Puck Management

I’ve read that in an average NHL game, the puck changes possession between 200 and 400 times. Thus the question becomes not if you are going to turn the puck over or lose possession, but when or where. No matter what sport you play you want to limit the number of turnovers you have, however hockey is just like real estate – location, location, location.

For the rest of this post, keep in mind that I am not advocating turning the puck over, merely discussing best case scenarios for changes of possession.

Generally speaking, the closer you get to the middle of the ice, the more dangerous a turnover becomes. Turnovers also become more dangerous the closer they occur to your net. Dumping a puck into the corner of the offensive zone away from your opponent is one of the least threatening changes of possession. It is away from the middle of the ice and far away from your own net.

Why do cross-ice passes in the defensive zone have a tendency to drive coaches crazy? Why do most coaches advocate for “glass and out”? Why do practices include drill activities such as “chip and flood” and “post-up”? Because plays on the walls in the defensive and neutral zone have the lowest chance of resulting in an immediate threat.

In the offensive zone, it is extremely rare to have a turnover behind the net to directly result in a chance against. However, how often do you see a D-man turn the puck over at the point and then see your opponent celebrating a goal? Losing the puck low in the zone gives your team an opportunity to recover and play cohesive defense. Giving the puck away at the point gives your opponent a huge transition opportunity.

Puck management in an offensive sense is all about putting the puck is a place that your teammate anticipates and can easily retrieve the puck. This includes concepts such as cycling, net front releases, high rolls, D-D plays and releases, posting in the neutral zone, smart dumps, hard rims, and many other plays. The prevailing principle is maintaining possession by playing the puck to space. Reading the play and anticipating your teammates is a major part of offensive puck management.

Puck management is a principle that is both a defensive and an offensive concept. Hockey is a flow sport. This means that everything that happens is simultaneously offensive and defensive in nature. Puck management is all about putting you and your teammates in the best position to maintain possession, regain possession, or play effective defensive hockey.

Watching the Blues and Red Wings game tonight, the Wings were struggling with their puck management decisions at the beginning of the first period. Early on, they were putting the puck in risky places and giving the puck away in places that represented a direct threat against their net. As they have improved their puck decisions, they have begun to play much better – limiting the chances of the Blues and beginning to control the play on the offensive end.

Improving your puck management is on of the surest ways to improve your game and improve your chances of winning. Puck management will allow you to control the game through possession and limit the chances of your opponent, giving you a great opportunity to win the game.

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