The Keys to Scoring Goals

By: Topher Scott

Over the past month or so…I’ve been on a goal-scoring kick.  Not so much on the video front on how teams are scoring goals…but getting into the heads of elite scorers and asking them about their mindset.

Admittedly, I was a pass-first player.  My shot was never anything great (I was told I had an “elite muffin”).

So I reached out to a bunch of people that I know, some coaches, some still playing pro, some guys I used to play with, who have a history of scoring goals.  I wanted to know how they approached the game.  I wanted to know how they processed certain plays.  I wanted to know what they did in practice.  I wanted to know it all.

And if you want to score goals, according to people that have scored a lot of goals…

Here are five main habits to have in your game:

1. Get to the dirty areas.

2. Learn how to shoot off the pass.

3. Be deceptive with your shot.

4. Learn puck support.

5. Compete and have fun.

Let’s break it down further.

1. Get to the dirty areas.

EVERY person I spoke to…this was their number one response.  “You have to get to the dirty areas”.

Stopping in front of the net on a rush.  Adding a net presence in ozone play.  Beating a defender to the net for a rebound chance.  GET TO THE DIRTY AREAS.

That’s where a majority of the goals are scored…at every level.  But there are very few players that are willing to CONSISTENTLY get there.  It takes sacrifice, effort, and a whole lot of sandpaper to want to get to that crease area as it often comes with some physical confrontation.

Goals from distance with great shots…that’s a part of it.  A small part of it.  But if you look at the totality of goals for even the best of players you’ll find that a majority of them are right around the crease…non-highlight-reel plays.

If you want to score, have an attitude and desire to get to the dirty areas.  It’s this ability to score in different ways that sets these players apart.

2. Learn how to shoot off the pass.

How often in a game do you see a player carry the puck for more than two seconds and then score? Hardly ever, right?

How often do you even see a player carry the puck for more than two seconds, period?

Passing is one of the most important skills in the game…but easily the most undervalued.  If you take a look at most goals scored, they come off a pass.  Brandon Naurato has studied this in depth and it’s unreal how many goals are scored off the pass.  In our power play study last year we found that 75% of goals on the man advantage came off the pass.

Good passes, bad passes…doesn’t matter.  The best scorers have an ability to take a pass from a teammate, have their body positioned in the best manner so they can release the puck quick, and get it off their stick quickly and into the net.

Coaches…please incorporate more passing into practice.  Even down by the net in your first couple drills if you’re warming up…ask yourself how many times during a game a player comes in from the red line and shoots the puck on net.

Have your players working on shooting off the pass.

3. Be deceptive with your shot.

One of the biggest buzz-phrases in hockey development circles right now is changing the angle of your shot.  That’s because one of the biggest buzz-phrases on the defensive side of the puck is stick-on-puck.  Defenders are being taught really well in today’s game to jam a shooter with their stick, so coaches are teaching players offensively to change their angle to get around that defender’s jam.

There’s two ways to do this…the “Push” and the “Pull”.  The push typically happens when you are on your off-wing.  You take the puck, push it to the middle and rip it around the defender’s stick.  The pull…just go watch Auston Matthews shoot the puck.  He’s made a living off this shot.

Another way to have deception is with your upper body, specifically with your shoulders and your eyes.  Defenders and goalies are also taught to defend body cues (who grew up hearing your coach tell you to look at the guy in the chest when defending a 1v1??).  Giving the goalie and the defender false information of where you are going…and then shooting quickly a different way…that’s a lethal combination.

4. Learn to value puck support.

Elite scorers are always looking for open ice pockets in the offensive zone when their teammates have the puck.  A big area is the slot…the little pocket between the defender in front of the net and the strong side winger.  Scorers are really good at getting lost for even a fraction of time, getting to the open ice to support their teammate with the puck.

And then they’re READY TO SHOOT.

They also are good at surveying the play on the rush jumping into holes of open ice that the opposing players fail to defend.  These players let plays develop in front of them and find open lanes where their teammates can feed them the puck in a position to score.

They ALWAYS have their head up without the puck and are anticipating the patterns of the game…waiting ever so patiently for that perfect opening and then BAM!

They pounce and it’s in the back of the net.

5. Compete and have fun with it.

Every person I spoke to mentioned how even though they had a knack for finding the back of the net, scoring goals can be streaky.  They talked about gripping their stick too tight when things weren’t going their way.  And then they talked about remembering to go back to the fundamentals (above 4) and have fun with it.

Focusing on the process of scoring rather than focusing on the end result is always a beneficial mindset to have if you want to be an elite scorer.  It’s when they forgot about the process of what allowed them to score in the first place, and the unhealthy attention to what went onto the scoresheet…that’s when they were at their worst.

As coaches we need to encourage our players that although it takes a lot of effort to score, it should also be FUN.

One thing we can do is create competitions in practice.  I know a few coaches where every drill in practice has a score being kept.  I absolutely love it.  That’s fun!

A lot of good players have little competitions with their teammates during drills too.  That fun but challenging atmosphere can bring out the best in people, always striving to win.

Scoring goals is a tough thing to do.  And you have to be tough if you want to do it consistently.  That was the staple of every person I spoke to…get to the dirty parts of the rink and score goals in different ways.  Great advice…and something I wish I would have taken to heart when I was playing! Maybe it would have helped my game having an “elite muffin” after all.


2 Responses
  1. Tom Parsons

    Hi Topher:

    Take-one: I saw this video put out by Mike McGinnis from Alberta. I was surprised at the stats that he had accumulated. Food for thought!

    Take-Two: As a goalie dad, I’m interested in the reaction time a goalie has to a shot. The link below was a documentary about the science of hockey. The take away for me was the difference between the speed of a wrist shot versus the speed of a slapshot. The wrist shot is slower, but more successful if it’s at least 50% closer than the slap shot. It appears that the distance between the goalie and where the shot comes from seems to be an influencer of success rather than the type of shot. More success from the below the top of the circle and inside the dots especially if you keep the goalie moving across the crease which is all about the pass before the shot on goal (#2 on your list)

  2. Toph – this advice is valuable and well stated. I especially like habit #2, something we emphaisze in each skills practice we hold. I’ve shared this with my teams and will refer to each habit often as we work to improve the offensive side of our game. Thank You!