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When is the right time to pull a goaltender?


When is the right time to pull a goaltender?

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.

Unorthodox? Absolutely.

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, 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).  

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The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The Caps will win Game 6 if they win, or at least survive, the first period

The last three games have been pretty awesome if you're a Caps fan. For one minute, however, let's consider what it must feel like for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus has seen a 0-2 series lead evaporate, they have lost both of their home games and now they face elimination after three straight losses including two overtime games and in two of those games, the Blue Jackets outplayed the Caps.

Oh, and head coach John Tortorella kinda, sorta guaranteed the Blue Jackets would force a Game 7.

As the series shifts back to Ohio for Game 6 on Monday, do you think the Blue Jackets may be a tad motivated when they take the ice in front of their home fans?

"We’ve got a chance in front of our home crowd to push this thing to seven games and we’re excited about it," Columbus forward Matt Calvert said Sunday. "... Got home last night and I was here a little earlier, got a chance to watch the news and they’re interviewing fans and how they’re pumped up, already saying it’s going to Game 7, so I can’t wait. The atmosphere’s going to be great. I know they’re going to give an all-out effort and so are we.”

In the third period of Game 5, the enormity of their situation began to set in for Columbus. Down 3-2 and facing their third straight loss, the Blue Jackets made a tremendous push to try to win the game. They tied the score at 3 early in the period and ultimately outshot Washington 16-1. If not for the tremendous effort of Braden Holtby in net to force overtime, the roles of this series could easily be reversed with Washington facing elimination in Game 6.

Now imagine that effort, plus the home crowd plus the desperation of a team facing elimination. An early lead for the Jackets could start a snowball effect in which their momentum and the crowd carry them through the rest of the game. But the longer the Caps can survive, the more doubt will begin to creep into Columbus, the antsier the fans will become and the more confident Washington will play.

The Caps better be ready.

The good news for Washington is that its been here before. Just last season, the Caps went to Toronto in Game 6 with an opportunity to close out the Maple Leafs. Toronto outshot Washington 14-10 in the first period, but they could not get the early goal and the game was scoreless through the first 20 minutes. Auston Matthews scored in the third period to break a scoreless tie, but Marcus Johansson scored five minutes later and then again in overtime to close out the series.

After experiencing last year's series in Toronto, the Caps know what they are going to be up against in Columbus.

"It's the toughest game to win because the other team is desperate," head coach Barry Trotz said Sunday on a conference call with the media. "Their backs are against the wall. They're there. They're going to give their absolute max effort tomorrow, and we've got to make sure that we have a max effort. If we do that, then we have a chance to win in Columbus."


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NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do


NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Power Rankings: The West is set while the Caps still have work to do

There are only two series left in the first round that have yet to be decided. The Caps just so happen to be playing in one of those series.

After falling into a 0-2 hole to start, Washington has rattled off three straight wins and now sits just one away from putting away the Columbus Blue Jackets and advancing to the second round.

Should the Capitals advance, they will play the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third consecutive season.


The Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday in Game 6. Jake Guentzel scored four goals in the effort proving once and for all that yes, goaltending is important in the playoffs. Head coach Mike Sullivan has still yet to lose a playoff series as the head coach of Pittsburgh as he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons.

In the Atlantic, the Tampa Bay Lightning await the winner of the Boston Bruins - Toronto Maple Leafs series after dispatching the New Jersey Devils in five games. After a strong regular season, the Maple Leafs looked poised to take the next step, but Auston Matthews has only two points in five games and Toronto faces elimination at the hands of the Bruins Monday in Game 5.


All four series in the West, meanwhile, have already been decided. Both the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks managed four-game sweeps in the first round and will face one another in the second  The miraculous season of the Golden Knights continues and it would be hard to argue at this point that they are not legitimate Stanly Cup contenders considering all they have accomplished in both the regular season and the playoffs.

Wins by the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets now sets up a second-round battle between the top two teams in the league from the regular season.