Lateral Puck Movement in the NZ

Research shows that lateral/”east-west” puck movement in the offensive zone is beneficial to increasing one’s odds of scoring. But I have now heard from people in various positions within the hockey industry on why it might also be useful to generate east-west puck movement in the neutral zone. The theories – focused on lateral passing, lane changes and stretch passes, respectively – all boiled down to one point: When you rush the puck up ice, the defending team will focus on that side, leaving the other side of the ice somewhat more open, so there might be open ice to exploit.

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Passing clusters: A Framework to Evaluate a Team’s Breakout

Quick breakouts – trying to move the puck out of your zone right after gaining possession – make up roughly 38% of possessions and account for 22% of all shots and 22.4% of Expected Goals (at least according to my possession and xG definitions). Therefore, understanding what does and does not work when breaking out the puck against present forecheckers is important. There is evidence that passes from the defensive half boards by wingers inside produce more offense than those straight up ice. But the puck is more often recovered elsewhere, so these passes by wingers aren’t the first pass in a possession and are therefore presumably influenced by the previous play. It should be interesting to find out how the inclusion of the pass(es) that came before affects this conclusion.

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Visualizing and Quantifying Passing on the Power Play

Visualizing passes isn’t easy in hockey. In any given KHL game, there are between 700 and 900 Passes. Somewhere between 65% to 85% are successful*. If you wanted to focus on just the successful ones, you’d have to find a way to meaningfully and concisely represent 500-700 events. Let’s start with something simpler: the Power play. If we further restrict our target to passes by single teams during 5v4 power plays in the OZ, we still get between 40 and 50 passes per game per team. Looking at two random KHL games, you can see that this is still quite a lot of passes:

There are some trends to be picked up on, but it’s not very clean. And any semi-serious opposition scouting (especially of special teams) will take into account multiple games, which then leads to an unidentifiable mess when plotted.

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