During a hockey game, when the puck goes out to the point during a spell of possession in the offensive zone, time seems to stand still for a moment as everyone wonders if the player on the point is going to unleash a powerful shot. The decision to let one fly often depends on what the player with the puck sees in front of goal, where there’s usually a teammate and at least one defender. A well-trained forward at the top of the crease knows that there are ways they can help the shooter at the point—or even make a goal for themselves.
Three Strategies to Move the Puck From the Point and Score
According to David A. Jensen—a former NHL center and U.S. Olympian who now owns and operates DAJ Hockey, New England’s premier hockey-skills training company—being effective in front of goal requires a forward to read the situation and react accordingly.
“When you’re in front of the net and the puck is at the point, you need to get yourself into the proper position in relation to the shooter, the goalie, and the defenseman who’s trying to move you out of there,” Jensen says. “Like everything about hockey, it’s about time, space, and angles.”
Here are three ways a player in front of goal can help get the puck from the point to the back of the net:
1. Screen the Goaltender
“A good goalie will almost always save a shot from the point if they can see the puck,” argues Jensen. So job number one is to try to take away the sightline by screening the goaltender. A forward can both distract the goalie and get in their way by parking themselves in front of goal, making the goalie see the puck late, if at all, as the shot comes in.
The forward should take up a position facing the point, with their back to the goal. Staying in this position in front of goal is easier said than done, however, because there’s sure to be a defenseman trying to clear the area of danger. A forward occupying this part of the ice must be strong, maintaining a solid hockey stance—knees bent, weight centered, stick on the ice, and head up—to resist the pressure from the defenseman. The goal is to ‘box out’ the defenseman, which allows the forward to maintain their position, with their stick free. By creating a tussle, you can even use the defenseman as part of the screen that the point man will shoot through.
Screening the goalie involves more than just being an obstacle, says Jensen, and a forward can actively try to trick the goalie.
“Goalies are always trying to find a window through the bodies that gives them a view of the puck,” he says. “Because you’re facing the shooter, you can tell when they’re ready to release the puck.” By purposely giving the goalie a view of the puck and then moving to block that window right before the shot, the forward can transfer the advantage from the goalie to the shooter.
In all this jockeying in front of goal, there is one thing the forward must not do: block the shot itself as it comes in from the point. First of all, getting hit by a slap shot just plain hurts. Second, after spending the energy to make it more difficult for the goalie to stop the puck, why would you do it for them?
2. Tip the Puck
Let’s say a forward has done all they can to screen or distract the goalie, and their teammate at the point has let a shot fly. Now what?
“Always try to tip the puck,” Jensen says, “because even if the goalie has eyes on the puck, they usually can’t react quickly enough to a change in direction.”
To illustrate his point, tipped shots account for nearly ten percent of all goals scored in the NHL.
When it comes to tipping skill, there is no substitution for lots of practice, which is the only way a forward can get a handle on how different blade angles will alter the path of the puck. The best tippers have exceptional hand-eye coordination, borne of having hundreds of pucks come their way. Any forward who wants to master this skill needs a partner to launch shots from the point, which the forward can try to tip. It’s just like batting practice for a baseball player.
3. Anticipate the Rebound
Whether the forward gets a stick on the shot or not, the next job is to turn immediately and look for a rebound. Because the forward is focused on the puck coming in, they actually have an advantage over the defender, who may be occupied trying to tie up the forward. The ability to turn quickly under pressure and find a loose puck requires, again, strength and good balance. Forwards should practice with drills that recreate these battles in front of goal, learning to use leverage to get themselves in position to bury rebounds.
Dedicated forwards spend a lot of time perfecting their shots. But since a large percentage of goals in hockey come from right in front of the net, forwards should also devote time to working on strength, how to create a screen, how to tip shots on goal, and how to put rebounds away. That way, when the puck goes out to the point, they can rely on muscle memory to help make sure it ends up in the back of the net, one way or another.