When Is The Right Time To Switch Goalies Mid-Game?

Maybe there is no right time, or wrong time?

When the Toronto Maple Leafs scored three goals in quick succession on Tuesday night, taking an early 3-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game, perhaps that could have been a time where Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato swapped his goaltenders.

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had allowed three goals on six shots, a rough start to the evening. Instead of yanking him out of the net, though, Granato kept the 23-year-old in.

Less than five minutes later, Luukkonen was finally pulled - but not until after he’d allowed a fourth goal against. He faced 10 shots in 12:09 before Craig Anderson came in to his relief.

Over the course of the season, and particularly as of late, it’s becoming a bit of a pattern for the Sabres. The team relinquishes three, or even four, goals in a short time span, and Granato either appears hesitant to swap goaltenders, or straight-up does not switch.

We don’t need to go far back to see another similar example. On February 13, Craig Anderson allowed four goals against in under 10 minutes against the Los Angeles Kings. This time, it wasn’t at the beginning of the game, but rather in the second period. Still, the Sabres found themselves down by a quartet of goals, with a whole period of hockey to play - and no goalie change was made. Instead, the Kings scored a few minutes into the third period, and though the Sabres did get a pair of goals in the last half of the third, Buffalo fell 5-2.

On February 11, that dreadful game against the Calgary Flames, Luukkonen allowed four goals against in 5:22. The Sabres were up 2-0 prior to that, and the series of goals against completely changed the momentum of the game. There was no goalie change, and Calgary put on three more in the third period to win 7-2.

Those are just the three most recent examples. Perhaps, if I were to go back through other games this season, I’d find even more. (I’m sure the DBTB readers will share some in the comments, if there are indeed more.)

I’m not privy to the inner workings of Granato’s mind. Maybe he wants his goaltenders to stand taller and face the adversity, ride it out. There’s something to be said for doing that. Maybe he wants to give his team a chance to crawl back with things as they are. But what if, in order to give them that best chance to win, a goaltending swap would be the move?

It’s not necessarily about ‘punishing’ the goaltender, or the team. It’s about positioning the team best for success, and every game may be different. Of course, it doesn’t completely fall on the goaltender, either. Your defense has to block some shots and get in lanes, too. Your offense needs to step up and pick up the puck here and there. It’s also about how your players play in front of each of the team’s three goalies. But it’s also seeming to become a pattern for the Sabres, and that can be a problem. Giving up three or four quick goals, and then keeping things status quo in net. Nothing changes unless something changes, right?