What is an empty net goal in hockey?

If the score is within one goal with 2 minutes or less in a hockey game there is one thing you will definitely see – an empty net at one end of the rink. Why is this and what does it mean to score into this empty net?

What is an empty net goal in hockey? An empty net goal occurs when a team has pulled the goalie out of the net to place an extra attacker onto the ice to attempt to score, and, instead, while the goalie is pulled the opposition scores into the now empty net. So when team gets scored on when their goalie is pulled that is an empty net goal.

Empty Net StatsCareer Empty Net GoalsDelayed Penalty Empty NetMost Famous Empty Net Goal

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Why is the net empty?


Hockey games are usually one goal affairs. That means the score at the end of games will often be only a goal apart. For example, a typical score is 3-2 or 4-3.

When a team is trailing by one goal with only a few minutes to go a strategy to try and tie up the game before the end of regulation is to pull the goalie. 

Pulling the goalie means that the goalie will physically skate from his net to the bench, and be replaced by an extra attacker, who will now go and help his team score. The extra attacker is now able to help his team overload the other team and hopefully create mismatches in the offensive zone giving them a better opportunity to score. 

Of course while the goalie is pulled and the extra attacker is on, the goalie net will be empty – very dangerous!

Pulling the goalie is a high risk play, because it is extremely difficult to keep the puck from the opponent for any length of time. So when your opponent eventually gets the puck back they will have the opportunity to shoot on an empty net. 

Players will try to prevent any shot on the open net, and sometimes they do. However, if a shot gets off at an open net it usually goes in – even when being defended or blocked by one of the defensemen. These guys are just too good to miss empty nets.

So when a player scores on the net when the goalie has been pulled that is an empty net goal.


How often are they scored on when they goalie is pulled?


Well, let’s look at the stats from the 2018-19 season.

Empty Net OpportunitiesGoals Scored with Empty NetGoals Allowed on Empty NetNo Goals Scored
892153392347
Percentage Totals17%44%39%

Source

When you pull your goalie from the net you can expect to get scored on almost half the time at 44%. Teams actually scored with an empty net and the extra attacker more than I thought at 17% of the time.

And 39% of the time a goal was neither scored to help tie up the game or into an empty net.


Empty net goals on the scoresheet


When you look at the box score or stat sheet of a game the empty net goal will have a special designation on it. Let’s take a look at an example

Goal: Johnny Gaudreau (35) ASST: Sean Monohan (40), Lindholm (45) (en)

What this is telling us is that Gaudreau scored his 35th goal of the season, and it was assisted my Monohan, who now has 40 assists, and Lindholm, who now has 45 assists. The ‘en’ in brackets indicates that it was scored into an empty net.

Some of the abbreviations you will see by goals are:

(sh) – shorthanded

(pp) – powerplay

(en) – empty net


Most Career Empty Net Goals


Yes, empty net goals count towards a players personal statistics. And players end up scoring a lot of them over their career. 

Here are the top 5 all-time empty net goal scorers:

PlayerCareer Empty Net Goals
Wayne Gretzky56
Marian Hossa40
Mario Lemieux33
Alex Ovechkin33
Jarome Iginla32

Source


Delayed penalty empty net goal


When a penalty is called against a team, but the team that is not penalized still has the puck the referee will not blow the whistle. The rules of the game allow the non-penalized team to try and keep on scoring until the team that is penalized touches the puck. This makes sense because why should you stop the play when a team that has done nothing wrong has a chance to score?

So when this happens it is called a delayed penalty. The referee will raise his hand but not blow the whistle, but everyone knows that a penalty is coming once the penalized team touches the puck. Since the penalized team does not have opportunity to score the team going on the power play will pull their goalie to get an extra attacker on the ice.

This works so well, so much of the time. However, there have been a few cases where the team that has pulled their goalie during a delayed penalty have actually scored on their empty net!

The most common scenario of scoring on your own empty net would be a forward passing the puck to a defensemen so he can take a shot, and the pass misses the defensemen and goes into their own net.

This is technically not designated as an empty net goal on the stat sheets, but an even strength goal. The player who last touched the puck for the penalized team will get credit for the goal.

Most famous empty net goal ever!


Wayne Gretzky scored what was probably the most famous empty net goal ever.

In December of 1991 Gretzky was looking to become the first player to score 50 goals in 40 games of less. In the 39th game of the season Gretzky sat at 45 goals.

He would go onto score 5 goals against the Philadelphia Flyers that night with the last one being an empty net to be the first player to score 50 goals in less than 40 games. No player has done or probably ever will do this again!

Here is Gretzky breaking the record:

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