Isn’t one of the main things a hockey player is trying to do is get the puck from the other team? Then why do they shoot the puck away so often into the other team’s zone?Embed from Getty Images
So why do players dump the puck into the other team’s zone? A team will dump the puck in mainly for two reasons: to give time for their team to change lines while the game is going on, and as a strategy for an offensive attack as they seek to regain the puck that has just been shot in.
Let’s look at these two reasons more closely.
Dumping the puck in to allow for line changes
This is a play that you will see many times a game. A player will skate past the red line to avoid icing and then simply shoot the puck into the offensive zone. Instead of any players going to chase the puck down all of them head to the bench for a line change.
Dumping the puck into the other zone is the most effective way to switch a line on the fly. Hockey unlike most other sports does not need a whistle for players to switch on and off the ice. Players switching while the play is going on is called switching on the fly.
While it is an advantage to be able to change at any given time there is a risk when you change players. A player who switches at the wrong time could create a situation where it causes an odd-man advantage for the other team. Imagine a defensemen simply changing when the other team has the puck in the neutral zone. This would create a 2 on 1 for the other team and create a scoring chance.
Or, if while the rest of the team is changing lines a player simply tries to carry the puck in on the opponent and loses the puck. This will give the opponent the puck in the neutral zone and a chance to turn the puck towards the other net for a quick scoring chance.
These may sound like an extreme cases, but as you watch hockey you will see a number of poor line changes that lead to scoring chances for the opponent.
So to make sure that all players can get off and not create scoring chances for the other team, a team will dump the puck into the other team’s zone even if that means giving up possession.
Dumping the puck in as an offensive strategy
Dumping the puck into the zone is actually an offensive strategy.
What??? How can giving up the puck be an offensive strategy? Don’t you need the puck on your stick to score a goal?
To understand this lets look at the different ways the offensive team has in getting the puck into the attacking zone.
Option #1: The first way a team can get the puck into the opposition zone is to carry it in over the blue line. This is the way that they would all prefer to bring it in. Simple enough? Well, no.
The opposing team wants to prevent them from carrying the puck into the zone so they will stack the blue line and use the potential of going offside as a way to stop the offensive team.
The defensive team is great at using the blue line, which stops an offensive player from going into the zone before the puck does, as a type of imaginary wall to hold up the opposition.
The defensive team will often stack up along the blue line with the 3 or 4 players making it very difficult for a player to carry the puck into the zone without it being knocked off their stick. The defensive team is really trying to either cause a turnover or force the team to dump the puck in.
Option #2: The offensive team could shoot the puck at the goalie in a hope that he will freeze the puck and a face-off will take place in the offensive zone. This is a super low probability strategy as the goalie will usually play the puck to one of the defensemen and he will clear the puck easily.Embed from Getty Images
Option #3: The offensive team will shoot the puck into the attacking zone, and go and chase the puck down to try and to recover it.
The offensive player is trying to beat the defensemen to the puck or to bodycheck the defensemen creating a turnover. Basically, they are giving up possession in the hope that they will regain possession deep within the opponents zone.
Here are a few examples of dump ins with a strong forecheck leading to a goal.
It should be noted that dumping the puck in and creating a strong forecheck has a cumulative effect over the game of wearing down the defensemen. It is not pleasant getting hit by 200 pound forwards all night and it will eventually wear you down. As this continues to happen you will sometimes notice a defensemen going in tentatively into the boards because they know they are about to be hit. This creates an easy turnover and could lead to a scoring chance.
So, in the end a team really has two options to bring the puck into the zone, either carry the puck in or dump it in. The team will use a combination of these strategies based on skill of the players, what the defensive team’s alignment on the ice is at that time, and to keep the other team guessing.
What is the best strategy for a dump in?
The two basic strategies for dump ins are:
Strategy #1: Toss it into the corner of the weakest defensemen – the team knows who they are playing against. Everyone is a high caliber defensemen but there is usually one of the two defensemen on the ice who is not as strong as the other. Most often the puck will be dumped into the corner of the weaker player.
By weaker, I mean the defensemen is not good at getting to the puck quickly and then making a quick transition pass to one of his players. Instead, the player is more prone to turnovers than his partner.
Once the puck is dumped into the corner it is a foot race between one of the forwards and the defensemen to see who can get the puck first. If the forward gets it first, he will try to find one of his teammates to pass it to.
If the defensemen gets it first, he will try to pass the puck before or while getting checked, and try to start a breakout of the zone.
Strategy #2: Shoot the puck hard enough so it ‘rings’ around the boards fast enough so the goalie cannot come out and play it.
Most goalies are highly competent at coming out of the net and stopping pucks that are shot around the boards. This skill allows them to stop the puck and give it to one of the defensemen for a much easier breakout attempt.
Therefore, it is imperative that the puck is shot with enough velocity that the goalie will not have enough time to come out and play the puck as it is travelling behind the net.
If the the goalie cannot stop the puck travelling along the boards, the puck will end up in the far corner or along the side boards, and it simply becomes a race between the forward and defensemen for the puck. And, whoever wins that battle will get possession of the puck in the zone.
There you have it. So when you see a team dump the puck into the zone you know that they are either going for a line change or it is part of their offensive strategy to get the puck into the other team’s zone.