Your players have worked hard in the defensive zone, covering their assignments and fighting to be the first to the loose puck in the corner. They’ve valiantly won back control of the puck and are transitioning up ice, looking to create a scoring chance.
So, what should be their means for transporting the puck into the offensive end of the ice?
Numerous variables should be considered, but for the sake of this article, the question is simple: should my team dump the puck in or attempt to carry it in with control?
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In 2013, Eric Tulsky, with a group of hockey data analysts, wanted to explore how different zone-entry methods impacted on-ice performance.
Their data collection method was simple. Through 330 tracked NHL games, they measured the two methods of entry and their impact on two offensive categories: the shots and the goals that were generated from each entry.
What they found was significant. Controlled entries created twice the amount of shots and goals than dumping the puck in.
The difference between the two is substantial and the discovery is what spawned many public projects like Corey Sznajder’s tracking project as well as other proprietary resources.
In 2016, The Coaches Site contributor Ryan Stimson expanded on Tulsky and others’ research, studying the impact of completed passes after a controlled zone entry. He found that with more completed passes following a controlled entry, the higher the shooting percentage of the shot attempt.
Controlled zone entries aren’t the single key to unlocking team success. Teams can find success using the dump and chase strategy as they found in some cases of the Tulsky study. However, the results are significant enough that attempting to enter the zone with control instead of dumping the puck in is worthwhile in most scenarios.
Therefore, the neutral zone play leading up to the zone entry is critical and is today’s topic of discussion.
One strategy we can learn from is by watching the Carolina Hurricanes and how they stretch the ice to take full advantage of their space in the neutral zone.
The Hurricanes play a fast-paced, up-tempo style of game. When they win back the puck in their defensive end, they love sending one forward up the ice into the neutral zone before the puck leaves the zone. What this does is it forces the opposition to assign at least one defenceman back to mark the forward, taking away a potential breakaway pass. This ultimately stretches out the opposition’s forecheck which creates passing and skating lanes for the Hurricanes to take advantage of. It relies on a responsible first pass, misdirection in the neutral zone, and for the trailing players to build speed.
In this clip against the Rangers, Trevor van Riemsdyk launches a beautiful bank pass up the ice and onto the stick of Teuvo Terravainen. Three Rangers are defending in the neutral zone and two are directly on top of Terravainen.
However, Terravainen has no intention of trying to make his way past the two Rangers players smothering him. He’s buying time and drawing in the two to create time and space for his linemates to attack with speed.