Over the last few months, I've discussed the importance of neutral zone play and tracking zone entries and today, we are finally going to take a look at how the Hurricanes are performing in that regard. Anybody who reads this blog already knows that I am a big follower of the statistical side of hockey and I've been tracking scoring chances for the Hurricanes (among other teams) for the past year or so. Scoring chances and shot-based metrics such as Corsi and Fenwick do a good job of showing which teams are controlling possession and tracking neutral zone play enhances this.
Think of it this way one of the goals in hockey is to spend more time in your opponent's zone than not, and winning the battle in the neutral zone is a necessary step to accomplish that. Shot-based stats tell you who is spending the most time in their opponent's zone and making the most of their opportunities, but tracking zone entries and neutral zone play can build on this in a number of ways. Being able to control the neutral zone is what leads to teams having more extended time in their opponent's end and in turn, leads to more shots and goals against.
So how do we track neutral zone play? The process is very simple, we look at which players are entering the offensive zone and whether or not they are doing it with control of the puck. It's been shown in past studies that teams who enter the zone with possession are more likely to create shots and scoring chances than teams who just simply play dump-and-chase. Not that dumping the puck in is always bad, but it's essentially giving possession to the other team in most cases and getting the puck into the zone with possession usually leads to more offense, more goals and usually more wins. Tracking neutral zone performance can tell us which players help their teams win more by seeing which ones are the strongest at driving the play forward. It can also tell us who creates the most offense off of their entries, reveal why some players struggle to move the puck forward and who might be a passenger on their line.
I've been tracking zone entries for the Hurricanes and two other teams this season to help expand on this study and see which players are the strongest in terms of neutral zone play. I did this by re-watching every game this season and noting which players got the puck into the offensive zone and if they did it via carry-in, dump-in, pass, tip or another method. It's a simple but time consuming process that can reveal a lot of interesting things about many players and teams in the league.*
After the jump, we'll take a look at what the Hurricanes neutral play says about them and their players.
* I did not count dump-ins where players went off for a line change because the team is obviously not trying to create any offense off those.no comments