Reach for hook sooner, says new study
Eyebrows were raised earlier this month when Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery pulled his goalie with just less than eight minutes left in the third period and his team trailing by two goals.
The tactic didn’t work in the end. The Ottawa Senators eventually scored into the empty net with about 90 seconds remaining for a 4-1 victory.
But there’s an argument to be made, at least mathematically, that even a call that bold came too late.
“I just wanted to put a little more urgency and give ourselves a chance,” Montgomery said after the game. “I thought the pulled-goalie situation actually worked. “We just didn’t score.”
In their paper Pulling the Goalie: Hockey and Investment Implications published earlier this year, billionaire Clifford Asness of AQR Capital Management and New York University math professor Aaron Brown found that coaches don’t pull goalies soon enough.
Using a mathematical model that took into account scoring probability, the deficit faced and time on the clock, the authors wrote that teams trailing by one should pull their netminder in favour of a sixth attacker with 6:10 remaining, while a club facing a two-goal deficit should make the move with a whopping 13 minutes left.
In years past, NHL coaches down a goal or two in a game have usually pulled their goalie with anywhere from 60 seconds to two minutes remaining in regulation.
This season has seen goalies removed for a sixth skater earlier, often with about three minutes remaining when trailing by one.
“There are so many variables that are associated with those situations,” Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said recently. “It’s very difficult, in my mind, to quantify the perfect time.”
St. Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo said a number of factors play into the decision of when to make the call for a sixth skater.
“Some of it has to be feel for the game, how much momentum you have,” he said. “When you’re dealing with pulling the goalie, the odds are still against you.
“You have to live with the fact that sometimes it’s going to work and sometimes it’s not.”
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock has pulled the goalie around the three-minute mark in each of his team’s three losses, but said the exact moment has a lot to do with his forward rotation.
“Any time after four minutes or three minutes, that’s kind of what we’re going through,” he said.