The Vicious Cycle of Conservative Defensive Structure

In the Defensive Zone and even in the Neutral Zone, recovering the puck requires an aggressive mindset. Everyone can recall a time when a player made a bid to get the puck from an opponent only to miss and be caught out of position defensively. These are usually seen as reckless plays because the other players did not anticipate the risk that their teammate was going to take and scramble to cover for him. There is a way to avoid this though. A defensive zone system that builds in aggressive puck recovery ensures that the other players will shift their coverage to fill in for the player who is battling to get the puck. These systems take an “attack the puck” approach to defensive zone play. They provide for support on the boards to battle for the puck as well as a “recovery position” player whose job it is to retrieve the puck when it comes out of the board battle.

Building fail safes into the defensive zone system turns what is often viewed as a reckless abandoning of defensive position to make a play for the puck into a systematic approach to puck recovery and helps avoid players being caught drastically out of position. When this systematic approach is not used, teams often start to think they need to tighten up their defensive zone coverage because these reckless plays are resulting in players being caught out of position and the attacking team taking advantage of that to get a better shot on net. This essentially creates a vicious cycle of more and more conservative play in the defensive zone. *click the image to enlarge

conservative dz structure

Continue reading

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & The Neutral Zone

Crucial Habits for Good Shot Generation & Suppression: Overview

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Controlled Zone Exits

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Puck Recovery

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Game Flow

ZONE TIME & GOALS

We’ve covered offensive zone entries, puck recovery and game flow so far in our discussions of Shot Generation. Now it’s time to see how teams use the neutral zone to boost their shot generation.

IN THE NEUTRAL ZONE

If the puck gets into the Neutral Zone, the task of recovering the puck doesn’t just end. The same relentless pursuit of the puck that happened in the offensive zone continues. If the attacking team is able to regain possession in the neutral zone, they can either quickly get the puck back into the offensive zone or send the puck back into their own defensive zone for a regroup or controlled breakout. As I mentioned before the mantra of good shot generation teams should be: Recover, Regroup & Relaunch The Attack. These same principles apply to the neutral zone. Continue reading

ZONE TIME & GOALS

Recently, I mentioned the large player tracking project I conducted last season with regard to a post on Shot Generation. It attracted some attention and several questions were posed that spurred me to do a post on this. Instead of focusing on the individual players in the project, I’ll focus on the overall information and the details that people seem to be interested in.

A quick explanation of the project: All even strength goals and assists for 72 forwards in the NHL were tracked to capture various information about scoring. The project included goals from the regular season and playoffs spanning from the 2012-13 season through the 2014-15 season. Ultimately, there were 7142 goals that were used to create this data. Some of the goals that were originally tracked (over 8000) were thrown out for various reasons such as goals scored a few seconds after a power play ended, goals on empty nets or with an extra attacker, etc. These are usually listed as even strength goals for NHL purposes, but the information collected would not have been technically even strength and thus was excluded. The players included in the study originated from every team in the league and are listed near the end of this post. Further, I had a lot of help doing this project from some amazing volunteers whom I have listed at the end as well. Thanks to their selfless efforts, a project of this scale was able to be carried out. Continue reading

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Game Flow

CRUCIAL HABITS:

Overview: Shot Generation & Shot Suppression

Shot Generation & Controlled Zone Exits

Shot Generation & Puck Recovery

SHOT GENERATION & GAME FLOW

I recorded a number of measures from sixteen games involving various teams throughout the league to see how they used the flow of the game to generate shots. For this analysis, I broke the game into four categories of possessions: 5v5, Single, Multishot and Consecutive. 5v5 is simply the overview of what the teams did offensively to generate shots during 5 on 5 play. Single includes a single period of possession, offensive zone entry by the attacking team through defensive zone exit by the defending team, where the attacking team generated only one or no shots. Multishot encapsulates each period of possession by the attacking team wherein they generated more than one shot regardless of who controlled the previous or subsequent periods of possession. Consecutive adds periods of possession together when the same team was on the attack, i.e. Team A enters the zone, has some meaningful possession of the puck, Team B is able to get the puck out of the zone, but Team A recovers the puck and goes back on the attack before Team B can establish any period of possession in their offensive zone. Continue reading

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Puck Recovery

Overview: Crucial Habits for Good Shot Generation & Suppression

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Controlled Zone Exits

SHOT GENERATION AND PUCK RECOVERY

IN THE OFFENSIVE ZONE

When a team enters the offensive zone the obvious goal is to, well, score a goal. Scoring goals requires taking shots. Teams that excel in generating shots have a common habit in the offensive zone: Puck Recovery. These teams aren’t “gaming Corsi” just to trick stats analysts into thinking they are good teams. The spreadsheet darlings of the hockey world control the puck and when they can’t keep possession of it, work like hell to get it back.

