• Oiler Breakouts Post-DZW

    by  • June 13, 2014 • Hockey • 9 Comments

    I wrote a piece last week about the Oilers problems after they won defensive zone faceoffs this year with Taylor Hall on the ice. The short form of that (you can refresh your memory here) is that the Oilers stunk in that situation this year, despite being really good at it last year.

    In the course of writing that, I made the following comment:

    I can say that it seemed to me like, after Christmas, the Oilers seemed to run a certain play a lot when they won a defensive zone faceoff and it didn’t seem like it was paying off. Essentially, it boiled down to this: they win the faceoff, Hall takes off for the neutral zone and they try to go off the glass. I noticed it so often that I was taking screen captures and tweeting them with sarcastic commentary.

    I caved to my lack of data and went back and watched their post-Christmas DZ wins and the subsequent zone exits so that I could comment on it a little more sensibly. I ended up with 67 draws, 37 of which were on the left side and 30 on the right side. Of the ones on the left side, I’ve got ten examples of them trying this (or Hall going like they were going to do it and the D getting run over). Here it is: 1:30 or so of glory.

    Let’s talk about this a bit. First observation: this is a left dot play. I suspect that they might have tried it out of the right dot as well, but I had a bit of a focus on Hall while I was doing this and I suspect I might not have caught it off the right side.

    A second general observation. This all flows from how the Oilers approach DZ wins. They have a standard approach to these faceoffs. If it’s on the left side, you’ve got a D on the wall and a D on the inside of the circle. Generally, it seems like they’d have the D flipped when they ran this play – i.e. a left handed shot on the inside of the circle, where the RD would usually play and vice versa. They didn’t always flop their D like this but I didn’t record when they were doing it and when they weren’t when I watched this. In a SportVu world, we’ll have this information with a few clicks. Then you’ve got your two wingers on the inside hash mark, with the left winger closest to the play.

    When the puck’s dropped, the left winger cuts through the circle towards the left boards and then shoots up. When they ran this play, he’d push out aggressively into the neutral zone. It’s easy to say that this didn’t work – look at the video – but from a “Should this work?” perspective, man I’m skeptical.

    A lot has to go right for it to work. It’s uncertain where the defenceman will be receiving the puck. It’s uncertain what pressure he’s going to be under. This is going to impact where he puts it off the glass, which is going to impact where it lands, making that uncertain. Then it’s got to get by a couple of guys and then Hall (or whoever is on the left boards) has to take it while it’s bouncing. Dambusters type stuff.

    IF that happens, you get a 2 on 2. More often than not, you’re probably going to get a turnover or an icing. And the Oilers ran this more than 25% of the time off the left dot in the last half of the year.

    Now, I should note that the play suspiciously disappears after March 13. Maybe that’s a coincidence, maybe not. I kind of doubt that it was coincidence but who knows. It’s unfortunate that this sort of thing isn’t really talked about in the media because it’d be interesting to know what prompted this.

    I mentioned that I think this sort of flows from what the Oilers do generally. I have a tentative theory that they push the inside winger awfully high. So puck drops, the inside winger cuts towards the boards and then out of the zone. He’s giving the defence an option if they want to go up the wall.

    If the puck goes behind the net, the outside winger comes across and back, providing an outlet for the defence. The inside winger is then expected to provide an outlet. Just observationally, it seems to me like the Oilers frequently had that winger really high up the ice, requiring a high risk pass to get to him. See, for example, this, a sequence of clips with Hall and Perron on the ice and the faceoff on the right side.

    It looks to me like there’s been a decision made at some point to push that winger up the ice. Leaving aside the question of the off the glass and out thing that the Oilers do, is that a good tactic? Even if you hit the pass, you’re getting a guy up there alone. I assume that one of the things the coaches are hoping to acquire in a tradeoff is more room in the neutral zone, as the D back off to deal with the winger.

    Is this coached? Is it the players? I don’t have answers to these questions but this seems like the sort of thing to me that’s more likely to have been coached. The closer you are to a point where the game stops, the easier it is for a coach to impose structure, in my view.

    I still wouldn’t condemn the Oilers approach based on what we’re seeing here. To really establish a strong argument, I think you’ve got to show teams with similar talent issues that are doing it differently and succeeding. We know that there are teams with sketchy talent that are doing a lot better than the Oilers in this aspect of the game; the question is whether it’s tactical. I’m inclined to think it is but that’s a gut feeling.

    Two other threads that come to mind for me here. First, I remember one of the Canucks, either Alex Burrows or Ryan Kesler, making a snide comment after losing to Edmonton that the Oilers cheat all over the ice. I wonder if this is the sort of stuff they’re talking about. Second, and there are a couple of threads here, I had someone who’s watched Craig Ramsey teams closely in the past tell me that he was struck by how they move in a group. That would seem to be counter to what we’re seeing here; maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t know.

