The Importance of the Empty Netter

Hockey is a unique sport. There isn’t another sport (maybe with the exception of Soccer) where you can take a player off the playing surface and add an attacker. But in hockey, the team down a man is just a clear shot away from putting a puck in the net and icing the game. If you were a player, wouldn’t you want to take the opportunity to not only put the game away, but add a tally beside the Goal column on the stat sheet by way of an Empty Netter? So why aren’t teams utilizing this at the end of games more?

The Difference Between a Win and a Loss

Often times, a team who’s down a goal (or two) will pull their goal with under 2 minutes left to create an odd man chance for themselves. It’s like creating a power-play opportunity for yourself. (Note: you can pull your goalie at any point in the game.)

When a team pulls their goalie, they seldomly have much luck tying the game. Why? The average shooting percentage in the NHL is just over 5%. It only increases to 8% with the extra attacker.  But the empty netter is always a possibility.

The goals do come. And I’ve watched plenty of hockey this season that has been decided by the extra attacker situations. It helps when you have big time offensive guns like the Washington Capitals. Alexander Ovechkin (King of the Empty Netter) has scored multiple goals late in games this season to force OT for his Caps. But the Caps had to pull their goalie.

Ovechkin and Backstrom - clydeorama, flickr
Ovechkin and Backstrom – clydeorama, flickr

When the goalie is out, all the opposing team needs to do is clear the puck, and hoist it toward the goal form the red line. Yet, coaches and players seem to have become overly protective of their leads and are content with just clearing the puck as if they were actually on the power play. They have one less skater on the ice, but there is no one protecting the goal on the other end of the ice. When a confident skater takes the puck blue line to blue line and sinks an empty netter, his teams win 99.9% of the time, I promise.

But sometimes, you’re playing not to lose.

Or Maybe Gold and Silver…

(Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)
(Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

And the difference between the empty netter is a Gold medal in the Olympics, or a silver. Just ask the USA Women, whom watched their 2-0 lead diminish with under 3 minutes left in the Gold medal game at Sochi. The first goal they allowed made them tense up, and you can’t fault them for that. They wanted gold.

But with 90 seconds remaining, the Canadiens pulled their goalie and went to work. The US women were seemingly under duress. But with just over a minute left, an American forward had the puck and had room to skate. Instead she hoisted the puck down the ice and hit the goal post. 15 seconds later, the Canadian women tied the game and went on to win in OT. In 15 seconds, the US women went from nearly taking a 2 goal lead, to watching their lead disappear. And it didn’t take long for them to watch their Gold medal stripped away after that.

The Empty Netter is important.

The Philadelphia Flyers score 6% of their total goals off of EN’s and it’s been a big part in them turning their seasons around. A good team understands the importance of Empty Netters and a struggling team takes advantage of them. You hate to see an olympic Gold medal game come down to a missed opportunity.