The Anatomy of the Goalie Pull

Steve Valiquette explains the reasons why coaches have to pull goalies from games and provides examples of "red goals" that force starting goalies to the bench.

Being pulled from a game is one of the most frustrating aspects of being a goaltender.

But when a goalie gets pulled, it isn’t always the fault of the netminder. Coaches have to assess what is happening in the game and adjust accordingly. Coaches may consult with their staff when going through their multiple options.

A coach may consider removing a goaltender from the game because his team is hanging him out to dry. In essence, he is protecting the goaltender from the team. If Mario Tremblay had used this in 1995, Patrick Roy may never have left Montreal. The “mercy pull” and the “rest pull” are close cousins of protecting the goaltender. Tremblay chose to leave Roy in the game instead of sparing him from being lit up. This option can potentially be contentious and should only be done in if your goaltender has the temperament to handle the onslaught.

A coach will also try to change the momentum of a game with a quick pull early in a game. In essence, he is trying to send a message to the team by sacrificing the goaltender in hopes that the team can turn their game around.

The worst thing that can happen to a goaltender is being pulled for a bad play or goal. When this occurs, a goaltender has to absorb the embarrassment of the play as well as the shame of being called out by the coach in front of everybody without the opportunity to make up for it. The aggressive hat adjustment sometimes follows as they take their spot in shame.

On Jan. 3, six starting goalies were pulled from the game. We took a look at each individual to see the scenario and if it was earned or if the coach was saving his netminder from his team.

Victim number one was Darcy Kuemper. His night started out with a bad goal and it was all downhill from there. He got yanked after a four-minute sequence in the second period where he gave up three goals on seven shots. Trailing 4-0, Kuemper got the “Mercy/Change Momentum Pull.” Kuemper started one more game for the Wild before they acquired Devan Dubnyk and he hasn’t started since, facing only 14 shots since Jan. 6. You can kind of call it an end-of-season pull.

Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards went with the “protect-your-starter pull” with Bobrovsky. The former Vezina Trophy winner couldn’t survive the onslaught of the Arizona Coyotes and gave up six goals. Two of the six goals were high-quality opportunities born of broken plays, but two low-percentage red goals resulted in Bobrovsky coming up five minutes short of a complete game.

Jonathan Quick was the beneficiary of a “rest-your-starter pull.” He didn’t last 10 minutes and gave up three goals on nine shots. He suffered some bad luck — the first two green goals were the result of broken plays — but Kings coach Darryl Sutter decided to give him the night off after a red goal beat him. Quick and his save percentage were the beneficiaries and the game ended in a 7-6 overtime loss for the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Michal Neuvirth got the early hook at The Garden after allowing four goals on nine shots. Sabres coach Ted Nolan was looking to change momentum and save his goalie from his team’s poor play. Nolan decided to pull Neuvirth and the now-former Sabre avoided further embarrassment after getting the hook.


Both Antti Niemi and Ray Emery gave up two low-percentage red goals. Giving up two goals of this nature will result in a loss in most cases and the goaltender will have to watch the remainder of the game from the bench supporting the team’s hat sales as they market the newest model.

In all of these instances, each pulled goaltender coughed up a low-percentage red goal. The optics of that can be very influential in the decision to let them soldier on or get the rest of the night off. Unless you’re Grant Fuhr — the lead goalie for the 1985 Edmonton Oilers — you’re bound to have an early night if you give up two red goals.