2014-15 Flames Zone Entries

This past season, we here at FlamesNation have been tracking zone entries in addition to our previously-established practice of tracking scoring chances. This was the first season we did this, and as a bit of a disclaimer, it’ll probably take a couple seasons and some tweaking for our data to be robust enough to really know much about what these numbers really mean.

That said, here’s what we have after 82 regular season games looking just at the Calgary Flames. The numbers we present are for the regular season only, but are for even-strength and power-play situations for the most part. (There’s not much tactics or strategy in dumping the puck deep when you’re killing a penalty, after all.)

THE NUMBERS

  • There were 7,544 successful zone entries, for an average of 92 entries per game. Generally-speaking, most periods featured about 28-30 zone entries.
  • There were 3,076 successful carry-in entries, for an average of 38 carries per game. While the data isn’t complete, the data we have suggests carries result in roughly four times more scoring chances than dump-ins.
  • On the season, the Flames averaged a carry on 40.8% of their zone entries. On the flip-side, that means they dumped the puck into the offensive zone 59.2% of the time and then either chased after it or turned back to the bench for a line change.
  • Anecdotally, score effects do factor in to period-to-period adjustments. Generally, the Flames dump the puck a ton early in games and then begin carrying it in more and more. That happened in most games, as most games were close. When games weren’t close – and the Flames were leading – the expected score effect occurred: lots of dump and chase to run out the clock.

Most Zone Entries:

  • Johnny Gaudreau, 720
  • Jiri Hudler, 605
  • Sean Monahan, 544
  • Lance Bouma, 424
  • David Jones, 414

(T.J. Brodie had 413, Mason Raymond had 411.)

Most Carry-Ins:

  • Johnny Gaudreau, 476
  • Sean Monahan, 283
  • Jiri Hudler, 239
  • Mason Raymond, 184
  • Mikael Backlund, 182

Most Dump-Ins:

  • Jiri Hudler, 366
  • Lance Bouma, 284
  • Sean Monahan, 261
  • David Jones, 260
  • Mark Giordano, 246

Best Carry-In Percentage (Minimum 100 Entries):

  • Johnny Gaudreau, 66.1%
  • Mikael Backlund, 52.4%
  • Sean Monahan, 52.0%
  • Paul Byron, 50.7%
  • Mason Raymond, 44.8%

Worst Carry-In Percentage (Minimum 100 Entries):

  • Deryk Engelland, 13.6%
  • Raphael Diaz, 14.7%
  • Kris Russell, 20.8%
  • Brandon Bollig, 21.9%
  • Mark Giordano, 26.7%

RELATIONSHIPS

Zone Entries & Corsi:

The relationship between zone entries and puck possession seems fairly theoretically straightforward. If you dump the puck in a lot, you give up possession a lot. If you carry it in more often, you don’t give up possession and can generate more shot attempts.

To nobody’s surprise, that comes across in the player-specific numbers. Here’s a scatter-plot with a line of best fit between the Corsi For percentage (on the Y-axis) and Carry-In percentage.

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 11.43.50 AM

The R-squared value suggests that roughly 14.2% of the variation in Corsi For percentage for each player can be explained by their Carry-In percentage. That’s not terrible, but bear in mind it’s based on one team, one season and a relatively small sample in the context of the whole league. But hey, it’s a start.

Zone Entries & Zone Starts:

Zone entries are easier if you start in the offensive zone (and have to potentially recover clearings to the neutral zone and get back in against tired defenders). Similarly, if you frequently start your shifts in the defensive end and have to bust your way out, your energy will be lower and most likely, you’ll chuck the puck into the offensive zone and go for a line change.

However, that relationship doesn’t really come out in the data. Here’s a scatter-plot of Carry-In percentage (on the Y axis) and Offensive Zone Start percentage.

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 2.43.33 PM

While R-squared isn’t the be-all, end-all of evaluating statistical relationships, the scatter pattern and the low R-squared suggests that the relationship here is pretty weak, if existing at all. In other words, players that start a lot in the defensive end shouldn’t be expected to dump the puck in more frequently, as plenty of players who spent their time in the defensive end ended up being high carry-rate players – Mikael Backlund and Paul Byron notably.

NEXT STEPS

We have good news and bad news for 2015-16.

The bad news is the online interface we used to collect scoring chances data is being discontinued. But with War On Ice collecting largely the same data, that’s no issue…and it opens up some time to expand our zone entry data collection.

While we haven’t hammered out specifics yet, we’re looking to expand the taxonomy of zone entries beyond the simplified “carry-in versus dump-in” scheme to provide a bit more nuance. For instance: what does a player do after they carry it in, and looking at the differences between the “dump and chase” and the “dump and change.”

In addition, we’ll be looking at how often the Flames get hemmed into their own zone versus how often they hem in the other team. It’s an attempt to capture how often the club is able to use their possession game to wear a team down versus how often they’re worn down by the other team.

    • mk

      Interesting summary. Johnny is insane, and Monahan is a nice surprise. Hudler also dumps the pucks in a lot more than I expected.

      By chance will there be a “strategic dump in” bucket? Some good players in the league appear able to effectively chip and chase, and dump the puck in softly, where the puck gets dumped in but the defender had zero chance at retrieval. I would imagine it still generates less scoring chances than a typical carry in because the puck is still technically leaving the player’s possession.

    • mk

      Giordano is the biggest surprise in that data, IMO. I get that defensemen will generally dump at a higher rate than forwards, but I thought he would be higher among the d-core than that. Strange.

