A Study in Red Part 1: Zone Entries

Posted on March 19, 2014 by Adam Stringham

Chimera and Ward Celebrate after Ward Lights the Lamp

Photo Credit: Bigstory.com

Despite watching every Capitals' game this year I do not know what the team's system is supposed to look like. As such I often find it hard to determine whether the Caps are poorly executing a good system or properly executing a bad one. In his post game press conferences head coach Adam Oates often calls out the team for not properly adhering to the system, in this multiple part series I am going to try to shed some light on the mysterious offensive system of Adam Oates. The first part of this series is going to focus upon the way that the Capitals enter the offensive zone. 

For the next little while I am going to explain how I set up my observations, if you just want to see the data and my observations feel free to push ahead to the charts. 

Disclaimer: This analysis is for a small sample size and may not be an accurate representation of the team's offensive system, I have every intent of reviewing more games through this same lens to see if the Capitals' strongly vary there entries game by game. This report is simply the observations and conclusions that I have drawn from the data that I have seen so far. I choose the Capitals' game from January 25th in Montreal because I thought it was the most systematically successful game the Capitals have had all year. To have an understanding of Oates' system a well executed game had to be selected. I plan on later analyzing the Capitals' game that I feel they had the most trouble executing and then compare the two to look for differences in zone entry methods.  


As a subscriber to NHL Game Center Live I have the capability to go back and re-watch previous hockey games in their entirety. After picking the MTL game I went back and watched that game and recorded each time the Capitals entered the offensive zone with offensive intent (I did not include dumping the puck for the purpose of a line change). I used the game clock displayed on CSN for recording the times of zone entries, and then converted those times into "Game Time" (elapsed seconds). Here are the questions that I tried to answer for every zone entry:

1.     How was the offensive zone entered (dump or carry)?

2.     Which player carried/dumped the puck into the zone?

3.     In which lane did the player or puck enter the zone (RW, LW, or C)?

4.     Did the player pull up once entering the zone (carry only)?

5.     Did the player drive through their lane of zone entry?

6.     Did the player perform a drop pass (carry only)?

7.     Did the player perform any type of pass (carry only)?

8.     If yes to 6/7 whom was the passer and whom was the intended target?

9.     Was the pass received?

10.   What was the location of the intended target relative to the on ice markings in the OZ?

11.   When did the puck leave the offensive zone?

12.   What was the situation during the entry (PP, PK, or ES)? 

After reviewing the Fenwick chart I elected to disregard the final 11 minutes of the game. Those minutes appeared to dilute the data because after their 5th goal the Capitals’ decided to let up, and only generated 3 additional Fenwick attempts. It is important to note that a few of the items listed above are subjective to my interpretation. 

General Data

The Washington Capitals had 66 entries into the offensive zone and 40 of them occurred at even strength. The Caps carried the puck into the offensive zone 46 times and attempted a pass on 22 of those entries; of the 22 attempts only 12 were completed. Despite the obvious problems with passing the puck while on the rush, the Capitals were still able to generate 40 Fenwick attempts during the observed portion of the game. Six of those 40 attempts were not the result of an offensive zone entry (these Fenwick attempts occurred as result of MTL carrying the puck back into their own zone and then losing the puck to the Capitals' forecheck). 

1.25.14 WSH@MTL

Photo Credit: Extra Skater

The Caps had 9 entries at even strength lead to 15 or more consecutive seconds spent in the offensive zone, the average zone time per entry at even strength was 12.46 seconds. The following infograph is a compilation of the various zone entry statistics that I accumulated. 

The "FA after Entry" portion of the infograph shows the amount of Fenwick attempts (FA) that took place after an entry by that player, for example there were 7 total Fenwick attempts for the Capitals after Ovechkin dumped/carried the puck into the offensive zone. 

Here is the full game , all situation, distribution of the team's entry type and location; take note of the higher number of carries: 

Distribution of zone entries by location and type

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

A Visual Example of a Successful Entry:

As the graphs above show Nicklas Backstrom is one of the best Capitals at entering the offensive zone, and in my opinion he is the best at even strength. The following entry resulted in three even strength Fenwick Attempts and 44 consecutive seconds on the attack. 

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham
Notice how Ovechkin stands his ground against the Canadians' player; which opens up the center lane for Backstrom.

Nicklas Backstrom Offensive Entry

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham
As Backstrom enters the offensive zone, now under pressure, Marcus Johansson also attacks down the left wing.

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham
As the play continues to develop Backstrom has two good options; shoot the puck, or pass the puck to the open space in front of MoJo. Backstrom elects to shoot and continues to drive the net and eventually ends up retrieving the rebound off the board. The entry was successful and resulted in continued possession and a few great scoring opportunities. 


"There are certainly times when players try to do too much, and those instances stand out strongly in our memories. But the data suggests that carrying or passing the puck across the line is much more effective than dumping it in" (Eric T. Broad Street Hockey). 

Washington does utilize an offensive system but 1 game's worth of zone entry data is not enough to decipher it. Here are some of my observations that I will look to follow up on with other games. 

  • The Capitals' system (like all others) is often forced to use the wings to enter the offensive zone. I was expecting to see a preference for the penalty box side wing based upon the period of play but none was observed.
  • I expected to see a high number of drop passes but only 3 were recorded throughout the entirety of the 49 minutes viewed (Backstrom was only responsible for one of those drop passes). 
  • The Caps only pulled up on 6 zone entries and all were by different players. I expected to see more stopping immediately after crossing the blue line in order to wait for a trailing Caps' player. 2 goals were scored off of these 6 plays. 
  • At even strength the puck carrier drove their lane of entry 42.3% of the time. 
  • The Capitals made a lot of East-West passes right before entering the offensive zone, unfortunately I did not record passes prior to the crossing of the offensive blue line. 
  • In all situations 52.7% of all Capitals' Fenwick attempts came off of zone entries with multiple FAs. 
  • 33% of even strength zone entries that generated a Fenwick attempt generated another.
  • 19 of the Capitals' 21 even strength FA (90.5%) were the result of carries into the offensive zone. 

The Capitals showed a willingness to go one on one against tough defenders on the rush during this game against Montreal. 

Round Up and Weekly Review 

  1. To get substantial information about the Capitals' systems a lot more games will have to be analyzed, but this data is a start. 
  2. The Capitals looked good against Anaheim even though they gave up a ton of shots. 
  3. I am a big Halak fan.
  4. The Caps did not generate a lot of odd man opportunities during the MTL game. 
  5. Honestly I liked how the 90-83-8 line looked last night (Ovie 4.4% CF. Rel.), well besides those penalties on Beagle. 

Special thanks to Ben Bruno for his help with embedding the infographic and Andy Hom

Follow me on twitter @Stringhama

next up:

Fantasy Hockey Review: 3/19/2014

March 19, 2014

Caps Old Warhorse and New Star; Better Late Than Never For Burrows


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