    That’s kind of hard to do in this medium, with this technology but I’ve got a few ideas as to how to go about looking at some other teams with talent issues who get results. We’ll see if anything comes of it.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    9 Responses to Oiler Breakouts Post-DZW

    1. D. Green
      June 13, 2014 at

      All excellent stuff as always

      I must admit I was thinking as I was going through – is this to get the opposition to react rather than a deliberate attempt at a specific play – and then you expressed the same thing.

      Just wonder, if one were the coach, would you do this play against certain teams – or would it be a general play all the time or only when called ie mixing it up ?

      Now if I can think to this level I’m damn sure that experienced coaches would have got past this level at kindergarten stage ?

      Question for you – if players came to you, as coach, with a certain play – would you give it a try (if your season was already effectively over) – just to please them – not saying that would be a good idea …….

      • Chris
        June 13, 2014 at

        D., I think any coach would be a fool not to listen to his players. It can be hard to take advice from those you direct, but you do yourself a disservice not to give their ideas as much airtime as your own, and to at least give them a fair assessment compared to what you’re already doing. Maybe not in a game state with no prep, but running it in practice? I’d be inclined to believe that happens a lot. At least of hope so.

    2. chelch
      June 13, 2014 at

      On one of those plays Hall gets off the ice after taking a swing at the puck so you can assume it was after an icing. Getting the puck out and forcing the other team to exit the zone isn’t the worst idea, especially after an icing. Even if they aren’t successful in creating a chance for themselves, they are probably more successful at preventing one against, at least for a few seconds.

      It’s going to be difficult to find teams with suspect talent compared to the Oilers. Is there a worse group of Dmen anywhere?

    3. Caleb
      June 13, 2014 at

      This stuff is all fascinating because it’s so difficult to decipher what’s tactics and what’s players reacting – like you mentioned. One thing I kind of noticed in the second clip with face offs occurring at the right face off dot was how low Taylor Hall is every time. It almost seems like they’re using him as a defenceman because he’s so low in the DZ and was getting passes at the hash marks then trying to spring the man flying up the NZ. It seems like they’re limiting their options by keeping him so low in the DZ and having him make the outlet pass rather than be apart of the forecheck (if this is tactical like you suggest).

      • Caleb
        June 13, 2014 at

        I thought this was most notable against STL, LA, CAR, and BUF. Just an observation.

    4. chelch
      June 13, 2014 at

      Side question:
      I’ve been trying to come up with that magic formula to determine a player’s skill level, and I keep coming back to wanting to include PDO. I know the general thinking is that PDO is a “luck” rating, but I’m starting to think it may mean a lot more. Good players generally have a good PDO every year. Maybe their SV% is better than average because of how they play. If they give up fewer odd man rushes for example. I’m interested in your opinion and whether anyone has looked into this before.

      • MaxPower417
        June 13, 2014 at

        I’m no expert myself but from what I’ve read you have it backwards.

        There are signs that forwards can impact their on-ice shooting percentage to a small degree but no evidence that forwards can affect their on-ice save percentage and defencemen haven’t been shown to be able to affect either.

    5. sportsfan2
      June 13, 2014 at

      There are a couple instances in the video you provided where the player seems to hesitate in that direction before remembering to do it. To me that’s an indication it’s coached. Was similar hesitation noted in the other examples?

      Great work as always.

    6. Benhur
      June 14, 2014 at

      I tracked the Oilers vs. Competitions Defensive Zone Turnovers for 37 games at the beginning of the 13 – 14 season.I defined a Defensive Zone Turnover as one where the defending team has possession in their own defensive zone and turnover the puck to the opposition.
      My limited data indicates the Oilers were far worse atr DZTs than their opposition. The Oilers had 683 DZTs and their opposition had 301 during these 37 games. Greater than a two to one ratio overall.
      Turnovers in their own end and lack of turnovers in the oppositions end leads to what??? …You guessed it, very poor performance.
      Because of the DZTs the Oilers allowed 267 shots against (SAA) & the opposition allowed 95 SAAs or Oilers SAA to DZTs was 39.1% & the oppositions was 31.6 %.
      The Oilers 267 shots led to 21 goals against (GAA) or 7.9 percent. The opposition had 8 GAA at 7.9%. Obviously the same percentage but of course, the Oilers allowed a lot more SAAs.
      The Oilers allowed 21/683 *100= 3.1% GAA/DZT. The opposition allowed 8/301*100= 2.7% GAA/DZT.
      What all this data indicates to me is the Oilers were poor at breaking out of their zone relative to the opposition and poor at turning the puck over in the offensive zone.
      Another point of interest is Petry had 119 DZTs leading the team by a large margin. He had 119 DZTs or 17.4% of the DZTs. He of course played against the toughest opposition but I’m sure this is a pretty poor comparison vs. other 1st line defensmen.
      These are key areas that the team and individual players needs to improve on to become an effective team.

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