Situations requiring puck recovery are numerous in every area of the ice. There are three main ways to go about recovering the puck, which are sometimes used in concert to regain possession, are:

  • Being Quick to the Puck
  • Checking (hitting and/or body position)
  • Anticipation

In the Offensive Zone, puck recovery is the best way to generate shots, wear down the defense and create “mini-rushes” within the zone much as power plays are designed to do. After the play has been low in the zone, the defending team gets possession of the puck and starts to breakout. The attacking team is able to recover the puck before it leaves the zone. With most of the defending players high in the defensive zone or in the neutral zone, there are less bodies available to defend against an offensive attack. This leads to better scoring chances and oddman “mini-rush” situations.

Once the puck is in the offensive zone, the attacking team has to regain possession if they have gained entry by a dump in or chip in. Chipping the puck in requires speed, timing and far more control than a dump in. Some players really excel in this area because of the lines they take, their speed and ability to deceive the defending players. If done properly, the chip in is essentially a pass to the player himself or his linemate providing close support. Dump in entries require the attacking team to use their offensive zone forecheck system to retrieve the puck. This includes waves of pressure on the defending players, speed to the puck and depending upon the situation, hitting. Continue reading

Crucial Habits: Shot Generation & Controlled Zone Exits

Overview: Crucial Habits for Good Shot Generation & Suppression – a post introducing this series.

SHOT GENERATION & CONTROLLED ZONE EXITS

To be a good shot generation team, you have to take a lot of shots. Shocking information, I know. We know from years of work by many great hockey minds that overall, controlled entries into the offensive zone will lead to more shots being generated. Zone Entry Data Study* Tulsky, Detweiler, Spencer, Sznajder From that same work, we know that some teams are so good on the initial forecheck into the offensive zone that dumping the puck into the zone often leads to shot generation. In a study I did, I found that controlled zone exits (carrying or passing the puck to a teammate) lead to far more zone entry attempts than uncontrolled zone exits (dumping the puck out of your defensive zone). Clearing the Defensive Zone: The Dangers of Dumping the Puck Out

Creating rushes into the offensive zone, i.e. dynamic changes in possession as compared to offensive attacks which start with a controlled breakout or regroup) lead to confusion among the defense, less defending players in the zone and chances to get a dangerous shot on the goalie. In the player tracking project I conducted, over 57.3% of the 7142 goals tracked were scored in 7 seconds or less of zone time. Zone time for the purpose of the project started when the attacking team brought the puck across the blue line into the offensive zone and ended when the goal was scored. This was recorded by stopwatch and marked down to the hundredth of a second. 72 forwards were the subject of the study spanning from the 2012-13 season through the 2014-15 season, including the playoffs. All goals and assists tracked occurred at even strength. 46.1% of the goals tracked in the project were scored in 5 or less seconds of zone time. Continue reading

Crucial Habits for Good Shot Generation & Suppression: Overview

Puck possession seems like a pretty simple concept on its face. Having the puck more than your opponent sounds like a good plan and I doubt you need me to provide you with a bunch of numbers to convince you of that. As we look deeper into puck possession, we see that there is a difference between having the puck for a long time and meaningful puck possession. Your team may spend a lot of time in the offensive zone passing the puck around the perimeter in order to set up a “perfect shot” as if they were on the power play. In terms of time of possession, this may register as a positive; however, meaningful puck possession consists of two main elements: shot generation and shot suppression.

Frankly, it’s unfortunate that we have tried so hard for so long to split hockey into offense and defense. This kind of thinking has led to a view that offense happens in the offensive zone and defense happens in the defensive zone. For years, hockey analysis approached the game as if offense and defense somehow existed independently of one another. The reality is that forwards and defensemen are equally important to all aspects of the game. My point is that our approach to analyzing hockey is often backwards.

Hockey is an incredibly fluid game that does not lend itself well to a rigid, two sided understanding of “Offense” and “Defense”. In hockey, offense and defense or, to more aptly name them, shot generation and shot suppression, are active at all times in all zones. Continue reading