Zone Entries: Comparing the Flyers and Sabres


After Game 3, we took our first look at tracking zone entries. There were a lot of interesting things to look at, but it was all on the offensive side of things.

We then compared the Flyers' offensive results in Games 3 and 4, looking at what did/didn't change from one game to the next. However, in Game 4 Geoff tracked both teams' zone entries. After the jump, we'll see what this data can show us about how the teams differed in terms of both strategy and results.

Comparing even strength approach and effectiveness

Buffalo carried the puck in (as opposed to dumping it in) far more often than the Flyers did, yet they had less success on those entries. Here's a comparison of how the Flyers and Sabres entered the zone at even strength in game 4:

Team Entry type % of entries % resulting in goals Shots per entry Counterattack frequency
Sabres Controlled 71% 2.6% 0.64 28%
Flyers Controlled 54% 0.0% 0.81 14%
Sabres Uncontrolled 29% 0.0% 0.31 6%
Flyers Uncontrolled 44% 0.0% 0.47 23%

Buffalo's 71% controlled entries (passing or carrying the puck across the blue line) was much higher than the Flyers have been in either game. Is that because the Buffalo offense really tried to keep control whenever possible or because the Buffalo defense challenged the blue line harder? We can't really answer that until we see one of these teams play against a different opponent.

The Flyers were markedly better at generating shots off of zone entries, both on controlled entries and on uncontrolled entries. Overall, the Flyers got 0.69 shots per entry to Buffalo's 0.55. That difference would have been even larger, except that the Flyers played more dump and chase, which generates fewer shots.

Overall, the Flyers had 55 shot attempts at even strength to Buffalo's 39 (including shots that missed the net or were blocked). Now we can see what drove that number:

  • The Flyers controlled the neutral zone play, resulting in a 68-55 edge in even strength zone entries.
  • The Flyers were more effective in the offensive zone, resulting in a 0.69-0.55 advantage in shot attempts per zone entry.
  • The Sabres were more effective on set pieces, but didn't get as many of them, so this was a wash: Buffalo had 9 shot attempts on 10 offensive zone faceoffs, versus 9 shot attempts on 21 offensive zone faceoffs for the Flyers.

Flyers penalty killing

We can also look at how the Flyers did at breaking up the Buffalo rush on the penalty kill. Travis already posted about how impressive the Flyers were at turning the play back over and over during the Richards major. This was not an isolated occurrence; the Flyers penalty kill was great on Wednesday.

Buffalo entered the offensive zone with an extra man 22 times in game 4. On 73% of those entries, the puck was cleared out before they could even get a shot attempt off. They got a total of only 4 shots on goal (and courtesy of Todd's tracking, only 4 scoring chances) on those 22 entries. The Flyers' league-best penalty kill unit was in fine form in game 4, completely shutting down the sixth-best power play.

Faceoffs and usage bias

Now that we have both teams' entries, we can look at what happens after an even strength faceoff and revisit the question of whether HBL's zone entries are high because of their usage or because of their play. Here's who got the next zone entry after a faceoff was won by a team in the offensive, neutral, or defensive zones:

Location Win faceoff Lose faceoff
Offensive zone 38% 40%
Neutral zone 75% 25%
Defensive zone 60% 62%

It's a tiny sample size (10-13 faceoffs in each zone), but this actually suggests that in the long run, players who are on the ice for more defensive zone faceoffs should get more zone entries -- it was apparently more common for a cleared puck to be brought down to the other zone than simply sent back in. (And remember, dump-and-change plays don't count in zone entries.)

However, the 75/25 differential on neutral zone faceoffs means that in the short run, the number of neutral zone faceoffs won will often have a bigger impact on a player's totals than his usage will.

Conclusion

With the usual cautions that a game or two of data could easily lead us astray:

  • The Flyers' entries overall were a lot more effective than Buffalo's, even though the Flyers have played more of a dump-and-chase style that typically doesn't generate as many shots.
  • The Flyers controlled the neutral zone, resulting in more chances to enter the offensive zone.
  • Buffalo did better on their offensive zone faceoffs, but didn't get as many of them.
  • The Flyers' PK was especially strong in game 4, clearing entry after entry without allowing shots.
  • Although the HBL line has consistently put up the highest zone entry numbers on the Flyers, getting zone entries appears to be easier to get if you start in the defensive zone. This may indicate that HBL has been particularly effective at advancing the puck, it may be a result of them winning a lot of neutral zone faceoffs over this small sample, or it may simply indicate that they get a lot of on-the-fly changes in situations where an offensive zone entry is likely to occur.

As always, please use the comments to thank Geoff for compiling the data and guilt him into continuing this effort.

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