Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at the Flyers zone exit and entry totals through the first 20 games of the season. We will also take a look and see which players were most successful in helping the transition game by turning their zone exits into entries. I’ll continue to post this data quarterly throughout the season.
I started tracking exits during the 2013-2014 season when Pierce Cunneen was looking for volunteers to help with his zone exit project. It’s something I decided to continue doing this year as well. We’ll check on their progress throughout the season and compare the final numbers to last season’s data as well.
This year I added a new category, pressure. Now we can get a glimpse at which players are best at exiting the zone under pressure. Thanks to Andrew D (@Dreski89) for the suggestion.
First, let’s take a look at which defensemen were the most successful at getting the puck out of zone. A player is credited with a successful exit when they are directly responsible for clearing the puck out of the zone. A successful exit includes carries, passes, chips, or the always popular wildly shooting it around the boards for that desperation clear. Icings are considered a failed exit attempt. No credit is given to any player if the opposing team is responsible for the puck leaving the zone (botched passes, misplayed pucks at the blue line, etc.).
We’ll ignore Brandon Manning and Shayne Gostisbehere’s numbers since neither of them will likely see time in the NHL again this season. Colaiacovo probably won’t see much time either unless the Flyers defense gets hit with an abundance of injuries. I left them in there just in case people were interested in their exit numbers.
The first table is sorted by the % of successful exits. Oh hey, who is that up there near the top of the list? Is that frequent healthy scratch Luke Schenn? Why yes, yes it is. So far this year Luke has been fairly successful at exiting the zone. This is only 20 games worth of data, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue that success. Braydon Coburn has also been a pleasant surprise so far. It’s an aspect of the game they both struggled with quite a bit last year. To be honest, I’m more interested in what’s going on in the second table.
The second table is sorted by the % of successful exits with possession. Maintaining possession is going to be a key to success for the Flyers. Overall, they don’t have the defensive core suited to really help out the forwards in the transition game. The more the defense is able to help out and drive the play forward, the better off the team will be. It’s really no surprise that the top two defenders who exit the zone with possession are Michael Del Zotto and Mark Streit. They play an integral part in the Flyers transition game. It’s an area that they struggle with and the main reason why it’s so frustrating that Del Zotto continues to be a healthy scratch. I will admit, it is surprising to see Coburn so high on the list (hooray for small sample sizes). I’m a big Braydon Coburn fan, but the fact he is so high on the list is a problem. That’s not so much a knock on Coburn, but more a reflection on the team’s lack of puck moving defensemen. He has never been a great puck handler. The more they have to rely on him moving the puck, the more problems they’re going to have later in the season since I don’t believe his success in that area is sustainable.
Let’s take a look at how the defense did exiting the zone under pressure. The % of under pressure category tells us what percentage of a players’ zone exit attempts were being pressured as they tried to exit the zone.
In the first table we can see that Nick Grossmann and Luke Schenn are being pressured the most when trying to exit the zone. I’m not sure it’s all that surprising. Grossmann and Schenn are fairly slow skaters and on the lower end of the talent spectrum, making them easy targets for opposing players looking to regain control of the puck. Coburn has had the easiest time exiting the zone so far this season which might account for his recent success.
For the most part, there is a noticeable drop off between % of exit attempts under pressure and % of successful exits under pressure. So far noted healthy scratch Del Zotto has been the best at retaining possession while being pressured by opponents in the defensive zone. Mark Streit seems to struggle at keeping possession when coming under pressure, which is a bit disappointing. Andrew MacDonald has the largest drop off of all regular defensemen. This is a player the Flyers brought in to help get some mobility and puck movement on the back end. He’s not getting the job done, which was to be expected if you took five minutes to look at his career metrics.
There aren’t a whole lot of surprises in terms of the forwards’ success at exiting the zone. Umberger having a lot of success clearing the zone might be the biggest surprise so far. Raffl is hanging out near the bottom of the list but that might be a product of who he’s playing with every night. His total number of exit attempts is fairly low compared to his line mates. Giroux’s success at exiting the zone may be less than stellar, but where he really shines is maintaining possession.
While Umberger has had overall success clearing the zone, he has struggled at doing so with possession. It’s disappointing to see Couturier and Raffl struggle in this area. Raffl was very good at it last year so I expect his numbers to get better as the year goes on. In regards to Vandevelde’s success, I think it’s more likely that number will come down the longer he says with the team. His percentage mainly a product of the limited number attempts at exiting the zone with possession. As his total ice time increases, we’ll most likely see his success rate drop.
There is a large drop off in maintaining possession under pressure for nearly every forward. It’s no surprise that Giroux and Voracek have had the most success keeping possession under pressure. We’ll come back and check on their progress at the halfway point in the season.
Next week we’ll take a look at zone entries.