Keys to Washington finding offensive zone success

October 21, 2013

Martin Erat gains control of the puck during the Capitals’ game against the Blue Jackets Saturday at Verizon Center. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

With eight games played, some patterns are starting to emerge in terms of how the Capitals are getting the puck into the offensive zone, and who should (and shouldn’t) be the driver behind it.

Why look at zone entries and not strictly puck-possession metrics, like Corsi? Because some recent findings at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference indicate that “carrying the puck across the blue line generates more than twice as many shots, scoring chances, and goals as dumping the puck in.”

Overall, those ratios hold true for Washington through these eight games. During five-on-five play, the Capitals are generating 0.70 shots per controlled zone entry, an entry where the puck is carried or passed into the offensive zone, and just 0.31 shot attempts on dump ins.


Looking at the top line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, it is easy to see who should be carrying the puck into the zone to generate the offense and who shouldn’t.


Ovechkin is a supremely talented skater, but when he carries the puck over the blue line the team sees less than half as many shot attempts than when one of the two Swedes transfer the puck into the zone. And while many question Johansson’s role on the top line, his controlled zone entries create as much offense as Backstrom and more than Mikhail Grabovski (0.53 shot attempts per controlled entry).


After all the turmoil in Toronto last year for Grabovski, some fans may be disappointed to see him centering the third line. However, he can still produce offense on the rush, like this second-period breakaway bid on Sergei Bobrovsky:

Another player often questioned on his value relative to his paycheck is Joel Ward, but as you can see in the chart above he is doing a fantastic job driving play on the third line during five-on-five, including this shot on Henrik Lundqvist after a Jason Chimera pass found Eric Fehr:

And with Ward’s power-play tally last night against Columbus, maybe those criticisms will subside.

On the defensive side it should be no surprise that Washington generates a shot attempt every time Mike Green carries the puck into the offensive zone. What is surprising is how much John Carlson is struggling at the same task. And while Carlson has yet to find a consistent partner on the blue line, even Karl Alzner — known more his defense than offensive prowess — is generating more offense when he brings the puck into the zone.

But the big story over the past couple of days has been the anticipated arrival of Martin Erat in the top six, and it should be clear by his performance Saturday night he should stay there. The third second line of Erat-Laich-Brouwer had nine controlled entries generating six shots, including this Brouwer goal off a steal by Erat:

greenberg
Neil Greenberg, when he isn’t watching the games, analyzes advanced statistics in the NHL and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd. Follow him on Twitter: @ngreenberg.

Neil Greenberg analyzes advanced sports statistics for the Fancy Stats blog and prefers to be called a geek rather than a nerd.
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Katie Carrera · October 20, 2013