• PP Zone Entries: It’s Not The Faceoffs

    by  • February 12, 2013 • Uncategorized • 11 Comments

    Further to yesterday’s post, I dug a little deeper into the Oilers’ PP and PK of late at 5v4 (I’ll use PP and 5v4 interchangeably in this post). As I discussed at some length, I’m a bit skeptical of the tendency of commentators to talk about faceoffs as an issue of some importance. I was talking with a friend a few months ago about TV commentary and he made the astute point that there are constantly mistakes being made and things happening during a hockey game, the vast majority of which have no real meaning in the grander scheme of things, but they’re easy to point to when something that does matter in the grand scheme of things, like a goal, happens. So, a team with a few injured centres loses a couple of faceoffs and “TRADE FOR A CENTRE” becomes a talking point, even though you’re going to lose a ton of faceoffs over the course of the season.

    The Oilers started running out of centres in the Vancouver game, which they started without Eric Belanger, who broke some toes against Colorado. Shawn Horcoff broke a knuckle in that game, which left the Oilers even lighter in the faceoff department, with only two proven NHL centres in the form of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Sam Gagner, neither of whom are known for their faceoff prowess.

    In the four games starting with the Vancouver game, Edmonton’s spent 14.98 minutes at 5v4, while the opposition has spent 18.47 minutes at 5v4. The Oilers have spent 52.2% of their 5v4 time in the opponent’s end of the ice and allowed the opposition to spend 60.0% of their time in the Oilers’ end of the ice. Basically, there are five ways that you can move the puck into the other team’s end of the ice on a power play: a faceoff in their end (such as at the start of a PP), by carrying the puck in, by dumping it in, by already having it there when a power play starts, such as when a penalty expires and by the defending team moving the puck backwards. I broke the Oilers and their opposition’s zone entries on the PP over the last four games down into these five types.

    Obviously, winning a faceoff is preferable to losing a faceoff in the offensive zone during a PP, because if you lose it, you’re probably moving 200 feet back down the ice. The Oilers have won 55% of their PP offensive zone faceoffs during the past four games; the opposition has won 71.5% of their PP offensive zone faceoffs. So are Ray Ferraro and the CBC guy who was muttering about this right?

    Not exactly. Here’s the thing: you’re going to lose offensive zone faceoffs on the PP. In fact, last year, the team on the PP won about 52% of them. Both the Oilers and the opposition are out-performing that number on the PP over the past four games; the opposition’s killing it. If the Oilers win 55% of faceoffs in a league in which 52% is the norm, it’s hard to say that their injury problems are hurting them in terms of their ability to win faceoffs on the PP. You might have a better argument on the penalty kill, particularly because Belanger missed two of these games and Horcoff missed about 3.5 and those are their two primary PK faceoff guys. The sample is, of course, tiny.

    It’s the second two sets of numbers that catch my eye and, in particular, the carry numbers. I define a carry as any attempt to enter the zone with control and a success as being establishing control of the puck in the offensive zone. So, if Justin Schultz passes the puck to Ales Hemsky as he’s crossing the blue line and Hemsky gains control, that’s a successful carry, even though it was passed in. If he passes the puck to Hemsky, who touches it as he’s crossing the blue line, inside the offensive zone, but Hemsky never gains control, it’s unsuccessful. I did the same breakdown with the OIlers and Sharks for their games between 2008-12 (when the Sharks were awesome on the PP and the Oilers terrible) and came up with this, from 16 games:

    You’ll note that the Oilers were actually pretty similar to the Sharks, at around 75% when they carried the puck in, despite the Oilers being a generally horrible PP team over that span and San Jose being a fantastic one. Over the last four games, the Oilers have managed to carry the puck into the offensive zone successfully on 58.8% of their attempts and the opposition has done so at an 86.1% clip. I suspect that this is a far more significant issue than the faceoff issue – there have been 51 attempted entries by carrying the puck to just 20 by way of a faceoff and the success rate is far below even the Oilers’ own poor historic standard.

    Dumping the puck in is a lot more random, which becomes clear to you when you watch zone entries for a while – the puck is whacked in, the other side frequently gets there first and tries to whack it out and sometimes they succeed. It’s a less important skill because it happens less often but one of my anecdotal observations when doing this with the Sharks/Oilers over a four year span was that San Jose (who were markedly better at this than Edmonton) seemed to run dump-in plays far more often than the Oilers, for whom it was sort of part of a progression – if you get to the opposing blue line with no obvious way to carry it in, dump it in. San Jose would have Ryane Clowe plowing down the wing and then rip the puck around the boards towards him.

