A Study in Red: Zone Entries Part 3

Posted on April 22, 2014 by Adam Stringham

Washington Capitals Head Coach Adam Oates

Photo Credit: NBC Sports

Part 1: Can be Viewed Here

Part 2: Can be Found Here

Adam Oates' systems were a mystery to both Capitals' fans and players alike for the entirety of the 2013-2014 NHL season. Based on the media exit interviews most Capitals' players were unable to internalize the system being taught to them to the level necessary to play in  "autopilot"; with one line of forwards being consistently noted as the exception. The following is a look at how the Washington Capitals and their opponents entered the offensive zone across 26 games this season. 

Entry Type Distribution and Leads:

The Capitals had significant trouble holding a lead of any type this season. Some of those troubles can be attributed to the Capitals infamous Sv% at 5v5 when leading by one goal (87.9%); but there is more to it than that. 

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

Across all score differentials, during 5v5 play, the Capitals dump the puck for 54.50% of their non-failed entries. When leading by one goal the Capitals opt to dump the puck 64.89% of the time. It is well documented that carrying the puck into the offensive zone generates more shot attempts than dumping the puck in, and that continues to hold true for the Capitals. The Capitals drop from .62 FA/Entry (Fenwick attempts/entry) with a carry to .26 FA/Entry with dump ins. The Capital's predisposition for dumping the puck may have been a reason for their poor puck possession numbers all season long, regardless of the score situation. For reference here is how the opposition entered the zone against the Capitals in the 26 games sampled. 

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

While the Capitals prefer to dump the puck the teams they play prefer to carry it into the zone (dump% of 48.04%). When leading by one opposition carry the puck against the Capitals even more often (dump% of 41.93%). Based solely on these numbers it is not surprising that the Capitals had the 4th worst FF% in the NHL when trailing by one goal (5th worst when tied). The Capitals defense (or the Capitals defensive scheme) allows for players to enter the zone on the rush with relatively low pressure put on them; this results in successful zone entries and more Fenwick attempts generated. If the Capitals defense is responsible for the high amount of carries against, is good defense by the Capitals opponent the reason that they dump the puck so frequently? To try and answer that question; I decided to look at the individual statistics of the members of the Capitals' systematically adherent 3rd line. 

Oates' System?

Members of the third line

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

No line was more consistent for the Capitals' than the third line; and the third line liked to dump the puck. Here are the dump and chase percentages for the players in the graph above. 

  • Jason Chimera- 66.13%
  • Joel Ward- 53.61%
  • Eric Fehr- 31.67%
  • Mikhail Grabovski- 22.22%

Ward and Chimera dumped the puck into the zone much more than their centers. Despite the regularity with which they dumped the puck the two wingers actually had less success per dump than whomever was their pivot. It is also of note that Chimera and Ward generated many more attempts when they carried the puck compared to when they chipped it in. Maybe Adam Oates' system is designed to be a safe one, where the players dump the puck whenever a clear lane of entry is not available. If that is the case I would expect that players that have a higher percentage of their entries resulting from dumping the puck to rarely fail to enter the zone on their occasional carries. 

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

Visually it appears that being more selective on when to carry the puck does not have an overwhelming large effect on the percentage of even strength carries that are successful. Perhaps fail rate has more to do with the player entering the zone and less to do with the system in place; maybe dumping the puck more leads to more Fenwick attempts when the player elects to carry. 

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

Here are the Capitals top 4 shot attempt per carry players and their carry percentages (minimum of 50 entries): 

  1. John Carlson- 29.1%
  2. Jason Chimera- 33.9%
  3. Marty Erat- 32.0%
  4. Alexander Ovechkin- 83.9%

Maybe there is something to be said for selectivity of carries, or maybe there isn't. The Capitals top 4 shot attempt per entry players and their carry percentages (minimum of 50 entries): 

  1. Alexander Ovechkin- 0.67 Fenwick Attempts per entry (84%)
  2. Mikhail Grabovski- 0.53 FA per entry (78%)
  3. Nicklas Backstrom- 0.52 FA per entry (66%)
  4. John Carlson- 0.45 FA per entry (29%)

Carrying the puck into the offensive zone results in more shot attempts; being more selective on when to carry the puck does not result in more offense. This team's roster was built to utilize speed in transition. To get the most out of that speed the puck needs to be carried, not dumped, into the offensive zone. Perhaps a system like this could be successful with a roster built with this particular system in mind; but the Capitals' are not built that way. 

Random Thoughts:

1. This Capitals' roster needs a coach that believes offense is the best defense.

2. The Capitals were a terrible hockey team the year that Dale Hunter was head coach; they may have made it to game seven against the NYR but they never would have won the cup. 

3. I am enjoying stress free playoff hockey watching. 

4. Special thanks to Andy Hom and Corey Sznjader. Corey provided me with the entry data for the 26 games that I used in this post. 

5. The Capitals had bad luck when they played well this year. 

Photo Credit: Adam Stringham

Follow me on Twitter @Stringhama and @TalkTheRed

Posted in: Washington Capitals
next up:

Capitals still struggle to replace Semin

April 18, 2014

The ghost of Alex Semin still haunting the Capitals

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