What Is An Empty Net Goal In Ice Hockey?

What Is An Empty Net Goal In Ice Hockey?

Ever seen an ice hockey game where the goaltender abandons the net, causing the opposing team to score a goal? If yes, then you just experienced an “Empty Net Goal”. If you are new to ice hockey or just new to the term “Empty Net”, this article will cover everything you will need to know. Let’s begin. 

What Is An Empty Net Goal?

Empty Net Goal

It is a goal scored when there is no goalie guarding the net. In simple terms, an empty goal occurs when a team pulls its goalie, and the opposing team scores into the empty (unguarded) net. Empty Net Goal is abbreviated as ENG or EN on ice hockey stats. It is causally called an Empty Netter by fans of the game

So how do you identify an empty goal, and what counts as an empty net goal? 

Generally, a team must have pulled their goalie in exchange for an extra attacker on the ice when a goal against the team is scored to be considered an empty net goal.  Since the goalie is no longer guarding the net, this leaves ample scoring opportunity for the opposing team to shoot the puck into the net. 

It is relatively more complex for a team to guard the puck when the goaltender is not on the ice. Even though the defensemen are in position, the duty and effectiveness of a goalie can not be substituted for their role. 

So whenever you see a team has six skaters (typically, a team is to have five skaters) and no goalie when its opposing team scores a goal, then that is an empty net goal.

Pulling The Goalie

Pulling The Goalie

The term “Pulling the Goalie” is used to describe when a team calls a goalie to the bench in other to put an extra skater on the ice. However, ice hockey rules only allow this if the team has no player in the penalty box.

The ability of a team to replace their goalie with an attacker is allowed in ice hockey. Ice hockey rules state that each team can have a maximum of six players at any time (one goalie and five skates). A team is allowed to trade their goaltender for an extra player during certain occasions; this will be discussed later. When this happens, the team ends up with six players, all of which are skaters with no goalie, giving them the man advantage. 

Is Pulling A Goalie Worth It?

Is it advisable to pull a goalie even though the risk is higher than the benefit? It simply depends on what is at stake. Whenever the coach of a team believes that even though the odds of winning are very low, especially at the final minute, he can opt for pulling his team’s goalie, hoping that it gives them the leverage to at least settle for a tie.

It is simply sacrificing your goalie for an extra skater. It could work out for a team and they could score a goal or two to tie the game. Also, it could backfire and lead to an empty net goal from the opposing team.

An instance occurred during the game on the 17th of October, 2021, between the Nashville Predators and the Califonia Hurricanes. The Predators were behind in goals (1-2) and decided to pull out their goal towards the end of the third period. 

The Predators would eventually pay the price as the Hurricanes would score an Empty net goal 72 seconds to the end of the game (1-3). Later, when it was 44.7 seconds to the end of the third period, the Predator would gain the advantage with the extra attacker to score a second goal (2-3).

How Often Do Empty Net Goals Occur?

Empty Net Goals occur pretty often in ice hockey. In every game, there is a high chance of a game of a team pulling its goalie in one of the periods. Consequentially, once a team pulls its goalie, an empty net goal is inevitable. 

If you like watching hockey games, you will experience many empty net goals occasionally. 

Reason Why Teams Pull The Goalie

Reason For Pulling The Goalie

Pulling The Goalie is a high-risk decision which can be a major game changer for the team using it or backfire and end up finalising their defeat. Even though it gives the team a man advantage by having six skaters instead of five, it also leaves a hole in the team’s net. 

Now, let us look at why a team might decide to make this risky decision.

To Tie The Game

The decision to pull a goalie mostly occurs during the final minutes of the game when a team is either a goal or two goals from tying the game. During this period, a team may decide that it has a higher chance of tying the game and taking the game into overtime if it pulls its goalie for a forward. 

This occurs quite often in the NHL, usually during the last two minutes of the final period. Even though it isn’t always effective, some teams get successful in scoring a game-tying goal (GTG). 

Taking Advantage Of A Delayed Penalty

There are instances in ice hockey when an infraction is committed by a team, but the referee does not call for the stoppage of play immediately. This is called a Delayed Penalty. Most times, the referee doesn’t call for a stoppage of play because the non-offending team still possesses the puck, and a stoppage can cost them a goal opportunity. 

So what happens is the referee raises his hand to indicate that a foul has occurred but doesn’t blow the whistle to stop the game. The game will continue until any member of the opposing team gains possession of the puck. It is at this moment that a penalty will be called. 

During the period of the delayed penalty, the non-offending team may decide to temporarily pull their goalie since a penalty will be called immediate possession changes. 

Top 10 Players With The Most Empty Net Goals

NHL Players With The Most Empty Net Goals

Currently, Wayne Gretzky holds the record for most empty net goals. However, Alexander Ovechkin is close to breaking that record. Whereas Gretzky is no longer playing, Ovechkin still has a lot of games before he hits the sack.

Below is a table that shows the top 10 players in the NHL with the most career empty net goals. 

PositionNameEmpty Net Goals
1Wayne Gretzky56
2Alexander Ovechkin54
3Marian Hossa40
4Eric Staal33
5Mario Lemieux33
6Brad Marchand32
7Jarome Iginla32
8Blaker Wheeler29
9Zach Parise29
10Joe Thornton29
Data From statmuse.com


And now, we have come to the end of this article on what an Empty Net Goal is in ice hockey. Now that you understand what it is to pull a goalie and why ice hockey teams pull their goalie, you should better understand the game. 

Also, you should understand the risk involved in pulling a goalie. With this knowledge, ice hockey games should be more fun to watch. Thanks for reading. 

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