First-year New Jersey Devils coach John Hynes created quite a buzz throughout Verizon Center on Saturday night when he pulled goaltender Keith Kinkaid with 3:16 remaining in a game the Caps were leading by two goals and on the power play.
Unwise? Since Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen fired a slapper into the empty net just 23 seconds after Kinkaid went to the Devils bench to give the Caps a 5-2 lead, you might think so.
But Hynes wasn’t backing down after the game, which ended with the Caps prevailing 5-3.
“We had a lot of time there and part of it is we have to be able to continue to make a strong push,” Hynes said after seeing the Devils fall to 0-2. “(Washington) is on the power play, (they) have some offensive guys who maybe are not the best defensive players on the ice. I’m trying to give ourselves an opportunity to get back in.
“I think when you go through a lot of the statistics and analytics, a lot of times the earlier you can pull your goalie the more the percentage is you will be able to score a goal.”
Analytics would agree.
In fact, according to a recent story by FiveThirtyEightSports, teams that were trailing by two goals last season pulled their goalies with about 2:10 remaining in regulation, almost 30 seconds earlier than they had the previous season.
Why? Because, according to Stanford Ph.D. Donald Morrison, a team that is trailing by one goal and pulls its goaltender with 2:30 remaining has a 19-20 percent chance of tying the score. That percentage drops to 17 percent if a team waits until 1 minute remains in regulation.
According to the story, University of Florida associate professor Andrew Thomas, co-founder of the hockey analytics website War-on-ice.com, took the debate one step further by creating an app that tells coaching staffs the ideal time to pull their netminders.
Ironically, it’s a Hall of Fame goaltender who first brought attention to the early yanking of goaltenders. During the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy pulled his goalie for an extra attacker with more than 2 minutes remaining in regulation four times and his team rallied to tie the score twice.
Since then more and more NHL coaches are going for broke earlier, with 18 of the NHL’s 30 teams pulling their goalies with an average of 1:10 or more remaining in regulation last season.
It’s a trend worth watching as the 2015-16 season unfolds.
(For what it’s worth, Capitals coach Barry Trotz said recently that it takes an opposing team 3.2 seconds to score into an empty net if a faceoff is taken in its own defensive zone).