Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Puck Recovery

Overview: Crucial Habits for Good Shot Generation & Suppression

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Controlled Zone Exits



When a team enters the offensive zone the obvious goal is to, well, score a goal. Scoring goals requires taking shots. Teams that excel in generating shots have a common habit in the offensive zone: Puck Recovery. These teams aren’t “gaming Corsi” just to trick stats analysts into thinking they are good teams. The spreadsheet darlings of the hockey world control the puck and when they can’t keep possession of it, work like hell to get it back.

Situations requiring puck recovery are numerous in every area of the ice. There are three main ways to go about recovering the puck, which are sometimes used in concert to regain possession, are:

  • Being Quick to the Puck
  • Checking (hitting and/or body position)
  • Anticipation

In the Offensive Zone, puck recovery is the best way to generate shots, wear down the defense and create “mini-rushes” within the zone much as power plays are designed to do. After the play has been low in the zone, the defending team gets possession of the puck and starts to breakout. The attacking team is able to recover the puck before it leaves the zone. With most of the defending players high in the defensive zone or in the neutral zone, there are less bodies available to defend against an offensive attack. This leads to better scoring chances and oddman “mini-rush” situations.

Once the puck is in the offensive zone, the attacking team has to regain possession if they have gained entry by a dump in or chip in. Chipping the puck in requires speed, timing and far more control than a dump in. Some players really excel in this area because of the lines they take, their speed and ability to deceive the defending players. If done properly, the chip in is essentially a pass to the player himself or his linemate providing close support. Dump in entries require the attacking team to use their offensive zone forecheck system to retrieve the puck. This includes waves of pressure on the defending players, speed to the puck and depending upon the situation, hitting.

Once the team has the puck back, they can set up their offensive system to get a shot toward the goal. If the shot misses, gets blocked or rebounds off the goalie, the race is on to get the puck. Herein lies the moment where teams can truly separate themselves from the pack. If the defending team recovers the puck, they will begin their breakout to go back on the attack and the offensive team will need to transition back as well. The chance for another shot will be lost until they can regain possession. Teams that excel at shot generation do so through puck recovery in the offensive zone even after they have taken a shot, after a passing turnover and after direct turnovers. Some teams, like Chicago for instance, use speed to the puck and body position to gain leverage on the opponent contesting their bid for the puck. “Big Body” teams like Anaheim and L.A tend to use body position and heavy checking to regain possession of loose pucks.

In order to demonstrate how important puck recovery is to shot generation, I tracked several games involving some of the teams known to be good in terms of shot metrics and some that have perennially had problems in this area. This covers 5 on 5 play only. As I noted earlier, teams that are good at generating shots use different methods to get into the offensive zone. What they do in the offensive zone really sets them apart.

Below are tables showing zone entry, shots and offensive zone puck recovery at 5 on 5 for a handful of recent games. Offensive zone puck recovery is defined as getting possession of a puck that is loose in the zone, i.e. not being passed from tape to tape or dropped along the boards on the cycle, after a shot, after a turnover or tipped pass, deflection, attempted clear from the zone, etc.



Chicago vs Colorado (2/2/16)

entry chicol

L.A vs Boston (2/9/16)

oz rec 2916labos

Chicago vs Nashville (2/25/16)

oz rec 22516chinsh

Anaheim vs Colorado (3/9/16)

entry anacol

Dallas vs Tampa Bay (3/17/16)

entry tbdal

St. Louis vs Washington (3/26/16)

entry stlwsh

Instead of going through each game in detail, we’ll look at what this information shows overall. It is important to remember that this is a small sample size, but this is an interesting start to taking some of these metrics further.


Overall zone entries and shots for the attacking team are all over the map with little appreciable correlation.

UNCON ENT SHOTSUncontrolled Zone Entries show a very slightly negative correlation, but again the correlation itself is negligible.

CON ENT SHOTSControlled Zone Entries and Shots For show a positive correlation, which as mentioned above, has been proven with large studies in the past, and certainly makes logical sense. ts

When we shift our focus to zone entries and puck recovery, we see a similar pattern. The overall zone entry numbers and offensive zone puck recovery measures show a slight correlation.

ZONE ENT PUCK REC Uncontrolled entries and puck recovery vary quite a bit and register no real correlation. UNCON ENT PUCK RECControlled entries show a similar positive relationship with puck recovery as they do with shots. Where things get really interesting is when we look at Offensive Zone Puck Recovery and Shots.


Recovering the puck in the offensive zone and generating shots showed a 61.46% correlation in this sample. Obviously, this is a small sample size, but the fact that logic supports a relationship between recovering loose pucks in the offensive zone and generating shots lends credence to the findings.

