A closer look at Carolina’s neutral zone play

Tracking zone entries are something that I have touched on briefly in past articles but have yet to do any serious posts on for the Hurricanes to explain why I am doing this. Part of the reason for this is because I am currently doing a major project from last season and do not have enough data on the team for me to do a substantive post about them. That will come at a later time. For now, I thought it would be a good idea to show what exactly I’m doing with this project and how it correlates to success on the ice.

The main goal behind tracking zone entries is finding out which teams are controlling the neutral zone, how they are entering the zone and how well they perform territorially after getting the puck in. There are other methods but generally, the two most common ways that teams enter the opposing zone are either by dumping the puck in or carrying it in themselves. The whole “dump and chase” method is something that you’ll hear a lot of color analysts talk about as one of the “keys to victory” for their team because it’s a safe way to get the puck in deep. Carolina’s color analyst often puts emphasis on “good dumps,” whatever the hell that means.

While dumping the puck in presents less chance for a turnover, there hasn’t been much evidence to show that it leads to success in terms of generating shots or scoring chances. In fact, past studies have indicated quite the opposite and it makes sense when you think about it. Teams who simply dump the puck in are essentially giving the puck back to the other team in their own zone. Unless they play in a system that puts emphasis on strong forechecking and creating turnovers, this method doesn’t seem like the best for success, especially if you’re playing from behind. 

In my years of watching the Hurricanes, I have noticed that they tend to play “dump and chase” a lot and it could be one of the reasons why this team has been so poor territorially over the last three years or so. I will have a better idea of this once I have more games tracked but to show you what exactly I’m doing with this project, I will go over one of Carolina’s game from last season and show how much the team’s zone entries correlated with the amount of shots and scoring chances they generated. 

The game is Carolina’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Ottawa Senators from last October. Why did I pick this game? Because it’s where I am currently at in the season right now and featured a lot of even strength play. I thought it would serve as a good introduction to this project, which we will start after the jump.

5v5 Zone Entries

First we will look at how both teams fared in terms of neutral zone play. Please make note of that “shots generated counts both shots on goal and missed shots since this is a measurement of puck possession.

5v5 Entries Shots Shots per Entry
Carolina 61 33 0.54
Ottawa 57 31 0.54

Carolina controlled the neutral zone more than Ottawa at even strength but were not dominating them in terms of the amount of shots they were producing. There were stretches in the game where the Canes had control but things were pretty even by the end of the game. Carolina did have an edge in overall shots but they were able to get the puck into Ottawa’s zone more often and probably could have done a better job.

5v5 Controlled Entries

5v5 Controlled Shots Shots per Entry % of Entries
Carolina 25 22 0.88 41%
Ottawa 30 24 0.80 53%

5v5 Uncontrolled Entries

5v5 Uncontrolled Shots Shots per Entry % of entries
Carolina 36 11 0.31 59%
Ottawa 27 7 0.26 47%

While the Hurricanes were able to control the neutral zone more, Ottawa forced them to dump the puck in much more often than they would have liked. This was evident in the third period when the Senators were playing with a 2-0 lead and basically did nothing but clog the neutral zone up the entire time and force the Canes to get it deep. You can see that the Hurricanes were able to take advantage of the times they were able to carry the puck in but they couldn’t do it as often as they wanted to. Carolina did generate some shots while playing this type of game, though as their first goal came off of what was essentially a dump-in. Granted, it was mostly due to a lucky bounce/bad defensive play by Ottawa but they all count in the end.

Scoring Chances

If you’re going to take away one thing from that last section, it is that both teams were able to generate much more shots and control possession when they entered the zone with control of the puck as opposed to when they did not. Do scoring chances line up with this, though? For the most part, yes.

Hurricanes

5v5 5v4 4v5 4v4 Total
Carry-in 8 0 0 5 13
Dump-in 3 0 0 0 3
Pass 0 0 0 0 0
Faceoff 1 3 0 0 4
Other 1 0 0 0 1

This shows how many chances the Hurricanes generated off certain zone entries based off the data I tracked from last season. Over 60% of the Hurricanes 5v5 scoring chances came after the team was able to carry the puck in. There were also a couple instances where they created multiple chances off a carry-in, one of which was by Jiri Tlusty. I also thought it was worth noting that two of the three chances they created off dump-ins were dump-ins from Alexei Ponikarovsky. 

Senators

5v5 5v4 4v5 4v4 Total
Carry-in 8 1 1 1 12
Dump-in 0 0 0 0 0
Pass 1 0 0 0 1
Faceoff 3 0 0 0 3
Other 0 0 1 0 0

Ottawa also generated the majority of their chances off times when they entered the zone with control of the puck and only two when they did not. You may also noticed that none of their scoring chances came off dump-ins. Ottawa was also able to use offensive zone faceoffs to their advantage, as they were able to generate a few chances off those.

Judging by the performance of both teams in this game, it appears that carrying the puck in leads to a greater chance at creating shots than simply “getting it deep.” As you know, more shots lead to more chances and more chances lead to more goals. We will have to wait until I get some more games tracked before we start to make any conclusions but this should give you an idea of what I’m looking at and why I am doing this study. I’ll have another post on this topic with some more detail about the Hurricanes players in the near future.

A special thanks goes to Eric Tulsky of Broad Street Hockey and NHL Numbers for creating the script to record zone entries.

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