Empty Net in Hockey

What Does Empty Net Mean in Hockey? Complete Details


In most hockey games, it’s not uncommon for the team behind on the scoreboard to pull their goalie for an extra attacker. This creates a “power play” environment as the team with the extra skater tries to score a goal. This situation is known as an “empty net” in hockey and can be a game-changing strategy.

In this blog post, we’ll break down the different types of empty net situations, the pros and cons of running an empty net, strategies for playing against an empty net, rules, and regulations surrounding empty nets in hockey, and ways to take advantage of empty nets during the game.

What Exactly is an Empty Net in the Game of Hockey?

An empty net in hockey is when a team decides to pull their goalie for an extra attacker, they’re making a bold move to increase their chances of scoring! This strategy is usually used when the opposing team is leading by a goal or two and can be very effective, as it gives the trailing team more players on the ice to try and score the tying or go-ahead goal. 

However, it’s important to note that this strategy is not without its risks. The team with the extra attacker has an advantage, but they also have a lot more to defend against if the other team scores what’s known as a “shorthanded goal”. 


The Different Types of Empty Net Situations

There are three common types of empty net situations in hockey:

Standard empty net: This situation occurs when the team behind removes their goalie in the game’s final minutes to try and score a tying goal. The other team will try to score on the empty net to create a two-goal cushion.

Delayed penalty empty net: This situation occurs when the team behind receives a penalty, and while they’re on the penalty kill, they decide to pull their goalie for an extra attacker. It allows the team on the power play to take shots at the empty net without the risk of losing possession.

Double empty net: This situation occurs when both teams decide to pull their goalies for an extra attacker in a last-ditch effort to win in regulation. It is a rare situation in hockey games but an exciting one to watch.


Pros and Cons of Running an Empty Net

Running an empty net can be a risky strategy. On the one hand, it can help a team come back from behind and tie or win a game. On the other hand, if the opposing team manages to score a goal on the empty net, it can lead to a two-goal lead and damage a team’s chances of winning. In addition, an empty net can also leave a team exposed to breakaways and turnovers, which can be especially frustrating for a goalie who was already pulled.


Strategies for Playing Against an Empty Net

When playing against a team with an empty net, the main strategy is to keep the puck away from them. It means attacking aggressively and taking shots on goal, but also being mindful of making any risky passes. It’s also important to maintain defensive pressure and not let the opposing team gain possession of the puck. Finally, keeping the puck behind the net can help waste time and prevent the other team from scoring.


Rules and Regulations Surrounding Empty Nets in Hockey

According to NHL rules, if a player on the opposing side of the team touches the puck after the other team’s goalie has been pulled but before a goal has been scored, the play shall be ruled offside. In addition, if a player on the opposing team delays the game by shooting the puck out of bounds, delaying play, or interfering with a player trying to retrieve the puck, a penalty shot will be awarded to the other team.


Ways to Take Advantage of Empty Nets During the Game

When a team has an empty net, they’re essentially playing with a sixth attacker. It means they have more options when it comes to scoring opportunities. Strategies such as having a player position themselves in front of the net to screen the opposing goalie or using a drop pass to set up a one-timer can help increase the chances of scoring on an empty net.


Common Misconceptions About the Empty Net

There are some common misconceptions about the empty net strategy that deserve clarification:

  • It’s a Desperate Move

While pulling the goalie can seem desperate, it’s a calculated risk employed strategically by coaches to increase the chances of a favorable outcome.

  • It Guarantees a Goal

Adding an extra attacker does not guarantee a goal. The opposing team may employ a strong defensive strategy to thwart the efforts of the attacking team.

  • It Always Leads to an Empty Net Goal

Pulling the goalie doesn’t always result in an empty net goal. Teams often manage to defend effectively and prevent their opponents from scoring.

  • It’s Only Used in High-Scoring Games

Coaches may opt to pull the goalie in low-scoring games too, especially when the clock is running down and they need to equalize.


Empty net in Hockey

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When is the best time to pull the goalie?

Coaches usually pull the goalie in the last minute or two of a close game when their team is trailing by one or two goals.

How often does pulling the goalie lead to a game-tying goal?

While there are no exact statistics, pulling the goalie increases a team’s chances of tying the game, making the final moments more exciting.

Can the team on offense pull the goalie at any time?

Yes, the team on offense can pull their goalie whenever they deem it necessary, but it’s typically done during the latter part of the game.

Has pulling the goalie ever backfired spectacularly?

There have been instances where pulling the goalie resulted in the opposing team scoring an empty net goal, securing their victory.

Are there any risks to pulling the goalie earlier in the game?

Pulling the goalie earlier poses a higher risk, as the opposing team has more time to capitalize on the empty net.

Can the goalie re-enter the game after being pulled?

No, once the goalie is pulled and replaced by an extra skater, they cannot re-enter the game until the next stoppage in play.



Empty net situations in hockey can be a game-changer, and understanding the different types of empty nets, the pros and cons of running an empty net, strategies for playing against it, rules and regulations surrounding empty nets, and ways to take advantage of it can help increase your hockey IQ. The next time you watch a game, keep an eye on whether a team decides to pull the goalie for an extra attacker and watch how the opposing team responds. Happy watching!

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