North America

The Spiral of Death – Pulling Your Goalie Earlier Against Exhausted Opponents  

Most of us have heard the crude joke that ends in the punchline “We’ve already established the principle that you are a whore. Now we’re just haggling over the price”. Well, in hockey, I would like to argue for the principle that the best time to pull your goalie is when your opponents are physically exhausted from being stuck on the ice during an especially long shift.  Though obviously it is difficult to know how much earlier than usual a team would be wise to pull its goalie in order to take advantage of facing exhausted opponents, still I believe they should consider doing so at least somewhat earlier than usual. There are three reasons why:

  1. It is harder for them to score and easier for you to score

This sounds like circular reasoning, but really it might just be common sense: you want to pounce on your enemy when your enemy is weakest. When players are exhausted, it is harder for them to get the puck and score a cross-ice empty netter. (And, if they attempt to do so and miss, it will lead to an icing that will allow your team to bring on a fresh line against their exhausted one). Similarly, when they are exhausted it will be easier for your fresh-legged extra attacker to help your team get a high-quality scoring attempt.

  1. It is easier to get the extra attacker into the offensive zone

Coaches generally try to pull their goalies when their teams are already in the offensive zone, but they often fail to do so simply because holding onto the zone is so difficult in hockey that the opposing team is frequently able to clear the puck out before the extra attacker has time to get there himself. As a result, teams with their goalie pulled often waste precious time or give up an empty net goal trying to regain entry and get solidly set up within the offensive zone again. Against an exhausted line, in contrast, it is much easier to hold on to possession, so your extra attacker will more likely have time to join the play while your team is still set up in the offensive zone.

  1. The Spiral of Death

Exhausted players are usually bailed out by their goalie, who freezes the puck to let them get a line change or call a timeout, or else they are bailed out by so-called puck luck: a favourable bounce of one sort or another, which allows the exhausted players to clear the zone and start a line change. But if you bring on your fresh extra attacker, the exhausted opponent will become much less likely to be bailed out by their goalie or by puck luck. Their goalie will have a harder time freezing the puck as he is more likely to be screened during every shot and outmanned in every scramble in front of the net. Puck luck too is less likely to be helpful to the exhausted team because, of course, puck luck is not mostly about actual luck, rather it is about open space – which there will be less of – and about effort and skill – which exhausted players have much less of.

Thus, you may trigger a spiral of death: exhausted players will be much less able to get a line change in, and so will become even more tired, and so will become even less able to get a line change in, and on and on until finally the spiral reaches a point of conclusion: ideally, the game-tying goal.

So: Do you, reader, believe this principle I am trying to establish? Good. Then let the haggling begin.

 

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