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Penguins coach Mike Sullivan wary of goalie-pulling trend

Jonathan Bombulie
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Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, right, and assistant Jacques Martin talk to the team during a preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018.

Pittsburgh Penguins fans got an up-close look for the first time Thursday night at a trend that is sweeping the nation.

Hockey coaches whose team trails by a goal in the third period are pulling their goalies earlier than ever before.

On Thursday night, Toronto’s Mike Babcock pulled goalie Frederik Andersen with three minutes left. The Penguins scored an empty netter in less than a minute and went on to a 3-0 victory, but the math behind the decision was sound.

Earlier this year, a billionaire hedge fund manager and a risk assessment specialist with a degree in applied mathematics from Harvard and an MBA in finance and statistics from the University of Chicago wrote a paper about pulling goalies. It was publicized on popular author Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast.

The study showed, mathematically speaking, the optimal time for a team trailing by one to pull its goalie is with about six minutes left in a game. A team down by two should pull its goalie with 13 minutes left.

NHL coaches haven’t yet gone quite that far, but they have begun to summon their goalie to the bench earlier and earlier.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said he’s aware of the research, calling it an “interesting discussion.” He’s not ready to jump head-first into the early pull pool just yet.

“There are so many variables that are associated with those situations,” Sullivan said. “It’s very difficult, in my mind, to quantify the perfect time. I think it’s more about having a gut feeling. I think that’s probably the art of coaching, where you know your team, you have a feel for how the game is going. Based on that, you can try to make the best decision for your team.”

Follow the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan at [email protected] or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.

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