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.
OVERALL – 5V5
The table below shows the number of games used for this section, number of possessions in the offensive zone, shots for the attacking team and shots per possession.
Again, small sample size, but we can explore what these measures tell us about the games that were played even if the sample keeps us from definitively making grand mathematical correlations. Additionally, it makes sense that recovering the puck in the offensive zone, thereby continuing your ability to take shots, would help teams generate shots, so I don’t think it is a big stretch to see that the two are related. With that in mind, I thought I would put the rates on a graph together to see how it looked.
So… I suppose the logic looks pretty good here that shots and shot recovery rates are related. Obviously part of it is that you have to take a shot to recover a shot so that explains some of it, but you also have to have the puck to take shots. Given how well these lined up, I amended the shot recovery rates to get an idea of how they would look over the course of a season by simply adjusting them by the same factor that the shot rates differed during these games and over the course of the season.
Keep in mind that these are just approximated measures and are not score adjusted. That said, L.A, Chicago, Anaheim, Dallas and Pittsburgh have the highest immediate shot recovery rates of this group. Ottawa, Colorado, Minnesota and New York (Rangers) have the lowest shot recovery rates of the group.
These are what I like to call “one and done” possessions. The attacking team gains the offensive zone, registers one shot or none at all, the defending team recovers the puck and exits the zone. These possessions are not in the midst of sustained pressure in that the opposing team has the zone entry after the possession and had the one prior. When you hear broadcasters say teams are “trading chances” or that a game has “end to end action”, it’s often to describe games where each of the teams have a lot of single possessions.
Now that we know who the teams did overall in these games, we can isolate how they perform in terms of offensive pressure in the flow of the game instead of just each possession. How much did these teams rely upon single possessions to generate shots?
All of the measures noted in the above table were during single possessions. The faceoffs and penalties indicated are those drawn from single possessions. The teams with the highest percentage of their possessions from single possession periods were New York (Rangers), Nashville, Ottawa and Tampa Bay. The teams with the lowest percentage of single possessions were Pittsburgh, San Jose, Chicago and Anaheim.
The teams relying upon single possessions to generate shots the least: L.A, Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis. The teams that relied more heavily on single possessions to generate shots: New York (Rangers),Ottawa, Minnesota and Colorado. The teams with the heaviest reliance upon single possessions to generate shots were also those with the lowest shot generation rates overall in this group. (Note: the Pittsburgh games ended up being very high scoring, thus their Goals For during single possessions are likely inflated from what they would do over a larger sample size.)
Not surprisingly, these same teams have some of the lowest shot generation rates at 5v5 over the course of the season as well, which allows us to deduce a few things at least initially. First, relying upon single possession rushes is a poor plan for generating shots. Second, the habits of teams in recovering the puck in the offensive zone, i.e. turning a one and done possession into something more, are important to generating shots.
When we pull out individual possessions where the teams generated more than one shot, the importance of puck recovery becomes even more apparent.
While these individual periods of possession account for less than a third of any of these teams’ overall possessions, they are major drivers of shot generation. L.A generated 79% of their shots from multishot possessions. Tampa Bay, Nashville, Anaheim, Chicago and Dallas generated over 60% of their shots from multishot possessions.
My theory is that the ability to create multishot possessions, regardless of whether they occur within a period of consecutive possessions, is the key to success for these teams when they get to the playoffs. The puck recovery focused systems they use during the regular season can be kicked into a higher gear with the intensity of the playoffs. Because they are practiced at using this type of structure, they don’t need to change much to be in playoff form other than to increase the intensity.
When watching a game, broadcasters often mention that the “ice is tilted” to one side or another. What they are describing is one team spending time in the attacking zone, regrouping and relaunching their attack multiple times so that the defending team is hard pressed to launch their own offensive attack. These are the periods of possession I’ve termed Consecutive here. These are not necessarily consecutive zone entries, but consecutive meaningful possessions as I defined earlier. So long as the opposing team does not have a meaningful possession to interrupt the attacking team’s chain of possessions, I’ve considered them consecutive.
The teams that routinely generate shots well spend the bulk of their offensive possessions recovering the puck, regrouping after the defending team dumps it out of the zone and relaunching their attack. This results in consecutive possessions that wear down the defending team and their goalie, complicate the ability to change lines to get fresh legs on the ice, create opportunities to pull players high in the zone while shifting the offensive pressure low in the zone and really allow the creativity of the offensively gifted players to work to its full extent.
Many of these teams pack multishot possessions into these consecutive possessions which underlies the points just mentioned. The teams that fail to do this may have amazing talent on their teams, but if they are not getting the opportunity to use their talents within the team structure, they will only get the chance to do so when they make it themselves. In doing so, they often run the risk of being seen as a selfish or risky player who can’t be trusted to work within the structure the coach has built for the team. That is not a place any player wants to be because he will likely see his ice time reduced or end up with a reputation for being a “defensive liability”.
Building consecutive possessions or “tilting the ice” requires aggressive puck recovery structure in the neutral zone as well as the offensive zone. We’ll investigate this further in the next post: Shot Generation & The Neutral Zone.