Scoring Chances

There are many ways to measure performance in a game – eye test, scoresheet, standard metrics, advanced metrics, etc.

To me, the best indicator of overall performance is Scoring Chances. We define a scoring chance as any shot on net from within the “scoring area” (inside the dots and below the tops of the circles).Statistically speaking, NHL goalies have a .855 save percentage inside the scoring area, and a .958 save percentage outside of it (reference: Any shot from within the “scoring area” has a much greater chance of beating the goaltender.

Scoring Area

Why do I consider this the best indicator of performance? Critical moments. Scoring chances are the critical moments in any game that dictate the outcome. There are thousands of innocuous plays in every hockey game, but only about 20-40 that qualify as a scoring chance. How you perform in these instances says a lot about how you played the game.

How do we measure scoring chances? After every game, I go through and watch every shot for and against. The shots that are released from within the scoring area are recorded as scoring chances. I then record responsibility for each chance – for and against. This is the subjective part of scoring chances, sometimes it is hard to say who is more responsible for a certain play. We assign primary and secondary responsibility for every play – the difference between primary and secondary is sometimes marginal, but there are almost always at least two players who could have changed the outcome of the play. I don’t look at primary vs secondary very often, mostly overall scoring chance +/- (your involvement in chances for minus your involvement in chances against).

We also measure a stat called absolute scoring chances. Absolute scoring chances measures the number of chances for and against while you were on the ice, regardless of involvement in the play. This indicates if a player, line, d pair is more of a positive or negative influence on the game overall. I also feel this is a good indicator of matchups – if you were playing against an opponents top line and were even or better in absolute scoring chances, that is a good game.

Here is a look at our stat sheet from after a typical game:


Total +/- indicates a player’s involvement (primary or secondary) in scoring chances. Absolute +/- is their on ice presence for any even strength scoring chance. In this game, two players had poor performances (-4 and -5 total) while a few (the +2s total and +3 and +4 absolute) had good performances.

While there is always a big picture evaluation, scoring chances gives you a snapshot of who was involved and who influenced the game in a positive or a negative manner. Teaching through scoring chances gives you an opportunity to improve your performance in the critical moments that define a hockey game.

AHCA – Paul Dennis Psychological Performance

Paul Dennis is the Player Development Coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He spoke about Psychological Performance and what it takes to perform at your best. He focused on affirmation vs doubt and how focus on failure results in failure. He advocated for spending time on mental training and working with your players to help them achieve their best performance. Here are some of the highlights from his talk:

– There are two games: the game vs your opponent and the game inside your own mind

– A busy mind = variable performance

– Confidence, coping with pressure and mental toughness are the most important traits of successful athletes

– “Always prepare for the moment, don’t wait for the moment to prepare” – George Armstrong

– “The separation is in the preparation” – Russell Wilson

– Gamer vs Victim Mindset: A victim has an outside-in approach, focus on what they can’t control; Gamer has inside-out approach, chooses to do what he can do, bring it every practice

– Emotions are contagious, we respond to each other’s feelings. The leader often sets the emotional tone for the group – leaders need to manage their feelings well

– It is important to take care of yourself as a leader – rested, physically fit, eating well. Stress depletes our willpower, diminishing our ability to control our emotions. The more you take care of yourself, the stronger your willpower will be.

– Playing to Win vs Playing Not to Lose: soccer players taking PK’s scored 92% of the time when scoring gave their team a chance to win but only 62% when missing created a threat of a loss. Playing to Win creates a challenge mindset, keep the foot on the gas and challenge players to rise to the occasion. When threatened (ex. losing), we program ourselves NOT to do something

– We want struggling players to “try harder” and think they’ll break out of it. Rather, we need them to “think less” – previous failures are entering their mind and they are focusing on what NOT to do, rather than challenging themselves

– Self-Talk is critical to performance: Instructional is beneficial for precision-oriented tasks, Motivational is beneficial for nerves and high pressure

– To affirm your decisions and direction, ask yourself: Am I doing…the right thing? at the right time? in the right way? for the right reasons?

Consistency Conundrum

Consistency. It’s something that everyone should strive for in life. Who you and what you do tomorrow is very similar to who you are and what you do tomorrow. We look for it in athletes and teams too. How many teams adjust their level of play to their competition? I’d be willing to bet that the percentages are pretty high. Teams have a natural tendency to increase their stimulation against good teams and play more relaxed against mediocre teams.

To a certain extent, it’s natural. You’re doing a task that you think should be simple so you let your guard down and make minor errors. These minor errors add up to big mistakes. It happens in work and it happens in games. The devil is in the details and the little things matter. People and teams that are successful know that and take care of the little things no matter what they are doing and who they are playing.

So, as coaches, how do you fix teams that underperform against weaker competition? I’m still searching for the fool-proof answer, but my belief is that you have to coach the details every day. Coach your players as if the details matter and your players will handle the details. Coach the game no different than you would a game against a high caliber opponent. Be consistent in your approach, your expectations and your execution of the details and you will see the same level of performance no matter who you are playing or what you are doing.

Teams that win and have good seasons are the ones that take care of business against every team on their schedule. They play to their standard no matter who they are playing. Consistency brings success.