People are not used to the ball being in the air so it is a great way to advance the ball through a mass of humanity. If you ever get a shot on goal up in the air, you are almost assured of beating the goaltender.
This QuickTime Movie (1.3M) shows one player trying to move the play into the offensive zone by flipping the ball in the air. However, the defender counteracts the flip perfectly. He uses his hand to drop the ball to the ice before it gets anywhere near the goal, and then he slaps it out of the zone.
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