Individual Zone Entries

This is the final part in a series of articles looking back at what we can learn from Geoff's effort to chart zone entries in the playoffs. In this part, we move from the team totals to the individual contributions, looking to see what we can learn about who moved the play forwards, how they did it, and how successful they were.

Let's start with a table of data for the forwards. All of this data is for 5-on-5 play.

Player # of entries Entries per 60 Shots per entry Shots per 60 from player's entries % entries with control Shots per controlled entry Shots per 60 from player's controlled entries
van Riemsdyk 59 20.5 0.64 13.2 75% 0.84 12.9
Giroux 44 14.5 0.75 10.9 84% 0.89 10.9
Carter 19 15.5 1.00 15.5 53% 1.30 10.6
Leino 54 20.3 0.56 11.3 72% 0.64 9.4
Powe 30 20.7 0.53 11.1 70% 0.57 8.3
Avg forward 35 16.1 0.60 9.7 67% 0.77 8.3
Zherdev 21 14.1 0.57 8.1 81% 0.71 8.1
Richards 41 16.6 0.59 9.7 61% 0.76 7.7
Shelley 1 7.6 1.00 7.6 100% 1.00 7.6
Briere 36 12.4 0.61 7.6 67% 0.88 7.2
Hartnell 44 17.8 0.45 8.1 52% 0.70 6.5
Carcillo 23 15.0 0.57 8.5 52% 0.75 5.9
Versteeg 30 13.3 0.47 6.2 77% 0.52 5.3
Betts 16 12.3 0.63 7.7 38% 1.00 4.6
Rinaldo 2 20.8 0.50 10.4 0% 0.0
Nodl 0 0.0 0.0 0.0

What should we focus on?

In that big table of numbers, what should we pay attention to? These are all new stats, so we don't really know the answer to that yet, but that's what we'll dig into in this article. My guess before I calculated anyone's individual numbers was that we'd see the following:

  • Zone entries per 60 could be indicative of how involved the player is in setting up the play, how often he's the one with the puck on his stick as the team goes through the neutral zone.
  • % of entries with control could be indicative of how well the player finds the openings in the defense and how aggressive they are with the puck.
  • Shots per controlled entry could be indicative of how successful they are at setting up the play in the offensive end and turning entries into chances.
  • Shots per uncontrolled entry may not relate to individual skill -- if you dump the puck in for your teammates to chase, the quality of your linemates and competition may factor into the results more than your individual talents.

The table is sortable, so you can click on the headings to see who led the team in each of these categories.

Who moved the puck into the offensive zone?

Sorting the table by zone entries per 60 shows who was actively involved in pushing the puck forwards. In the first two games that we charted, this seemed to track with how much offense a line generated, so I was optimistic about this measure.

The leaders (among people who actually played) were Powe (20.7), van Riemsdyk (20.5), Leino (20.3), Hartnell (17.8), and Richards (16.6). I have to admit, that's not a list that stands out to me as having excelled in the playoffs. Is the stat drawing our attention to something our eyes missed or is it just not a good metric?

One thing I notice is that the Flyers centers ranked 5th (Richards), 9th (Giroux), 11th (Briere), and 12th (Betts) in entries per 60 -- on a team where we fret about the glut of super-talented centers and saw our best winger get hurt, this raises a red flag for me. Maybe the Flyers system just calls for the wingers to be the ones to send the puck in. I'm not quite ready to scrap this metric on just eight games of data, but I'm not so sure about using raw entry totals any more.

Maybe the person who sends the puck across the line isn't particularly likely to be individually responsible for winning the neutral zone battle. Perhaps this term would be better as a team-based metric like +/-, calculating how many more (or fewer) entries the Flyers got than their opponents when a given player was on the ice. I'll work on extracting that information, and if people have other suggestions, please let me know.

Who kept control of the puck as they entered the offensive zone?

We've previously seen that controlled zone entries result in shots quite a bit more frequently than uncontrolled entries. That suggests that a player who is aggressive about finding chances to carry the puck in is helping the team, so let's look at who the leaders were in controlled entry percentage.

