Zone Entries: When dump-and-chase works

If you have kept up on my game recaps and previous posts about the Carolina Hurricanes neutral zone play then you probably know a few things. One, the Hurricanes a team that generates most of their offense off controlled entries as opposed to dump-ins. Two, they aren't that different from the rest of the league because many other teams succeed through this method. Lastly, the Hurricanes heavily rely on their top-six to do the bulk of the work in the neutral zone, as they carry the puck in more often than any of the other forwards. 

Despite all of this, dump-and-chase play has been a staple of the Hurricanes breakouts and it's been how they've tried to establish a forecheck for most of the season. We've seen a change in recent games but for the majority of the season, the Canes have been a dump-and-chase team and it hasn't gotten them very far. Personally, I think the Hurricanes have enough skill in their lineup to be a better transition team than they've shown and the coaching staff seems to be coming around to this thought, too. As a team, the Canes have had control of the puck on 47-48% of their total 5v5 entries, so they have a lot of room for improvement here, but their numbers in some recent games suggest that they are working towards it. 

Dump-and-chase is still an integral part of hockey, though. It's how a lot of teams try to get a forecheck going and there are some clubs who have been able to win the territorial battle while dumping the puck in 55-60% of the time. The Hurricanes obviously are not one of those teams, but they have tried and there's only one line that's managed to do it successfully. Continue reading to find out which line that is and to get a closer look at the Hurricanes zone entries this season.

As of the Washington game, there is only one player on the Hurricanes who has a shot/entry rate above .5 when they dump the puck in. I asked some fans on Twitter if they could guess which player it was and most guessed a defensemen (Sekera & Hainsey were popular choices). I understand why they would think this, as defensemen generally dump the puck in frequently, but it's actually a forward and that forward is Patrick Dwyer. Carolina has created 45 shots off 88 dump-ins by Dwyer, good for a shot/entry rate of .51 and by far the best mark on the team. The next closest player is Brett Sutter's .44 shots/entry and that's aided by a very small sample size. It might surprise some, but Dwyer has actually been one of Carolina's best, and most relied on, players in the neutral zone this season.

  Entries per 60 % of entries with control Shots Entry
Semin 16.1 71% 0.67
E. Staal 16.6 70% 0.59
Dwyer 19.3 46% 0.59
J. Staal 20.3 64% 0.57
Gerbe 18.7 54% 0.53
Bowman 19.6 45% 0.5
Skinner 22.7 64% 0.48
Tlusty 19.7 44% 0.44
Ruutu 17.4 54% 0.43
Lindholm 11.8 53% 0.43
Nash 18.5 46% 0.43
Malhotra 15.3 33% 0.43
Dvorak 15.1 26% 0.4

The Hurricanes have been able to create a decent amount of offense when Dwyer enters the zone and it doesn't matter if he dumps the puck in or not. When you have an instance like this, I usually attribute to a player having good linemates and this could be the case with Dwyer. His line with Jordan Staal & Nathan Gerbe has been pretty consistent all year long. Their point totals have been modest but they have been the Hurricanes best line when it comes to driving the play at even strength, and they've managed to do it with some tough territorial assignments.

Why has dump-and-chase been so effective for just this line, though? Both Jordan and Gerbe have had success and they've done it while carrying the puck in more times than not. Why doesn't Dwyer follow suit? He's certainly a good enough skater and puck-handler to be someone who can carry the puck in more than 50% of the time. Hell, he even did it last season. One reason why Dwyer doesn't relates to Muller's system, as he relies on his wingers to enter the zone a lot and tried to make the Hurricanes a dump-and-chase team earlier in the season. Another reason is because Dwyer's line are better equipped to be a stronger forechecking unit than the Hurricanes other lines.

Think about it. Both Staal, Gerbe & Dwyer are all great skaters and when you combine Staal's size & physical play with Dwyer's speed and Gerbe's willingness to throw everything at the net, you have yourself a line that can outwork the opposition and grind down the other team's defense. Tripp Tracy always talks about how you want dump-ins to be a "temporary loss of possession" and when these three are on the ice, that's usually what it ends up being. 

This sequence from Carolina's game against Boston illustrates this point well.

Carolina is about to set up a breakout with Nathan Gerbe leading the charge. He has a couple of options here. One, gain the line and try to get the puck deep or get the puck over to Dwyer, who is guarded by Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg.

Gerbe tries to get the puck over to Dwyer, but his pass is disrupted by Seidenberg, who swats the puck down. Dwyer is still in good position to keep the play alive for Carolina.

After letting finally settling the puck down, Dwyer can now get it deep and he simply bats it down to the corner to force Boston's defense to chase it. He's too far away from the net to get any sort of dangerous shot, so getting it deep is safer option here. 

Dwyer doesn't win the race and the Boston defenseman is able to get a free clearing attempt, but helping the situation for Carolina is Jordan Staal, who comes streaking into the play and puts pressure on the Boston defenseman. Also at the bottom of the picture is Dwyer, who will make his presence felt in just a second.

Staal delivers a hit on the Boston defenseman, forcing him to get rid of the puck and he decides to go along the boards, right to where Dwyer is standing. The Hurricanes have now regained possession of the puck and have Nathan Gerbe ready in a scoring position if they can develop a play from here.

Dwyer decides to work the puck back to Staal as they try to get a cycle going. Gerbe also drifts into the play to provide some support.

A puck battle ensues and it eventually comes loose and thankfully for the Hurricanes, they have two players in the vicinity with Gerbe also lurking close by.

Gerbe beats out everyone to the loose puck and gets a shot on goal from a pretty dangerous scoring area. Boston's Torey Krug is there to block it but the Hurricanes are in decent position here with Dwyer & Jordan all ready to pounce on any rebounds.

Carolina's able to get a couple of second and third chance opportunities as Dwyer & Jordan both fight for the rebound and get right in the face of Boston goalie Tuukka Rask.

The Canes don't score, but they are still able to keep the play alive as Jordan's able to beat Seidenberg to a loose puck.

Jordan works the play back to the point and Ryan Murphy is able to get a shot on goal with some traffic in front. Rask ended up making the save and holding on for the whistle, but the Canes were able to get at least 4-5 shots and three scoring chances in this sequence.

All off what appeared to be a harmless dump-in. The puck pursuit and good position of the three forwards is what made this possible and it's something they've done a decent job at this year. So Muller has good intentions with his philosophy to "get pucks deep" and get behind the defense, but the problem is that he has only one line that is doing this effectively. 

The whole debate between dump-and-chase vs. carrying the puck in will probably go on for the rest of the year, but there are some ways that dump-ins can lead to a decent amount of offense. The Hurricanes just don't have the personnel to have their entire team do this. The first line is better carrying the puck in, as evidenced by their high shot/entry rates with a high carry percentage. Tlusty's tendency to dump the puck in 5-6 times a game was one of the reasons why that line struggled so much earlier in the season. The entire bottom-six hasn't been good at creating offense off uncontrolled entries either, which isn't too surprising given the players there.. Jordan's line could be a special case, but it's one of the few positives the Hurricanes have going for them right now.