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In the Neutral Zone II

December 30, 2013, 2:03 PM ET [40 Comments]
Travis Yost
Ottawa Senators Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
About a month or so ago, I released the first batch of neutral zone performance for this year's team through a radial graph. Knowing how important neutral zone play is (and how limited the available numbers are in the blogosphere; there's literally nothing), I wanted to really track a full season and see what we could ascertain from all of the culled numbers.

On the recommendation of a few, I have decided to take those numbers and turn them into something a bit more digestible. Garik16 over at Lighthouse Hockey has been tracking neutral zone data for the New York Islanders this year, and he's been piecing together charts that estimate a number of shot-attempts based on the specific entry (i.e. controlled entry, dump-in, etc.) Since we know controlled entries generate more than double the shot-attempts for than that of a dump-in, calculating expected shot-attempts based on the kinds of entries for/against is pretty easy.

And that's the most important part of this thing, I think. It includes defensive numbers, rewarding guys who force dump-ins, and punishing guys who allow controlled entries. This data isn't available anywhere on the internet, and I wonder if a lot of hockey teams even track this sort of stuff.

So, the graph. Your horizontal axis is your expected shot-attempts against based on the kind of entries against; if you're on the left, you deter more than not, and if you're on the right, you're a turnstile. Your vertical-axis is expected shot-attempts for, this time based on the kind of entries your five-man is using to get into the offensive zone. The higher, the better.

That line running through the middle? That's the all important break-even. If you're above it, you're a better than average neutral zone player. If you're below it, you're below average. Remember, the margins are important here.

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Some of this stuff is what you'd expect: Mika Zibanejad and Clarke MacArthur are just really, really great at the sport of hockey. Kyle Turris' numbers have taken a bit of a hit now against tougher competition for some time, and the fact that Erik Karlsson plays with just about everyone (combined with the fact that he's not exactly an elite neutral zone defender) make him look a bit more human than you'd guess. Still, all of those guys above break-even, and comfortably so.

I want to talk about a couple of movers from last month's numbers, though. Anyone who suspected Erik Condra was being cruelly dragged by linemates earlier in the year was probably right about that. Again, Condra's nothing more than a reliable fourth-liner, but reliable fourth-liner he is. His numbers, more than anyone else, have skyrocketed in the last month.

One guy who has taken a touch of a hit is Eric Gryba. He was the big surprise in the neutral zone -- posting pretty strong defensive numbers to combat poor offensive numbers. His defensive numbers have slid a bit, and now he sits just a bit under the break-even line. Not a total liability, but he's stepped back.

The Greening-Smith-Neil line has been getting the toughest assignments of any line for some length of time now, and it's starting to show bigtime in the underlying data. I think Smith's very clearly the best of the bunch, and Paul MacLean for some reason loves this trio. I get that they pave minutes for the more-skilled lines to do work, but they're not exactly playing well these days, even with competition understood. Kind of makes you wonder how long they'll stick around.


Quick game notes for tonight's match-up against Washington, a team Ottawa really needs to beat with the way the schedule toughens up in the coming weeks.

Jason Spezza and Chris Phillips, as was the case Saturday night, will not play. Phillips apparently took a quick morning skate, so I'd guess he'll be back by Thursday. No word on Spezza's injury other than the classic "lower-body" injury.

Washington's on a back-to-back, losing last night to Buffalo in the shootout. They absolutely smoked the Sabres on the stat-sheet, but somehow Buffalo got out of there with the extra point.

Craig Anderson gets the start.

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