Sunday, December 21, 2014

HABS: the importance of the neutral-zone; by the numbers

The neutral-zone remains an important aspect to both puck-possession and scoring-chances. Improved defensive-play in the neutral-zone will produce more opposition turnovers, minimizing the opposition's  time with possession of the puck in the Habs (or any other team's for that matter) defensive-zone. Improved play while in possession of the puck in the neutral-zone also allowed the Habs to get the puck deep into the offensive-zone; producing more opportunities for shot attempts and scoring-chances.

Montreal played better defensively in the neutral-zone when they had team success. In fact, the Habs had a neutral-zone defensive success-rate of 65.3% in games where they've out-chanced the opposition at even-strength, and 62.3% when they were out-chanced. Neutral-zone defensive-events used in the calculation include blocked passes, stick-checks, and body-checks. Similarly, when the Habs produced a CorsiFor% above 50% they had a neutral-zone defensive success-rate of 67.1%; compared to only 61.4% when their CF% dropped below 50%.

Montreal's defensive-success in the neutral-zone also impacted how the Habs are produced their scoring-chances. Scoring-chances that occur as the direct result of a neutral-zone turnover account for 35% of chances that occur off the rush. Keeping the defensive-numbers communicated above in mind, we see that in games where the Habs produced a CF% above 50%, 38.3% of their scoring-chances occurred off of the rush, while only 37% occurred off the rush when the Habs CF% dropped below 50%. This 1.3% increase was the direct result of an increase in defensive-success in the neutral-zone. 

Breaking down the actual events that make up Montreal's defensive success-rate in the neutral-zone we see that the Habs success-rate when attempting to remove possession from the opposition by way of a stick-check was 5.8 percentage-points higher in games where they had a CF% above 50%, and
2.7 percentage-points higher in games where they enjoyed an even-strength scoring-chance advantage.

The Habs success-rate when attempting to remove possession from the opposition in the neutral-zone by way of a body-check was substantially higher in games where they enjoyed either a shot-attempt, or scoring-chance advantage. In fact, Montreal's body-check success-rate in the neutral-zone was 16.1 percentage-points higher in games where they attempted more shots than they allowed, and 25.8 percentage-points higher when they produced more scoring-chances than they allowed.







Possession-wise, Montreal's neutral-zone numbers were significantly better when they produced a CF% above 50%. In fact, when the Habs CF% was above 50%, they've had success with 67.1% of their neutral-zone puck-possession events. Neutral-zone puck-possession events used in this calculation include all neutral-zone passes, dekes, and dump-ins. When the Habs CF% dropped below 50%, their n-zone puck-possession success-rate also dropped to 61.4%. In terms of actual events over the course of 60 even-strength minutes, Montreal averaged 2 more successful n-zone possession plays in games where they enjoyed a shot-attempt advantage.

Neutral-zone possession numbers fluctuated similarly when we compared games where the Habs produced more scoring-chances than the opposition with games where they were out-chanced. Montreal was successful with 65.3% of their neutral-zone puck-possession plays when they had more scoring-chances than the opposition, while the success-rate dropped to 62.3% when they allowed more chances than they produced.

Breaking down the specific events that make up the Habs neutral-zone possession numbers we see that Montreal's passing numbers improved dramatically as their CF% and SC% improved. The Habs Neutral-zone passing success-rate was 5.1 percentage-points better in games where they produced a CF% above 50%, and 2.3 percentage-points better in games where their SC% was above 50%.  Looking more deeply into those passing numbers, Montreal's neutral-zone passing success-rate for north-bound passes jumped 6.7 percentage points when their CF% was above 50%, and 4.9% when their SC% was above 50%.

The importance of minimizing neutral-zone turnovers are quantified in Montreal's ability to successfully dump the puck deep into the offensive-zone. Dump-in success-rates also improved depending on the team's results, as the Habs success-rate when attempting to dump the puck deep into the o-zone improved 8.1 percentage-points when their CF% was above 50%, and 4.9% when their SC% was above 50%.






An increase in controlled offensive-zone entries also impacted the Habs scoring-chance and shot-attempt numbers. In games where the Habs produced a CF% above 50%, they had a controlled offensive-zone entry to dump-in ratio of 1.22. In games where they gave up more shot attempts than they  had that ratio dropped to 1.08. Similarly, the Habs had a controlled entry to dump-in ratio of 1.30 in games where they had more scoring-chances than the opposition, while that ratio was 1.11 in games where they were out-chanced by the opposition.




While the neutral-zone has only accounted for 18.3% of Montreal's total even-strength events, the simple act of minimizing turnovers, while pushing possession up ice still has a direct impact on both the Habs scoring-chance and possession numbers.