We’ve covered offensive zone entries, puck recovery and game flow so far in our discussions of Shot Generation. Now it’s time to see how teams use the neutral zone to boost their shot generation.
IN THE NEUTRAL ZONE
If the puck gets into the Neutral Zone, the task of recovering the puck doesn’t just end. The same relentless pursuit of the puck that happened in the offensive zone continues. If the attacking team is able to regain possession in the neutral zone, they can either quickly get the puck back into the offensive zone or send the puck back into their own defensive zone for a regroup or controlled breakout. As I mentioned before the mantra of good shot generation teams should be: Recover, Regroup & Relaunch The Attack. These same principles apply to the neutral zone.
NEUTRAL ZONE PUCK RECOVERY
|TEAM (GAME)||1ST PERIOD||2ND PERIOD||3RD PERIOD||TOTAL NZ REC|
|CHI (2/21/16 v COL)||14||14||9||37|
|COL (2/21/16 v CHI)||6||8||8||22|
|ANA (3/9/16 v COL)||10||12||12||34|
|COL (3/9/16 v ANA)||5||8||11||24|
|DAL (3/17/16 v T.B)||17||19||15||51|
|T.B (3/17/16 v DAL)||12||10||16||38|
|L.A (2/9/16 v BOS)||14||8||7||29|
|BOS (2/9/16 v L.A)||8||9||10||27|
|CHI (2/25/16 v NSH)||15||12||17||44|
|NSH (2/25/16 v CHI)||6||10||16||32|
|STL (3/26/16 v WSH)||10||6||11||27|
|WSH (3/26/16 v STL)||10||10||11||31|
REGROUP & RELAUNCH
|TEAM (GAME)||1ST PERIOD||2ND PERIOD||3RD PERIOD||TOTAL REGROUPS|
|CHI (2/21/16 v COL)||14||12||8||34|
|COL (2/21/16 v CHI)||9||9||7||25|
|ANA (3/9/16 v COL)||19||14||17||50|
|COL (3/9/16 v ANA)||15||13||9||37|
|DAL (3/17/16 v T.B)||14||6||15||35|
|T.B (3/17/16 v DAL)||14||15||18||47|
|L.A (2/9/16 v BOS)||10||4||5||19|
|BOS (2/9/16 v L.A)||7||10||4||21|
|CHI (2/25/16 v NSH)||14||12||17||43|
|NSH (2/25/16 v CHI)||8||14||9||31|
|STL (3/26/16 v WSH)||10||4||10||24|
|WSH (3/26/16 v STL)||11||6||17||34|
Most teams prefer to use regroups where the defensemen maintain possession near their defensive zone faceoff circles while the forwards build up speed and create separation from checking players to provide passing options for the zone entry. Despite the fact that the defensemen drop back across their own defensive blue line, these are called Neutral Zone Regroups. Occasionally, due to heavy pressure from the opponent’s neutral zone forecheck, the defenseman will take the puck and hold it behind his goalie’s net while all of this happens (controlled breakout).
Regroups and controlled breakouts are the optimal time for line changes to be accomplished because possession of the puck is maintained. This is certainly preferable to dumping the puck into the offensive zone and then changing personnel, because not only is possession relinquished, but the far boards (away from the benches) are often unoccupied long enough for the opponent to quickly move the puck into the offensive zone with minimal resistance.
Recovering the puck in the neutral zone happens in a few common ways. When the defending team dumps or chips the puck out of their defensive zone, the players covering the points for the attacking team usually have the shortest distance to cover to get that puck. At this point, some team elect to forego the regroup and simply shoot the puck back into the offensive zone. These tend to be teams that are very confident that their offensive zone forecheck can get the puck back or those who know the defending players on the ice are tired and in need of a line change. Others use this opportunity to drop back and regroup, sometimes completing a line change, in order to relaunch their offensive attack.
Loose pucks in the neutral zone also come from poor or deflected passes, turnovers directly off of the puck carrier’s stick, or from failed zone entry attempts where a defending player pokes the puck away at the blue line. Teams that excel at shot generation give no quarter in the neutral zone. There are no easy passes or loose pucks whose recovery goes uncontested. The mindset is always on aggressively trying to get the puck back.
Aggressive puck recovery in the neutral zone is a great way to shorten the ice. If teams can avoid having to get the puck back in the defensive zone and instead gain possession while the puck is in transition, the opposing team will have a more difficult time using pressure, i.e. a full offensive zone forecheck, to get the puck back. This is how consecutive possessions are built.
Early in the second period of the L.A-Boston game on February 9, 2016, the Kings built a 4 possession attack like this:
- Gained the zone: 1 pass, 1 turnover
- Regained possession in the neutral zone, attacked again: 1 shot, recovered by Boston
- A regained possession in the neutral zone, attacked again: 1 pass, 1 shot, earned an offensive zone faceoff
- Offensive Zone Faceoff: 2 passes, 1 passing turnover (recovered), 1 shot (scored a goal)
Chicago did something similar on February 25, 2016 against Nashville:
- Carried the puck into the zone: 1 pass, 1 shot
- Nashville recovered the shot, controlled zone exit, dumped the puck into offensive zone for a line change
- Chicago regrouped, carried puck into offensive zone, pass, shot, faceoff earned
- Offensive zone faceoff: lost, recovered failed zone clearing attempt, pass, shot
- Nashville recovered the shot, passing turnover on the zone exit to Chicago defenseman near his blue line, Chicago recovered the puck in the neutral zone
- Chicago dumped the puck in, Nashville recovered but under heavy forechecking pressure, dumped the puck out of the zone where it was immediately recovered by a Chicago forward in the neutral zone
- Chicago regrouped, carried the puck in, 5 passes, failed keep at the blue line, Chicago recovered the puck
- Chicago regrouped, carried the puck into the zone, direct turnover, Chicago recovered, 4 passes, 1 shot (Scored a goal)
Neutral zone puck recovery is critical to stringing together periods of possession in the offensive zone. The more this is done, the more opportunities the team has to generate shots and the less time they spend in their defensive zone. The fatigue factor for the defending team also opens the door for a multishot possession during that string of consecutive possession further increasing the opportunity to score. The post on Shot Generation & Game Flow (link at the top of the page) puts the numbers to the offensive zone possessions that aggressive puck recovery in the neutral zone leads to, if you would like to peruse that.