      • SmellOfVictory

        I’m not hugely surprised, partially due to what you mentioned about dmen. In addition, Gio isn’t an elite skater so it would be tougher for him to gain the zone as well. The only thing that really surprises me is that Wideman is somehow implicitly above him (possibly just due to carrying the puck a lot less in general).

    • piscera.infada

      Can we draw any inferences from strictly the first chart? I notice Bouma and Jones are 4 and 5 on “most zone entries”. Considering they mostly started in the defensive zone last year, can we infer they are moving the puck up ice? It would seem (as you state) that they lose “possession” through dumping it in. As such, could you correct that a bit by either: a) having them carry the puck in more (if it’s a system issue), or b) putting a faster or more technically skilled player on their wing (for better puck retrieval)?

    • Just a general thought, it is quite amazing just how hard people are looking for good statistical news regarding Janko, Bouma and Russell.

      This isn’t a bad thing by any means. If these are our biggest problems we aren’t in bad shape.

    • Koolmoedee

      I read an interesting interview with Dan Bylsma, who was studying zone entries.

      The general assumption is that if you carry the puck in, you have better possession because you don’t give up the puck. This bears out in shot stats, which shows that you’re more likely to get a shot attempt on carry-ins.

      However, Bylsma said there was more to the story. When you dump the puck in, you put a lot of pressure on opposing defences because you force them to turn around and chase into the corners. Defencemen go from predator to prey. Anybody who has played defence knows this is an extremely uncomfortable situation. This is especially true when the defenceman is an old-school stay-at-home type who can’t skate or handle the puck. Nowadays, the top defencemen are all guys who can skate to retrieve pucks and make quick, smart plays once they get it.

      In a 60-minute game, and especially in a seven-game series, good forechecking teams can wear down defences over time, and force a lot of errors. You also make defences wary of defending too aggressively against the carry-in.

      Obviously, this works better if you have Micheal Ferland on the forecheck versus Johnny Gaudreau, while the opposite is true on carry-ins.

      The other thing to remember is if you fail on a carry-in, the puck is a lot closer to your own net. If you consistently fail, you’ll spend a lot more time buried in your own zone, getting tired, and making more mistakes.

      I think the bottom line is you don’t want to choose one method of zone entry versus another 100% of the time. A guy like Gaudreau should almost always be carrying it in, while a guy like Ferland may be more effective shooting it in more often. And regardless of who is carrying the puck, you should dump the puck in if there is no carry-in play to be made.

      • RealMcHockeyReturns

        Sort of agree with your comments but Gaudreau is adept at stealing pucks so can also be a good forechecker on dump-ins….but clearly he is EXCELLENT at carry-ins so likely better for his line/PP buddies if he carries it in…

      • Avalain

        I agree with you. To extend the idea a little bit, you don’t want to only do carry-ins because the defenders can cheat a bit and clump up on the blue line. Dumping it in is useful for keeping them honest, if anything.

      • BurningSensation

        A lot depends on the system the opposition is employing too. On ice in the last 10 minutes of a period versus a team with a passive neutral zone trap, it is better to get the puck behind the defense and forecheck with speed

        • ChinookArchYYC

          I agree, and conversely Zone Entry data may be a tool that illustrates how effective a team’s defense (tactics, d-pairings, individual players etc.) is at preventing carry-ins, and supress strong carry-in/posession players to dump a puck in.

          Maybe this kind of analysis can finally provide a related stat for defensive defensemen. Possession stats have never been kind to the responsible defensive minded defensemen. Hopefully, we’ll be able to point to the data and find defenseman that force dump-ins and turn-overs.

    • BurningSensation

      Gaudreau has all the tools to be a zone entry MONSTER ala Patrick Kane.

      Something I expect will also improve down the roster with the addition of Bennett and his speed.

    • prendrefeu

      Here is a question that just popped into my brain about zone entries. Would you rather have a guy like England/Bollig try and maintain possession by carrying the puck in or dumping it in and making a line shift?

      Also is there any correlation to zone entries and length of shift? A player who has been on the ice a long time may make the smart play and dump the puck in to allow fresh bodies rather than be trapped in the corner during a shift change.

      • SmellOfVictory

        Well that’s the thing: I’d rather not have a guy like Engelland/Bollig on the Flames, period. But the direct answer to your question is: dump it, all day every day. I’ve seen what Engelland does when he tries to carry the puck or pinch, and it’s awful.

        • RealMcHockeyReturns

          Personally I agree with you on Bollig and England but that is our current reality and therefore it weighes the stats in this manner. My point is that this is a meaningful stat when you take it into context; who else is on the ice with you, who the other team has on the ice, length of shift, time and score in the game; all of these can be strategic decisions. Would I like the Flames to do more zone entries with possession; absolutely but I would guys make the right choice based upon all factors.

      • Tomas Oppolzer

        Yeah, what a debacle. He only built one of the best defensive teams ever that managed to win 3 Stanley Cups. In his time with the Devils they only missed the playoffs 5 times prior to their recent stretch of bad seasons. That’s 5 times since 1987. He’s a hell of a GM.

        Not to mention, I would bet they brought him in to mentor Dubas, who will almost certainly be the Leafs GM in 2-3 years.

          • Tomas Oppolzer

            In case you didn’t notice they made the cup final in ’12. Of course he traded away futures for the present. He figured they were in a cup contending window like any reasonable person would. It doesn’t change the fact that he built one of the most successful teams of the last 30 years.