net strategy, as the opposing team has a reasonable chance of scoring into the open net.
Hockey Empty Net Strategy
Q&A – Hockey Empty Net Strategy
1. When should a coach consider implementing the empty net strategy?
A coach should consider implementing the empty net strategy when their team is trailing by one goal and there is enough time remaining in the game to mount a comeback.
2. What are the main benefits of the empty net strategy?
The main benefits of the empty net strategy include increased offensive pressure, more scoring opportunities, and the potential for a momentum shift in favor of the trailing team.
3. What are the risks associated with the empty net strategy?
The risks associated with the empty net strategy include vulnerability to empty net goals, defensive challenges, and increased pressure on the players on the ice.
4. How do coaches decide when to pull the goaltender?
Coaches consider factors such as the time remaining in the game, the score differential, and their team’s offensive zone control when deciding to pull the goaltender.
5. Are there any notable examples of successful implementation of the empty net strategy?
Yes, one notable example is the Chicago Blackhawks’ implementation of the empty net strategy during the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, where they scored two goals in 17 seconds to win the game and eventually clinch the championship.
6. How often do empty net goals occur?
According to NHL data, empty net goals are scored in approximately 15% of games.
7. Can the empty net strategy be used in other situations besides trailing by one goal?
Yes, coaches may also implement the empty net strategy when their team is trailing by two goals late in the game, as it provides a higher chance of tying the game.
8. What are some alternative strategies to the empty net strategy?
Alternative strategies to the empty net strategy include utilizing an extra attacker without pulling the goaltender, employing aggressive forechecking tactics, and focusing on defensive stability while maintaining offensive pressure.
9. How can teams minimize the risks associated with the empty net strategy?
Teams can minimize the risks associated with the empty net strategy by maintaining strong defensive positioning, making smart decisions with the puck, and ensuring effective communication among players on the ice.
10. Are there any specific player roles or positions that are crucial during the empty net strategy?
During the empty net strategy, players who excel at puck possession, playmaking, and defensive awareness are crucial.
These players are responsible for maintaining offensive pressure while minimizing defensive vulnerabilities.
11. Can the empty net strategy be used in overtime?
Yes, coaches may choose to implement the empty net strategy in overtime if they believe it provides a higher chance of securing a win.
However, the risks associated with an empty net goal are heightened in overtime due to the sudden-death nature of the period.
12. How do opposing teams typically respond to the empty net strategy?
Opposing teams often focus on defensive stability and aim to prevent the team on offense from gaining control of the puck in the offensive zone.
They may also attempt to score an empty net goal if given the opportunity.
13. Can the empty net strategy be used in other team sports?
While the empty net strategy is specific to ice hockey, similar strategies can be employed in other team sports such as soccer, where a team may opt for an extra attacker in the final minutes of a match.
14. Are there any specific skills or techniques that players need to master for the empty net strategy?
Players involved in the empty net strategy should focus on their passing accuracy, shooting skills, defensive positioning, and decision-making under pressure.
15. How can coaches effectively communicate the empty net strategy to their players?
Coaches can effectively communicate the empty net strategy to their players through clear instructions, practice drills, and video analysis.
They should emphasize the importance of maintaining offensive pressure while remaining defensively responsible.
The hockey empty net strategy is a high-risk, high-reward tactic employed by coaches when their team is trailing by a goal late in a game.
While it offers increased offensive pressure, more scoring opportunities, and the potential for a momentum shift, it also exposes the team to the risk of an empty net goal and defensive challenges.
Coaches carefully consider factors such as time remaining, score differential, and offensive zone control when deciding to implement the strategy.
By understanding the benefits, risks, and decision-making process behind the empty net strategy, teams can maximize their chances of success and potentially turn the tide in their favor.