“…At the most fundamental level, battle space is the three-dimensional area in which the (team) can (maneuver against an opponent) and influence them with effective (shots on goal)….”
Using the above definition from U.S. Army Field Manual 17-15, Tank Platoon in a modified, hockey definition, you can ‘see’ hockey as players, coaches and management do in terms of movement through the 200 foot kinetic surface in order to position your team for successful shots on goal. When the now-annual NHL Research and Development Camp comes this summer, here at On Goal Analysis we would like to make a recommendation to adjust the neutral zone and red line in order to enhance maneuver area in the hockey battle space and potentially increase goal scoring.
The Sam Gagne eight point night last Friday had us watching the DET @ EDM game Saturday night in particular. We were curious to see if the Gretzky-Messier-Coffey era had returned. And in one particular respect, it had. EDM won 5 – 4 in a SO. Of their four regulation goals, three came from a set-up pass that originated behind the red line, just like when Wayne used to set up shop behind the net. That got us thinking…
You have got to love NHL GameCenter Live. Especially the day after games have been played to look back at highlights. We do, and in this case, we studied all of the goals scored this past weekend, 4 – 5 February. Here are some interesting stats:
16 Total games played / 1.3% of the entire regular season.
91 Total goals scored / 5.69 goals per game.
49 of 91 Goals / 53.85% of all goals were scored in The Box (an area between the top of faceoff dots and inward to the net).
19 of 91 Goals scored / 20.88% of all goal scoring plays originated on a feed or shot from a player behind the red line.
There were also 106 Total Power Plays / 6.625 PP per game of varying length.
What’s It All Mean?
We have a theory. If there was more room behind the goal, hockey battle space – in terms of the area used to set up scoring plays – is increased and therefore may lead to more goals scored. Certainly more area in which to work could easily add the one-to-two seconds to better aim feeds onto The Box where most scoring comes from. Especially on the Power Play when the attacker has 20% more battle space within which to attack the net with the penalized opponent off of the ice. We cannot test this theory, however, without the NHL’s Research and Development Camp doing the work.
Many do not like proposals that offer the notion we should increase the size of the ice surface to compensate for the increased size of players since the rule book was written. They simultaneously argue they do not like the NHL playing on the Olympic-sized arena and it doesn’t make the best business sense because seats would have to be taken out of the buildings to make that happen.
Keeping the rink within the 200′ size, we instead offer the recommendation to shorten the neutral zone five feet on both sides of the red line and bring the faceoff circles, net and red line five feet closer to center on both sides of the rink. This shrinks the distance from goal-to-goal a total of 5% while adding a relative increase of more than 30% of the space behind each net from which to make plays like The Great One used to and EDM is still doing today into The Box.
Second And Third Orders Of Effect
There are potential positives and negatives that immediately come up when contemplating this. Here are some from us:
P1. Potential for more goals scored due to less distance/time from goal to goal.
P2. More regular use of the behind-the-net/red line attack angle increases the goalie’s burden to follow the puck and may increase scoring without adjusting pad size downward, increasing net size, and other such alterations.
P3. Due to increased distance to cover, there is a potential for less goalie movement to stop pucks behind their net, thus keeping the puck more in play by skaters.
P4. Due to the relative increase in space, will there be more stickhandling versus rimming the puck around the boards once the blue line is crossed? In our view: stickhandling is an active measure that presses the attack; individual positioning/repositioning is a passive measure that can support both defense and the attack; and dumping the puck is a neutral measure which can often times work against an attacking team’s efforts. Actively creating room to stickhandle in order to set up scoring chances is a winner. Napolean had it right: “…L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace….”
N1. Due to a 20% decrease in neutral zone size, might there be more trapping going on? Is trapping easier in the smaller space? These questions need to be answered by executing the game with the adjusted neutral zone size.
N2. Those who hate change will complain.
We humbly suggest for the next Research and Development Camp that the NHL look to decrease the neutral zone five feet on both sides of the red line, move the goals and faceoff dots five feet closer to the center red line, and add the additional five feet of ice surface behind both red lines in order to determine how these adjustments would influence an increase in goal scoring.
How would you play the extra five feet?