Flyers vs. Rangers: Neutral Zone Domination Undermined By Defensive Zone Failures

Neutral zone wins aren't as memorable as defensive zone failures.

Ed. Note: Yeah, there's a game between now and the Rangers game on Sunday. We're allowed to look ahead. We don't play for the Flyers.

Now that Geoff has accumulated more than half a season of zone entry data, I wanted to take a look at head-to-head matchups and see whether anything interesting came out of comparing the opponents.

I pulled the data for the seven teams the Flyers had faced at least three times, and something surprising jumped out at me right away: the Flyers have absolutely killed the Rangers in the neutral zone.

When the puck is in the neutral zone, there are four possible results:

  • Carried into the opposing end (generates 0.58 shots for on average, including shots on goal and missed shots)
  • Dumped into the opposing end (generates 0.28 shots for on average)
  • Dumped into your end (generates 0.28 shots against on average)
  • Carried into your end (generates 0.58 shots against on average)

Neutral zone winning percentage is how often the puck goes forwards into the opposing end instead of backwards into your end (excluding dump-and-change plays where no real effort is made to recover the puck). Decisive win percentage is how often the team retains possession on their zone entries, while decisive loss percentage is how often their opponents do. As shown in the following table, in each of these neutral zone categories, the Flyers achieved their best results against the Rangers.

NZ win% Decisive win% Decisive loss%
Overall 51.6% 55.7% 51.1%
vs Rangers 55.7% (1/7) 58.6% (1/7) 39.2% (1/7)

Ranks are for Flyers' results compared to other opponents they have played 3+ times. All data is with the score close to minimize score effects; ranks are the same with all data included.

So the Flyers win the neutral zone more against the Rangers than against anyone else, their wins are more decisive against the Rangers, and their losses are less decisive. How big a deal is that? We can work out what fraction of the shots they would get just based on their neutral zone play, assuming both teams had average results in the attack zones:

H2h_6_medium

The Flyers win the neutral zone against the Rangers so handily that average play in the attack zones would result in getting 59% of the shots in close games. This is a huge number; the last team to do that well over a whole season was the '07-08 Red Wings. The Flyers are absolutely dominating the neutral zone against the Rangers, and yet they haven't exactly dominated the games...

Let's take a look at their results in the attack zone -- are they getting their share of the shots per entry and limiting the Rangers at the other end?

Shots for per carry Shots for per dump Shots against per dump Shots against per carry
Overall 0.56 0.28 0.28 0.61
vs Rangers 0.61 (2/7) 0.21 (6/7) 0.27 (5/7) 0.78 (7/7)

At the offensive end, they are doing OK -- a bit better than average on the entries where they retain possession and a bit worse than average on the dump-and-chase plays. But at the defensive end, they're getting creamed, especially when the Rangers carry the puck in.

Just like how we calculated a neutral zone performance score based on the shot ratio that would be achieved with average play in the other two zones, we can do the same to calculate offensive and defensive zone performance scores.

H2h_7_medium H2h_8_medium

For the year, the Flyers' neutral zone performance has been strong, worthy of a 52.4% shot ratio, but they have been a 49.3% team in the attack zones. Against the Rangers, this trend is magnified: the Flyers have been a 59% team against the Rangers in the neutral zone, a 49% team in the offensive zone, and a brutal 45% team in the defensive zone.

If the Flyers expect to come away with 3 or 4 points from their two games against the Rangers next week -- or get by them in the playoffs -- they'll have to shore up the defensive zone problems the Rangers have created for them.

Appendix

To make it easier to look at comparisons of how each team played, here's the data in the three charts above reformulated into a table:

Opponent Flyers OZ performance Flyers NZ performance Flyers DZ performance
Carolina 50.2% (2/7) 55.7% (2/7) 47.9% (6/7)
Montreal 45.2% (5/7) 53.9% (5/7) 54.2% (1/7)
New Jersey 40.8% (7/7) 50.1% (6/7) 51.1% (3/7)
Rangers 49.0% (3/7) 59.0% (1/7) 44.9% (7/7)
Ottawa 48.8% (4/7) 49.2% (7/7) 50.3% (4/7)
Tampa Bay 45.2% (6/7) 55.1% (3/7) 51.5% (2/7)
Winnipeg 54.8% (1/7) 54.7% (4/7) 49.2% (5/7)

Here's the breakdown of the NZ win%, decisive win%, and decisive loss% numbers that went into the overall NZ performance metric:

H2h_1_medium

H2h_2_mediumH2h_3_medium

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