5 Ways to Boost Offensive Output
I have been working hard with not only my team but a number of local teams in creating more scoring as we enter playoff season. Players need to be much more mindful of the little things it takes to score goals. To borrow a soccer example, no matter how hard the ball is shot and directed at the goalkeeper, I insist that one player always sprint right at the goalkeeper is case there is a bobbled ball. It can be an easy goal and usually happens twice a season. But that habit of chasing down the ball - even when it is an easy pick up for the goalkeeper - is worth it twice each year.
Hockey players often get lazy around the net. Usually, it is an effort issue. They don't stop in front for rebounds and instead skate by the net. They don't screen in front on point shots but stand at the side of the net looking for an easy tap in. They don't battle hard on the puck until it's in the net or smothered by the goalie. They shoot at the goalie's belly button rather than shooting to score and to generate a second chance. These are all little things that, if done well, will result in more goals. We even see many of these things not happen at the NHL level.
I have been working at 5 areas with teams over the past month. They are:
1) Shooting to create secondary scoring chances
2) Playing in front of the net
3) Looking for and getting to the back door
4) Creating scoring chances out of the corner
5) Creating scoring chances from behind the net
Shooting to create secondary scoring chances has been centered around shooting low and creating rebounds. Again, players get lazy and often just fire the puck at the net and hope it goes in. When I ask goalies where the easiest place to save a shot is they will say two places: "in my catching glove" and "at my chest". So, players need to get away from shooting to these spots. Where is the toughest place to make saves? Goalies will say along the ice. So, we have done a lot of individual shooting against the boards and I insist that players hit the gold strip at the bottom with HARD shots. Some find very difficult to hit that spot regularly and I also find they have difficulty "figuring it out". I have had to actually explain and demonstrate how to follow through low and get the puck along the ice.
In my drill book Essential Hockey Training, the UMD Triple Drive Progression has players shooting low in the first two offensive zone entry parts. But really, any shooting drill can be set up to insist on low shots - and I particularly look for low shots to the far post.
The Notre Dame Screen the Goalie drill is one that my players have really enjoyed and works on screening, tipping and rebounding in a fast paced drill. I insist on players playing like a goalie in front of the net but to be a "leaky goalie" and obviously letting the puck get by. Proper screening and tipping technique is important and I have the players set up in a tripod stance facing the shooter. This creates maximum screening and optimum tipping potential. Turning to look for rebounds is important after the puck gets by.
If a player has the puck in the corner they really only have three ways to move 1) up the boards towards the blue line 2) down the boards towards the back of the net and 3) straight to the front of the net if there is room and a seam. Let's look at options on all three of these scenarios and tie in the back door and behind the net.
First, moving up the boards from the corner towards the blue line really gives a player three options with the puck. The best option is to find a seam in the defenders and cut to the front of the net through the faceoff circle for a chance to score. Second, pass back to the defenceman at the blue line as an outlet pass and third, cycle the puck back to the corner for a teammate to pick up. We practice coming off the boards with speed into the slot area for a shot in our regular battery of shooting drills. We also practice cycling the puck back into the corner and try to anticipate, but not over anticipate, that dump back into the soft spot just below the goal line.
Second, taking the puck below the goal line and behind the net can be a very effective offence generating position. We work hard from the back of the net on our power play. It is a confusing place for the puck to be for many defenders and goalies. Players often don't know if they should chase behind or not, and goalies often don't work very much on their positioning when the puck is behind the net. When players take the puck behind the net from the corner they must have their head up at all times looking for a teammate's stick on the ice for a one timer. Everyone should be ready to get the puck when possession is behind the net. We also do a "wrap around" drill where players start in the corner and can either come out to score on the near or far side of the net. The key I teach to this is that you have to get your feet to the goal line before you try to score to get a better angle on the shot.
Third, players need to look for openings to go to the net at all times. Often players don't make that first step towards the net and an opportunity is lost as the defence close the open seams. Players need to always be aware of the "red sea parting" and an opening left for them to go right to the net for a scoring chance. This also leaves opportunity for a teammate to set up at the back door for a quick tap in!
I believe that the "back door" play needs to be a set play in every teams offensive playbook. That player can be open so much of the time and it truly can be a very easy tap in for a goal. Players need to not only look for openings to go to the net with the puck but actively look for the quick pass to the far post (or the back door).
Our practices often include setting up these scenarios from the corner with defensive pressure and without. As I have said before, we spend so much time as coaches practicing our defensive play but truly, we need to attend to our offensive play as much or even more.