Why NHL Teams Pull Struggling Goalies (Explained)

In the NHL (National Hockey League), goalies are often pulled from the game when they’re struggling and giving up several goals due to several strategic and psychological reasons.

This decision is typically made by the head coach and can significantly impact the outcome of a game.

Below, the reasons for pulling a goalie when they’re struggling.

Key Points – Why NHL Teams Pull Struggling Goalies

The key takeaways from the reasons for pulling a goalie in hockey can be categorized under both strategic and psychological motivations:

Strategic Reasons

  • Momentum Shift: Changing goalies can alter the game’s momentum, potentially energizing the team and improving overall performance.
  • Rest and Reset: Being pulled provides the goalie with an opportunity to mentally and physically reset, preparing them for future performances without the immediate pressure of the current game. This is especially relevant in scenarios where the game’s outcome is already decided and the star goalie’s efforts are better reserved for future matches.
  • Tactical Adjustment: Substituting goalies can be a tactical move, with the backup goalie’s playing style possibly being a better match against the opposing team’s offense. It also allows the team to adjust their defensive strategies based on the game’s flow.

Psychological Reasons

  • Confidence Preservation: Pulling a goalie before their performance declines further can help preserve their confidence, mitigating long-term negative psychological impacts.
  • Team Morale: Making a goalie change can boost team morale by demonstrating the coach’s proactive approach to addressing issues and motivating the team to improve their performance.
  • Sending a Message: This action can serve as a wake-up call to the team, emphasizing the importance of performance and accountability for all team members, including the goalie.

These reasons illustrate the multifaceted approach coaches take in managing their players and strategies during a game, balancing immediate tactical needs with longer-term psychological and performance considerations.

Strategic Reasons for Pulling a Goalie

Momentum Shift

Pulling a struggling goalie can shift the momentum of the game.

Hockey is a sport where momentum is a major factor, and a change in goalie can energize a team, leading to improved performance from the players.

Rest and Reset

For the goalie, being pulled off can serve as a necessary break to reset mentally and physically.

It allows the goalie to regroup and prepare for future games without the immediate pressure of the current game’s outcome.

Sometimes the team is out of the game and there’s no need for a star goalie to continue playing the current one.

Tactical Adjustment

The decision to pull a goalie can also be a tactical one.

The backup goalie might have a playing style that’s better suited against the opposing team’s offense.

Additionally, it gives the team a chance to adjust their defense strategy in response to the game’s dynamics.

Psychological Reasons for Pulling a Goalie

Confidence Preservation

A goalie’s confidence can be significantly affected by their performance.

By pulling them out of the game before their performance worsens, a coach can help preserve the goalie’s confidence and prevent long-term psychological impacts.

Team Morale

The move can also serve to protect the team morale.

Seeing a goalie struggle without any intervention can be demoralizing for the rest of the team.

Pulling the goalie signals to the team that the coach is actively seeking solutions, which can boost morale.

Sending a Message

Sometimes, pulling a goalie isn’t just about the individual’s performance but also serves as a wake-up call to the rest of the team.

It sends a message that performance matters and that everyone, including the goalie, is accountable.

Q&A – Why Pull a Goalie When He’s Giving Up Goals

What are the main reasons NHL teams pull their goalies during a game?

NHL teams pull their goalies during a game primarily for strategic and psychological reasons. Strategically, it may be done to change the momentum of the game or to adjust tactics based on the opponent’s offense. Psychologically, it can be aimed at preserving the struggling goalie’s confidence or sending a strong message to the team about performance and accountability.

How does pulling a struggling goalie affect the team’s strategy?

Pulling a struggling goalie can significantly alter the team’s strategy. It may lead to a more defensive play to support the new goalie or shift to a more aggressive offense to compensate for the goals allowed. This change can also disrupt the opponent’s game plan, as they might need to adjust their strategy to face a different goalie with a different style of play.

What impact does changing goalies have on team morale and performance?

Changing goalies can have a profound impact on team morale and performance. A new goalie can inject energy into the team, serving as a wake-up call that everyone needs to step up their game. It can also relieve pressure on the players by shifting focus away from the goals allowed and towards reclaiming momentum.

How does the decision to pull a goalie influence the game’s momentum?

The decision to pull a goalie can drastically influence the game’s momentum. It can serve as a turning point, especially if the new goalie makes key saves early on. This change can galvanize a team, leading to improved defensive and offensive play, and potentially shifting the game’s momentum in their favor.

Are there specific signs or indicators that prompt a coach to pull a goalie?

Specific signs that prompt a coach to pull a goalie include a noticeable decline in performance, such as allowing easy goals or showing signs of frustration and lack of focus. Other indicators might be a series of rapid goals scored by the opposition or a goalie’s body language that suggests they are no longer confident in their ability to stop shots.

How do coaches decide when it’s the right time to pull a goalie?

Coaches decide when to pull a goalie based on several factors, including the goalie’s performance, the game’s score, the importance of the game, and how the team is playing overall. They also consider the potential impact on team morale and the backup goalie’s readiness to step in. This decision is often made quickly and requires a coach to assess the current game dynamics and the potential benefits or drawbacks of making a change.

What role does a backup goalie play when the starting goalie is struggling?

The backup goalie plays a critical role when the starting goalie is struggling, as they must be ready to step in at any moment and perform at a high level. Their ability to maintain focus and composure despite being suddenly called into the game can stabilize the team and potentially turn the game around. The backup goalie’s performance can also provide a psychological boost to the team, signaling a fresh start in the game.

How do goalies typically respond to being pulled from a game?

Goalies typically respond to being pulled from a game with a mix of emotions, including disappointment, frustration, and motivation to improve. While it can be a hit to their confidence, many goalies use the experience as motivation to work harder and regain their form. Coaches and teammates often support the goalie, emphasizing the decision as a strategic move rather than a personal failure.

Can pulling a goalie backfire and negatively affect the team?

Pulling a goalie can backfire and negatively affect the team if the backup goalie is not adequately prepared or if the change disrupts the team’s rhythm and confidence. Additionally, if the move is perceived as a panic decision, it can lead to uncertainty and decreased morale among the players, potentially worsening the situation.

What are the long-term effects on a goalie’s confidence and performance after being pulled from a game?

The long-term effects on a goalie’s confidence and performance after being pulled from a game depend on the individual’s resilience and the support they receive from the team and coaching staff. Some goalies bounce back stronger, using the experience as a learning opportunity. However, without proper support and communication, being pulled can lead to a decline in performance and confidence over time.


The decision to pull a goalie in the NHL when they’re struggling involves a blend of strategic and psychological considerations.

It’s a tool coaches use to influence the game’s outcome, protect the players’ mental well-being, and adjust the team’s dynamics as needed.

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