Hockey Neutral Zone

ice hockey Neutral Zone

The neutral zone in hockey is the area in between the offensive and defensive zones. Two thick blue lines separate the neutral zone from the other zones. The center face-off circle is also located in the neutral zone. This circle has the mid-ice line through it. Face-offs after goals and to start periods occur at this spot. There are also four face-off dots at the edges of the zone used for face-offs after offsides and called-off goals. In the NHL and other leagues, there is usually a logo in the middle of the ice and advertisements on both the ice and boards throughout the neutral zone.

Offside Rule

One important reason for the neutral zone is the offside rule. Offside is called when a player enters the offensive zone before the puck and touches the puck without one skate on or behind the blue line. The result of being called offside is a stoppage of play and a face-off that usually happens on one of the dots in the neutral zone, depending on where the infraction occurred. As video reviews have become more common in sports, the officials can now look at the tape to review and potentially change an offside call.

Two-Line Pass Rule

The NHL used to enforce a two-line pass rule, but this rule was eliminated in 2005. This rule stated that a player was not allowed to pass the puck from their defensive zone across the neutral zone and into the offensive zone. At the start of the 2005 season, the NHL retired the rule in the hopes of generating more offense and goals. With the two-line pass rule in place, much more play cycled through the neutral zone, but the absence of the rule allows teams to play at a much faster pace. However, offside is still called if the player enters the zone before the puck.

Neutral Zone Trap

The neutral zone trap is a defensive strategy in hockey that aims to stop teams from entering the offensive zone. First introduced in the early 20th century, the neutral zone trap became a popular scheme in the 1990s and early 2000s. The neutral zone trap features four players in the neutral zone, with one forechecker in the offensive zone. This strategy aims to force the puck-carrier to pick a side to trap them. When the puck-carrier chooses a side to go down, the players in the neutral zone will trap them by cutting off passing lanes and closing gaps. This strategy is considered to be highly effective for teams with weaker offenses, as it is based on defending, trapping, and turnovers.


Can players shoot from inside the neutral zone?

While players can shoot from inside the neutral zone, this play does not happen often. Shooting at a distance that far from the goal is not a great strategy and is usually only done at the end of periods and by strong and skilled shooters. More commonly, players will dump the puck behind their opponent’s net to set up a quality offensive possession or to kill time.

Why is the neutral zone in hockey important?

The neutral zone is important in hockey because it dictates the pace of the game. Teams must figure out how to skate into the opposing team’s zone if they want to increase their shot totals and, consequently, goal totals. This strategy involves figuring out how the other team is defending the blue line and taking advantage of the weaknesses. The offensive zone entry greatly affects the number of shots and offensive opportunities a team will have throughout the game.

How large is the neutral zone in hockey?

The neutral zone is 50 feet long and 85 feet wide. On the other hand, each offensive zone and defensive zone is 75 feet long, meaning that the neutral zone only occupies a quarter of the ice. The size of the neutral zone in NHL and Olympic hockey is the same, although the IIHF had previously used a 62-foot long neutral zone for Olympic games.  

What is a neutral zone trap in hockey?

A neutral zone trap is one of the most interesting and rarely used strategies in professional hockey. Made famous by the New Jersey Devils under head coach Jacques Lemaire, this formation prioritizes stopping the offense’s attack before it can even start. By using the two defensemen and two forwards to create a trapezoid shape in the neutral zone, the defense hopes to delay offensive zone entries and force the offense into bad passes. This formation requires all players to be able to do everything on the ice, promoting an almost positionless style of hockey.