    The numbers here for dump-ins are so small that they aren’t really worth getting worked up about but, again, Edmonton’s been less successful than the opposition and, anecdotally, I can tell you that Edmonton still sort of seems to be using dump-ins as a “Oh crap, I don’t know” fallback.

    I made notes as I was doing this as to who attempted to enter the defensive zone on the PP for the Oilers and, while my notes aren’t perfect, it looks like this is more of an issue with the putative first PP unit, with a core of RNH-Hall-Eberle-Schultz than it is for the Hemsky-Gagner-Yakupov grouping. Nothing precise but the second unit looks to be about 10% more likely to gain the zone than the first unit which roughly fits with what my eyes have been telling me. The first unit looks to me to be a bit more out of sync and a bit less likely to bring some trickery to play – they’re big fans of letting Hall wind up around the Oilers blue line and roar into the teeth of the defence. The second unit’s a bit more likely to use varied pace and puck movement to try and create an opening.

    It’s been a pretty chaotic season for the Oilers so far, with their 13th game in 23 days coming tomorrow and basically no training camp. This will, I think, be something to watch for tomorrow night against Dallas and then again on Saturday against Colorado, to see if the three days without any games provides them with some opportunity to address this issue.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com

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    11 Responses to PP Zone Entries: It’s Not The Faceoffs

    1. dawgbone
      February 12, 2013 at

      52% seems a bit low for PP face off winning %.

      I recall looking a it a few years ago and it being around 55%

      Not that it matters much.

      • Tyler Dellow
        February 12, 2013 at

        It was 55% when i looked a few years back. It’s dropped some, it would appear.

    2. Lee
      February 12, 2013 at

      TD said….”The numbers here for dump-ins are so small that they aren’t really worth getting worked up about but, again, Edmonton’s been less successful than the opposition and, anecdotally, I can tell you that Edmonton still sort of seems to be using dump-ins as a “Oh crap, I don’t know” fallback.”

      I suspect this is is one of the reasons why the Oil’s lack of FO success is such a topic of conversation.

      The Oilers’ lack of size (and possibly courage?) in the forward ranks prevents them from being a dominant team in terms of re-establishing possession after a dump-in. This makes them a fairly one-dimensional team when it comes to zone entries and as a result, the team tends to struggle against opposition that can effectively bulwark at the blueline to force the dump pass.

      Fair to assume when a team struggles to regain the O-zone, critics will naturally gravitate towards the advantage of maintaining that initial possession post face off?

      In your initial posts on this a while back, you focused on some effective zone entry tactics that the Sharks deployed and I’m hopeful that with the relatively rare practice opps the team will have the latter part of this week, this will be a key point of focus for Krueger and co.

      Stretch passes, pick plays, set plays for dump-ins, etc. There are any number of tactics the Oilers can better deploy through the neutral zone to improve their O-zone entries. In particular, I’d like to see them taking better advantage of J Schultz who’s proven himself very effective at maintaining puck possession in close quarters. Have Hall drive the zone at pace, button hook at the top of the circle, and drop it to Schultz with the Oiler center picking on the opposition forward to enable Schultz that extra fraction of a second to setup. The Oilers could do worse than to look at tape of Ott games to see how they use Karlsson to setup their PP on the point.

      Very frustrating watching a team with this much talent continually turning it over on zone entries with the man advantage.

      That said, I do think you are seeing some natural evolution on the PP with the focus shifting slightly from RNH on the half wall to Schultz on the point and that may help to explain some of the Nuge’s struggles this season (though I suspect the wonky shoulder is the biggest factor).

      • Tyler Dellow
        February 12, 2013 at

        This is all a lot of nice words but a) I don’t think most teams use the dump-in as anything close to a primary zone entry tactic – everyone carries it in and b) teams don’t tend to establish possession by physically overpowering the other team on dump-ins. So I don’t know that there’s much truth in it.

        • Lee
          February 13, 2013 at

          a) Didn’t say it needed to be a primary tactic – merely one weapon in the overall arsenal.

          b) Certainly not the small teams.

      • Doogie2K
        February 14, 2013 at

        Well, if the main problem is the lack of variety of tactics on the carry, then that would be more of an experience and tactics thing than a size thing. I do agree, though, that Krueger should take advantage of his practice time to try to add a wrinkle or three to the zone entries, because right now they’re a nightmare.

