Sheary’s Goal Was One of the Earliest Empty Netters Scored in an NHL Game

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Posted March 18, 2022

Conor Sheary set an NHL record, we believe. (Caps Outsider)

When the Columbus Blue Jackets inexplicably pulled their goalie on a 4-on-4 with about 12 minutes left in the game, down 5-2, Conor Sheary swooped in and scored on an empty netter at 12:39.

That was one of the earliest, if not the earliest, non-penalty-related empty net goals in NHL history. According to @Sportradar, Sheary’s goal was the second earliest scored in a third period in NHL history. But the earliest EN goal – scored on Nov. 28, 1979 – happened on a delayed penalty own-goal, credited to Islanders goalie Billy Smith. That play, while rare, isn’t the same as a team pulling a goalie in desperation, which Caps fans know all too well as it happened to Carl Hagelin earlier this season.

Other notable empties we found while looking this up: In an April 1970 game, the Montreal Canadiens needed to score goals late in the season due to a playoff-eligible tie breaker, so they pulled their goalie with 9 minutes and 30 seconds left, and didn’t put the goalie back. The Blackhawks scored five empty netters, which is an NHL record.

One coach in particular made it more common to pull goalies earlier in recent years. Patrick Roy, while with the Avalanche, pulled the goalie with about 12 minutes remaining in the game. No empty-netter was scored, though. Since then, coaches have been regularly pulling goalies earlier and earlier in games.

We trust Sportradar’s research on this but can’t conclusively say that Sheary’s goal is the earliest empty-netter scored in a game, only because it’s possible records weren’t kept as well in the earlier years of the NHL, and the research only looked at the third period. That said, it would make little sense for a team to pull a goalie in the first or second period out of desperation, except if there were just a few seconds left in the period in an offensive-zone faceoff. But it’s unlikely that an empty-netter would have been scored in that scenario.

We’ll keep an eye on this to see if other information comes out, but for now, it’s safe to say this is a Caps record, at the very least, and most likely an NHL record.