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Flyers zone entry data will tell us a lot more about the 2013-14 season

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We'll be reviewing Flyers zone entry information again this year, and we've got more bits of info to look at than ever.

It's pretty difficult to control the puck through the neutral zone when you're falling down, Mark.
It's pretty difficult to control the puck through the neutral zone when you're falling down, Mark.
Bruce Bennett

Note: Our very own Eric T., who has written posts similar to this one regarding Flyers zone entries in each of the past two offseasons, began writing up this information for the 2013-14 season earlier this summer. However, due to his new (incredibly exciting) obligations for the upcoming season, he will unfortunately not be able to provide the same type of analysis for us this summer.

With that said, he did send the relevant data to me, put together in such a way that will make this post and the ones that follow possible, so a big thanks to him for doing so.

In addition, an even bigger thanks goes to Jess Schmidt, who actually did the in-game tracking of all 82 Flyers games this year in order to produce the information that you will see in these posts. Having done this myself for a small number of games before, I can tell you that it's a very tedious, time-consuming task, and without that work, none of this is possible. So if you enjoy this kind of work, remember to thank her for it.

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If you've been reading Broad Street Hockey with some degree of regularity over the last three or four NHL seasons, you're probably at least a bit familiar with the concept of zone entries, what they are, and what they mean to and imply about an NHL team.

The first article written on the site that really used them to show something was this piece from the Flyers-Sabres series in the 2011 playoffs, when Travis looked at Buffalo's zone entries to show just how dominant the Flyers were during a key five-minute penalty kill.

In the three years since, zone entries have become a huge part of the new wave of analysis that is becoming a bigger piece of the hockey landscape with each passing day. Here in the public domain, more and more fan bases have seen people begin tracking entries, like Jess with the Flyers.

Revelations have been made (in huge part thanks to the work of our own Eric and Geoff Detweiler) regarding the importance of getting through the neutral zone with control of the puck (i.e. with the puck on your stick, or being passed to a teammate) and preventing opponents from doing the same. Other aspects of entries, ranging from individual players' neutral zone defense to teams' abilities to retain the puck on dump-ins, are also being tracked.

Here at BSH, we've weaved this information into our posts as we've been able. In addition to year-end posts following the 2011-12 and 2013 seasons, we've used them to talk about everything from the Flyers' struggles against the Rangers in 2011-12 to whether or not Eric Wellwood should have been in the lineup to why Andrew MacDonald gets wrecked in shot differential to why Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek shouldn't have been dumping the puck in against Ryan McDonagh in the playoffs.

It's information that has led to a lot of interesting conclusions. (And, if you're to believe CBC's Elliotte Friedman, current Flyers general manager Ron Hextall thinks so as well. Hi, Ron!)

So over the next several days, we'll be talking about the Flyers' zone entry numbers from the 2013-14 season. There's a lot to go through, and thanks to Jess' work mentioned above, there's more information to look at and dissect than ever before.

Before we get to the meat of this whole thing in subsequent posts, however, let's run through everything in general terms.

The data collection process

For each Flyers game this season, Jess sat down and took note of every time* the puck entered either team's attacking zone. She made note of the time of the game, the game state (5-on-5, 5-on-4, etc.)**, the Flyers player making the entry (or if it was an opponent), and whether it was a controlled entry, a dump-in, or a failed attempt at entry.

As a new wrinkle this year, some additional off the puck information was tracked. On Flyers' dump-ins, Jess would take note of which Flyers' player (if any) managed to get a hold of the puck in the offensive zone after it was dumped in. She would do the same for the other team's dump-ins, noting if a specific Flyer or someone on the other team managed to get the puck. And on opponents' entries, if one Flyers player seemed to be defending the entry (i.e. was the closest player to the puck-carrier), she would also make note of who that was, whether it was a dump-in, carry-in, or failed entry.

Once all of that information was assembled, Eric put it all together, obtaining on-ice information (i.e. who was on the ice for every entry) to supplement the individual-player information Jess obtained.

* Entries that were deemed "dump and change" plays (plays where the puck was sent deep in an obvious effort to change lines/pairings) were not tracked.

**Unless specifically stated otherwise, all zone entry data in all posts to follow only reflects play at 5-on-5.

What we learned

Over the next few days, we'll talk about the data that Jess obtained, and look at the findings and implications of it. Some of the more standard questions that we've addressed in years past will again be answered, such as:

  • Which Flyers are the best at entering the offensive zone with possession of the puck?
  • When on the ice, which Flyers are entering the zone most frequently (both overall and percentage-wise)?
  • How are they performing at the team level? Are getting more overall entries than the other team? More controlled entries?
  • How do these numbers compare to Flyers teams in the recent past?

And we'll also look into some new questions that this year's data can help us answer. Such as:

  • Which players are doing the best job of retrieving dump-ins? Which players see the highest percentage of their dump-ins retrieved? Similarly, who's snuffing out the other team's dump-ins? And does this appear to be a repeatable talent?
  • Which players are doing the best (and worst) job of preventing controlled entries by their opponents? Who's causing failed entries, and who's letting other teams walk through the neutral zone?

There's a lot to go through and we're excited to share it with you all. We'll look at some basic, individual-level numbers on Tuesday, so please come back.