One Net’s Empty, But The Other is Full: Assessing The Capitals Success With The Goalie Pulled

Following the Capitals’ historic come-from-behind victory in a matinee match-up with the San Jose Sharks, it’s clear that the Capitals are effective late in games with the extra skater when trailing. 

That being said, let’s take a look at the statistics over the season so far, and how the success of tying or winning a game with an extra skater at the end of regulation panned out for the Caps, compared to league average. (Stats used in this article are thanks to Meghan Hall (you can check out her impressive dashboards here) and Natural Stat Trick.)

So far this season, the Caps are currently tied for second in the NHL with 7 goals for while trailing with the goalie pulled. The top three consists of the Buffalo Sabres (9 goals for) and the Florida Panthers, who are tied with the Caps at 7 goals for.

Here’s the top ten in the NHL so far this season, with the teams currently in a playoff position highlighted in green, and teams within 4 points of a playoff position in yellow:

engf leaders

Taking a look at the spread above, only 5 of the top 10 teams in the top ten for empty net goals for while trailing are either in a playoff position currently, or within sniffing distance of a playoff berth.

More notably, the Kings and Red Wings are currently the worst teams in their conferences this year, so scoring more goals with the goalie pulled is more correlated with more time trailing late in games, rather than being successful. Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks are 29th in time on ice with the goalie pulled, and the Oilers are 30th.

So far this season across the NHL, teams have a 20.4% success rate (meaning they were able to successfully tie the game or win). This is up a net 5.8% from last season. Granted, we may see the success rate normalize a bit as the season goes on, but teams that have their goalies pulled for longer periods of time see more “success” in empty net situations (via Meghan Hall):

average pull times

Essentially, the visual above shows that there seems to be a direct correlation between success rates while trailing with an empty net and average time that the goalie is pulled.

The trend looks like NHL head coaches are pulling their goalies earlier, resulting in more success. This makes sense, especially if you’re effective in limiting empty net goals against (which the Caps aren’t necessarily very good at, they have a 0 goal differential while skating with an empty net and trailing in games).

Now, let’s look at the Caps’ successful attempts to tie/win games when trailing with the goalie pulled:

1920 en successes

The Caps tend to have lower pull time in seconds than the league average for success. That can likely be attributed to the Caps’ level of talent offensively, as well as having a strategy that mimics their power play strategy.

Interestingly, last season, the Caps only had 3 successful attempts at tying/winning games where they were trailing with an empty net situation. Here’s what those successful attempts looked like:

1819 en successes

The 2018-19 iteration of the Caps had a pretty low success rate with the goalie pulled (12.5%) compared to this season (30.7%). We’ll have to continue to monitor these numbers going forward to see if it’s an aberration or a trend.

By Justin Trudel

About Justin Trudel

Justin is a lifelong Caps fan, with some of his first memories of the sport watching the team in the USAir Arena and the 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. Now a resident of St. Augustine, FL, Justin watches the Caps from afar. Justin graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Political Science from Towson University, and a Master's of Science in Applied Information Technology from Towson University. Justin is currently a product manager at a non-profit in Jacksonville, FL. Justin enjoys geeking out over roster construction and cap management.
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4 Responses to One Net’s Empty, But The Other is Full: Assessing The Capitals Success With The Goalie Pulled

  1. Day One Caps Fan says:

    Howdy Justin Trudel! What an excellent review of a fascinating part of our Caps team

    Caps are living a REALLY charmed life this season! It’s 29-9 halfway through the season. Ovi and Backstrom are a combined minus-18 or so, and the Top Line has been outplayed at Even strength. But other facets of the Caps game are much improved.

    If we count 6-on-5 as a sort of “Special team,” we have major team improvements based on GMBM’s offseason. He beefed-up the Penalty Kill, left the Power Play in the hands of super-skilled veterans, and we have this deadly Hail-Mary attack with 6-on-5 or 6-on-4.

    I would give six of the Caps’ wins directly in credit to GMBM and his off-season acquisitions.

    To win the Division or Conference or multiple playoff series, Caps will have to improve in just about all areas. Now we get to see if Reirden, Inc. is up to the task!

    • Anonymous says:

      Considering the Capitals ability to score goals at 6-on-5, I would strongly consider doing it earlier in the game.

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