    3. Chris
      February 12, 2013 at

      Interesting stuff.

      RE PP Face-offs

      A team’s top PK center is hardly ever their top center, but the PP center is almost always the team’s top center. By this metric, PP face off wins should almost always be above 50%.

      I think there is too much emphasis on Face-offs unless a team gets slaughtered on them (like when the Oilers lost 70% of the draws against Vancouver). A really good faceoff man will have around 55% – that’s not that much better than a coin toss. You can’t ever count on a faceoff win.

      RE PP Zone Entries.

      Though I agree that carrying the puck over is essential, I think you need to mix in a fair amount of dump ins to keep the defenders honest. The Oilers get into trouble because they are determined to carry it over and teams know this. If they dump it in 30% of the time, it’ll make it harder for the PK to predict.

      • Triumph
        February 12, 2013 at

        I don’t buy this. Looking at the top 20 ‘Faceoff Leaders’ on nhl.com, there’s top players like Datsyuk and Thornton who anchor power plays, but there are also defensive centers like Gaustad and Belanger who aren’t let anywhere near them.

    4. MC
      February 12, 2013 at

      I mentioned this in the comment of another post that Todd McLellan is something of a PP savant with the success of his PP% and his s/60 at 5v4. I went and watched a bunch of PP entries by the Sharks from this season last week, their s/60 5v4 isn’t league leading as usual but I’m sure over the season it will normalize — and I’m sure they’re using the same principles they usually have.

      I probably should have marked or diagrammed out the breakout plays, but it seemed as if they had a bunch of set plays whenever Boyle or Irwin has the puck. The plays typically involve a lot of speed from the guys looping back down low usually two guys or maybe three, and the guy(s) in the neutral zone are either stretching out the D at the opposing blueline, or moving across the ice laterally to draw and suck defenders with them to open up the other side of the ice. If their set plays don’t work, or they aren’t seeing anything, I think it’s their immediate and second option to dump the puck when they see they can’t gain entry by carrying or passing it in. If they don’t like the results their set play produced they will usually dump it in hard around the boards and there’s usually two guys (big guys because all their forwards are huge), skating in hard with speed to support that puck and it will usually hop over or trickle back to their D on the other side if the forwards can’t gain possession.

      I just have a feeling that McLellan implements a few set plays (like that Boyle-Thornton-Marleau drop pass pick play you diagrammed in another post) with a couple different wrinkles and options that are set in motion the moment the puck is sent back in their own zone and the d-man is retrieving it. There’s not a lot of dilly-dallying going on the moment the defender touches the puck. I watched some Penguins PP breakouts as well and nobody is as good at getting going with speed as San Jose it seems. I think the Sharks have been coached pretty hard to execute their plays very well, and also coached to immediately go for the dump if nothing is there. Just what I got from watching like 4 games. Tyler, you’ve watched more games so you probably have a better idea, but that’s just what I gathered.

      • Tyler Dellow
        February 12, 2013 at

        Yeah, this is pretty much exactly what I found in the summer. The one thing I do think is that SJ’s second unit, which tends to have Clowe on it, features a dump in that the main unit doesn’t do. Otherwise, there seems to be a real strong structure there that they work within and it works for them.

        There’s more to it than this I think – there’s some stuff in the zone that they do – but they seem to have a really good structure to their PP that the Oilers don’t necessarily hve.

        • MC
          February 13, 2013 at

          I also thought that they used a give-and-go at the blueline with that stretch guy standing still sometimes, maybe as a last alternative before hammering the puck in. I’d have to go back and check, but I seem to remember seeing a decent amount of that as well.

          In terms of in-zone stuff, I noticed on Columbus’ shot-generating-machine of a PP that they are using a similar umbrella set-up to the Oilers, they were using it with the Tyutin-Nikitin-Anisimov-Prospal-whoever unit. But instead of jamming two guys so close to the net (Hall and Harski) and so close together, they had Anisimov floating around in the high slot, to force the PK’ers to adjust their angles a lot more frequently just by having that option there — it kept the PK’ers a little more honest. I found it created a lot more movement and space for everyone.

          I looked at those Penguin’s PP’s and they’re doing the exact same thing with Neal, with Malkin and Crosby on the walls and Letang at the point. It lets them utilize Neal’s sniping skills if they want and gives another dangerous option and opens space for the low man. I’d sort of like to see Yakupov roaming around in that high slot area with Nuge and Ebs on the walls, Schultz at the point and Hall down low where he can create/walk out with more space or clean up garbage more.

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