I have been reading about advanced analytics (statistics) in the NHL lately. Next to Corsi and Fenwick (new terms for shot attempt statistics), one of the hot topics in the hockey stats game is zone entry and zone exit success. I have been particularly interested in using zone entry statistics to rationalize my thoughts on carry in’s versus dump in’s. In the NHL, most teams will generate a shot (on net, blocked, missed) an average of about 66% of the time when the puck is carried over the blue line. At the same time, NHL teams will generate a shot around 29% of the time when they dump it in. Reading these statistics, you have to wonder why a team would ever want to dump the puck in when they are generating a shot more than twice as often on carry in’s.
But here is the thing, dumping the puck into the offensive zone is crucial to team success. It may not be crucial to shot generation but so much more happens when the puck is dumped in that it is an essential part of a team’s play book.
Here is why dump in’s are so important:
1) A good dump in can gain 100 feet of ice in a second. A player stepping over the center ice line and dumping it in past the defenceman will advance the puck a long way in a very short time. This makes the opposition have to bring the puck 200 feet back to our net to create offence. A good dump in is simply a good defensive strategy as well.
2) There are no worse places to turn over the puck than at the blue lines. It is almost an instant scoring chance for the other team if they can take the puck away while a team is going hard on offence. Therefore, if there is any doubt about losing the puck at the offensive blue line, without question it has to be dumped in.
3) Good line changes are crucial to team success. A well communicated dump in and the subsequent line change can keep momentum going on the forecheck while getting fresh legs on the ice relatively seamlessly. My command from the bench when we need a change on the rush is “Over and In”. That signals to the forwards that the puck carrier is to skate to the red line and dump it in while the other two forwards come straight to the bench for a good change – hopefully not losing (and maybe gaining) ground going down the ice.
4) A mix of dump in’s and carry in’s will keep the opposition defencemen honest. If all your team does is carry it in all the time, defencemen get comfortable always stepping up and closing the gap. If a team throws in a few dump in’s, then defencemen have to cheat a little in case the puck is dumped in past them and they have to contend with a fast forecheck. I liken this to good tennis playing. A few drop shots keeps your opponent wary and doesn’t let them get comfortable just hitting the ball from the baseline.
5) Dump in’s create forechecking situations and forechecking can create good team speed. I am a big believer that a lot of your team speed and momentum is generated on the forecheck and that games can be won and lost in the effort of chasing down the puck in the offensive zone. I will often tell my players that they MUST dump the puck in on their first two shifts when they cross the red line. The effort in sustained forechecking, the time spent in the offensive zone and the speed of play only contributes to team speed right off the bat.
6) And in keeping with the momentum theme, it is very tough on the opposition defencemen when forwards are crashing down on them full speed. A good forechecking team can literally take a game over by good chasing in the offensive zone. Teams that can read and react to the breakout can often demoralize the opposition – it can feel like there are seven players forechecking rather than five.
My rule of thumb for my teams has always been to dump it in on even man rushes and carry it in on rushes where we have an advantage – 3 on 2, 2 on 1. But, that’s just a rule of thumb. My most skilled players will be able to create scoring chances on even man rushes but, they must not ever turn the puck over at the blue line.
Dumping the puck in is simply a crucial part of a team’s arsenal. Always carrying the puck in makes teams a little bit of a one trick pony. Practicing dump in’s and subsequent forechecking is important and it’s not always the easiest thing in a practice setting – but hugely necessary. Even though the stats say there are less shots, there is too much upside to this team tactic to ignore.