Here the top 5 are Giroux (84%), Zherdev (81%), Versteeg (77%), van Riemsdyk (75%), and Leino (72%). This is a list I'm pretty comfortable with -- those are generally players with good puck skills who pressed borderline situations to keep control of the puck whenever possible.

At the other end of the list, the bottom three were Hartnell (52%), Carcillo (52%), and Betts (38%).

Whose controlled entries resulted in shots?

Carrying the puck across the line is good, but who was able to create time and space for themselves or teammates to generate shot attempts?

The leaders in shots per controlled entry were Carter (1.3), Betts (1.0), Giroux (0.89), Briere (0.88), and van Riemsdyk (0.84). Again, I'm pretty comfortable with this list, as it includes probably the four most impactful Flyers. For now I'll assume that Betts is just a product of small sample size and variance (he had only six controlled entries), but perhaps his low controlled entry percentage is because he's only carrying the puck in when he sees a clear chance ahead of him.

The bottom three were Versteeg (0.52), Powe (0.57), and Leino (0.64), all of whom received a lot of criticism.

If I had to bet on any one metric being the most indicative of an individual's skill, this would be it. The numbers so far seem to mesh with our perception, and it makes intuitive sense -- the player who carries the puck into the offensive zone has a lot of control over whether the team goes on to get a shot off.

With a larger data set, we could even start factoring in the quality of those chances -- how often did the play result in a scoring chance, what was the average shot distance of the shots the player created, and so forth. But even in a sample of eight games, shots per controlled entry seems to really identify the impactful players.

Should we read anything into a player's shots per uncontrolled entry?

I had presumed that once a player dumps the puck, getting a shot from the play was as much about his teammates and opposition as about his own personal skills. If that were true, we'd expect a pretty random-looking list of the leaders in this category.

The top five in shots per uncontrolled entry were Carter, Powe, Betts, Carcillo, and Leino. The bottom five were Hartnell, Briere, van Riemsdyk, Giroux, and Zherdev.

It's interesting that the fourth line was at the top of the list. Maybe they're more energetic, aggressive, and successful at recovering the puck after dumping it in. If so, then should we read something into Leino's dumps resulting in twice as many shots as Hartnell and Briere's -- does it mean that when they dump it in, Leino doesn't recover the puck for them, but when he dumps it in, they do?

This is all rife with small sample size concerns, but it bears monitoring going forwards.

What about defensemen?

For a while now, I've been wondering whether we have any statistic that identifies the puck-moving defenseman. Assists for defensemen are dominated by usage (power play time) and luck -- the year-over-year correlations for their assist rates are 0.06 for A1/60 and 0.002 for A2/60 at even strength. Perhaps zone entries gives us a window into this?

Player # of entries Entries per 60 Shots per entry
Timonen 33 10.6 0.61
Pronger 4 8.5 0.75
Carle 24 6.5 0.54
Avg D 17 6.2 0.52
O'Donnell 12 6.0 0.08
Coburn 19 5.4 0.47
Meszaros 10 2.7 0.50
Syvret 2 2.0 0.00

While the zone entry total data for forwards raised some concerns, it may be more useful for comparing defensemen to see who is most often involved in distributing the puck from the neutral zone. Timonen stands well above the other defensemen by this measure. Interestingly, while Meszaros frequently pinches in to join the play in the offensive zone, he seems to be less involved in the neutral zone play.

Conclusion

We can pull a lot of numbers out of this data, and in this article we've looked to see which ones are most useful.

  • Zone entry total may be useful for identifying defensemen who are distributors, but for forwards it may carry some system bias and need refining.
  • Controlled entry percentage looks to be a useful metric of a player's puck skills and aggressiveness on offense.
  • Shots per controlled entry looks very promising as a measure of a player's puck skills and decision-making, and may be further refined by assessing the quality of the opportunities created.
  • Shots per uncontrolled entry may be a measure of the energy and aggressiveness of a player's linemates.
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