Washington Capitals: When is it right to pull the goalie?

Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

When is it right to pull the goalie?

Let me go on the record by stating that I am a big fan of Dallas Eakins, the new Edmonton Oilers coach.  Anyone that is willing to buck the traditional thought for a good reason has my vote of confidence.

With that caveat, let’s examine his situation briefly last night. Eakins pulled the goalie last night 2:34 to go last night when the Oilers went on the power play to force the 6-4 advantage.  While it was unsuccessful in that the Oilers lost, it was very thought-provoking and mirrored a situation on Tuesday with the Washington Capitals

(For an excellent look at a sabermetric analysis of pulling the goalie, check out  this article by Tyler Dellow)

The Blackhawks went down to three men with 3:33 to go in the final period.  The Caps were set up for 1:26 of a five on three power play.

At this point, I began to debate whether they should pull Holtby and make it a six on three advantage.

My logic was not rooted in stats but on gut feeling.  When would you rather pull the goalie in a vacuum?

I think that a six on three for 1:26 would be much preferable to a six on five for 45 seconds which is what we ended up with at the end of the game.

Now the Capitals futility with a five on three not withstanding (thanks to Becca of Japers Rink for an enlightening and depressing breakdown), you have to like our chances with a three man advantage.

From a purely qualitative perspective, what are the downsides?

I can see three distinct problems with pulling the goalie: 1) you have no one to retrieve the puck quickly in the event of a clear. 2) The obvious problem that if they score you look like an idiot and you are down two goals. 3) Because of this, faceoffs are at a premium.

In this situation I believe the upsides outweigh the downsides however.

First, faceoffs are easier to win when you have a three man advantage because the center can be content to tie up the puck and get the win.  Second, it’s tough to clear the puck when you have a six on five at the end of the game, let alone a six on three.

Now back to the second question, will a coach risk the ridicule when inevitably this backfires and you give up the goal?

And the answer should be yes, if you believe in the advantage that this gives you.  Gregg Easterbrook of TMQ fame writes of NFL coaches frequently:  “ Doing the ’safe’ thing shifted blame to [the] players.”

The point is this.  If Adam Oates pulls the goalie and the Blackhawks score, he will get crucified in the media.  If he waits until the last minute to pull the goalie (as he did Tuesday night) and the Caps don’t score or give up a goal, the conversation shifts and the players are blamed.

In a six on three situation, I believe that the pros outweigh the cons and a coach shouldn’t be afraid to pull the trigger on pulling the goalie.  If you have a opinion about this, leave a comment or email me at [email protected].

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