In order to cut out some of the puck recovery related to the zone entry (dump ins), I then recorded only possessions in the offensive zone where the attacking team either controlled the puck upon entry or recovered the puck after an uncontrolled entry (called “possessions” in the tables and discussion).

Essentially, using possessions in contrast to zone entries revealed the team’s efficiency in using their zone entries. (This isn’t anything new, but still a useful tool.) Using possessions also allows us to get rate statistics for the other measures. I’ve detailed some of them in the tables below.



Chicago vs Colorado (2/2/16)

rec rate chicol

L.A vs Boston (2/9/16)

rec rate labos

Chicago vs Nashville (2/25/16)

rec rate chinsh

Anaheim vs Colorado (3/9/16)

rec rate anacol

Dallas vs Tampa Bay (3/17/16)

rec rate daltb

St. Louis vs Washington (3/26/16)

rec rate stlwsh

Possessions per Entry Percentage allows us to see how efficient a team is at making use of their zone entries. The higher the percentage, the higher number of entries during which the team had possession of the puck for some period of time before the defending team was able to exit the zone. This is particularly important when teams are having trouble gaining the offensive zone, because if they get there, they need to use it. Offensive Zone puck recovery per entry gives insight into efficiency as well but in order to be a good indicator of recovered dump ins or chip ins, that measure needs to be more specific to puck recovery only in that situation.

Recovery per possession is more useful here because it accounts for only the situations where the puck is in control of the attacking team at some point during or after the zone entry. A recovery per possession rate under 1.00 indicates that turnovers after the zone entry caused a loss of puck possession and allowed the defending team to exit the zone at a higher frequency. This includes situations where a player carries the puck well into the zone and then has a pass to a teammate intercepted by a defending player who then exits the zone. It is technically a possession because the zone entry succeeded (in that it went more than a few strides past the blue line) but nothing meaningful came from it in terms of generating shots or getting the offense set up.

Shots per possession are just another way of framing shot rates but we remove the unrecovered, uncontrolled entries and the like. It gives a truer measure of a team’s shot generation when they have successfully gained the zone and recovered the puck on uncontrolled entries allowing them to try to set up the offensive attack.

The most useful measure we get here, in my opinion, is when we take the difference between Recovery per Possession and subtract the Turnovers per Possession. I like using this on a period by period basis because it tends to give a more accurate picture of a team’s play. One of the biggest complaints about using turnover statistics including rates is that if you have the puck a lot, a good thing, you will also have more turnovers than teams that do not have the puck a lot, a bad thing.

This is a good time to mention that using the NHL’s official takeaway/giveaway statistics is not advisable in any situation. Even if it is just for a quick media piece, I would not do it. Not only are these measures inaccurate, they are rife with bias and inconsistency on the part of the official scorers. What a giveaway is in one arena is completely different than what it is in another arena. Some scorers are more liberal with their interpretation of the definitions of takeaways and giveaways while some are very strict. Either way, they are still under recorded in every arena and so inconsistently so that we cannot come up with a reasonable “fix” to make them more representative of what is happening on the ice. The Passing and Direct Turnover numbers I have used here are those that I tracked myself, so even if my interpretation is a little different than yours, at least it is consistent from game to game.   With that said, back to the Recovery/Turnover Rate Differential…

The higher the Recovery/Turnover Rate Differential (Rec-X Diff), the better. It indicates that the attacking team is recovering loose pucks in the offensive zone at a higher rate (more frequently) than they are turning it over. As discussed earlier, puck recovery closely correlates with shot generation. Teams that have the puck a lot turn it over a lot but this metric lets us see which of these teams also get the puck back a lot even if they have turned it over.

For example, in the game between Chicago and Colorado, the Avalanche had negative Recovery/Turnover Differentials in the first two periods of the game. Colorado gained the zone with the puck or recovered their uncontrolled entries, but they had trouble keeping the puck due to turnovers and weren’t able to get the puck back before Chicago exited the zone. Their Shots/Possession rate suffered greatly as a result and they were only able to generate nine shots at 5v5 in the first period while Chicago generated twenty-eight shots during the same time. In the third period, Colorado limited their turnovers and increased their puck recovery in the offensive zone, particularly after taking a shot, which resulted in a positive Recovery/Turnover Differential and their Shots/Possession rate dramatically increased. They were able to generate seventeen shots during that period.

These measures involve puck and shot recovery in the offensive zone exclusively so they paint a more accurate picture of what the teams did when they got into the offensive zone without intermingling what their opponent did while on the attack. If we expand this a bit, we can move our analysis of how teams create shots from individual periods of possession to sustained periods of offensive pressure, which we will explore in the next post.



7 thoughts on “Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Puck Recovery

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