Optimizing Usage Using Zone Entry Data

(Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography)

(Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography)

Last week, the wonderful Jess Schmidt (@2_for_slashing) published the first 20 games worth of zone entry data for the 2014-15 season. Over the past couple years, it has become common knowledge that a carry-in zone entry produces over twice as many shot attempts as a dump-in. As a result, many teams (probably including the Flyers) have started paying closer attention to zone entry data.

Zone entry data can be useful to executives, coaches, and even players. For a coach who is looking to optimize his deployment, this data can prove to be extremely valuable. In terms of the Flyers, Craig Berube has made some good decisions when it comes to getting the most out of his lineup’s zone entry and entry prevention ability. There are also a few changes that could be made to improve the overall efficiency of the team.

Now obviously a coach should not make usage decisions based entirely on zone entry data, especially after just 20 games. Matchups and offensive ability often play a large part in determining how a player is utilized. This data is just another weapon that a coach should have in his arsenal when making these decisions during games.

Let’s take a look at some changes that could be made. For reference, here is the entry data for the first 20 games.

LESS DEFENSIVE ZONE STARTS FOR BRAYDON COBURN

It’s no secret that Braydon Coburn is the most successful Flyers defensemen when it comes to breaking up attempted zone entries against. He leads the Flyers in that category this season and he has led them in the past as well.  After 24 games this season, he has started in the offensive zone less than any other defenseman (27.0%), and is near the top (34.4%) when it comes to DZSt%. When Coburn starts his shift in the defensive zone, he isn’t able to use his talents to prevent the puck from getting there.

With very few reliable defensemen on this roster, Berube is in a difficult position. Taking defensive zone starts away from Coburn means that they are going to guys like Nicklas Grossmann and Andrew MacDonald. With that said, giving Coburn more opportunities to use one of his greatest skills might improve the overall efficiency of the team.

MORE DEFENSIVE ZONE STARTS FOR ANDREW MACDONALD

It’s well documented that Andrew MacDonald is the worst defenseman on the Flyers roster when it comes to preventing successful entries against. During the first 10 games of his 2014-15 season, he broke up one (1) entry out of 55 attempts. I’m no expert myself, but that seems rather, um, bad.

MacDonald has started 32.4% of his shifts in the offensive zone this season while starting 33.% of them in the defensive zone. His predicament is the exact opposite of Coburn’s. MacDonald should start in the defensive zone more often in order to limit the number of times that he tries to defend the blue line.

MacDonald is (how do I put this nicely?) not necessarily ‘good’ at anything. If theres one thing he excels at, however, it is playing defense once the puck is already in the defensive zone. With that established, it certainly makes more sense to give him a few more defensive zone starts. I think I’ve made it very clear how I feel about the MacDonald contract. The Flyers can still make the best of a bad situation by optimizing the skills that he does have.

LESS OFFENSIVE ZONE STARTS FOR JAKUB VORACEK

Jakub Voracek has been the Flyers most successful forward in terms of gaining the blue line with control. He has failed on just 5% of his entries, and he controls the puck 62.8% of the time. He led the Flyers in control % for 2013-14 as well. He is also one of the top Flyers this season when it comes to successfully exiting the defensive zone.

After 36 games, he has started more shifts in the offensive zone (39.9%) than any other Flyer. It isn’t difficult to understand why; He is beginning to emerge as one of the top offensive threats in the league.

I still think that it would benefit the Flyers to start him outside of the offensive zone more often. Giving Voracek just a few more neutral and defensive zone starts would put him in a position to use his entire skill set more often, while at the same time not necessarily limiting his offensive role. These offensive zone starts could be given to players who have more difficulty gaining the blue line, while the more capable Voracek could use his exit/entry talents to move the puck the full length of the ice.

Like I stated earlier, no drastic decisions should be made on the basis of zone entries alone, especially after just 20 games worth of data. There are no changes in usage that will turn the Flyers into a positive possession team with this roster. As the season goes on and the sample size gets larger, hopefully the Flyers will begin to look at things analytically and explore different ways that they can use this data to improve their possession game as a team.

 

Data from this article was obtained from Jess Schmidt (@2_for_slashing) and stats.hockeyanalysis.com

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