Recently I wrote about the frequency in which the Oilers defencemen are taking shots and how these shots aren’t really translating into rebounds and scoring chances. This all stemmed from the fact that the Oilers are currently the lowest scoring team in the league and should be making adjustments to improve their chances of scoring goals.
- Related: Shots from the blueline – The SuperFan (2018, December 8)
What we can also do thanks to some great tracking work done by Corey Sznajder is look at the type of passing plays the Oilers have made, and break out what percentage of passing plays that led to a shot came from low-to-high plays and which came from behind-the-net plays. Along with passing stats, Corey is also tracking zone entries, zone exits, shots and scoring chances. You can check out his excellent work at his Patreon page.
Low-to-high plays are the ones that distribute the puck from down low to a defenceman at the point in an attempt to create space and provide the team on the offensive with more options. Behind-the-net plays are just that – a passing play that is generated closer to the net.
- Related: Tactalytics: Using Data to Inform Tactical Offensive Zone Decisions – Hockey Graphs (2016, June 11)
The article above by Ryan Stimson has more details on the passing plays and how well they correlate to scoring goals. The big takeaway is that a team’s shot-on-target shooting percentage is much higher from behind-the-net plays than low-to-high plays. Additionally, a team is more likely to create a rebound from a behind-the-net play than if they try a low-to-high play. So rather than having a defenceman frequently take shots from the point (like the Oilers have been doing) in the hopes of creating rebounds, a team is much better off and more likely to score if they move the puck down low and create a passing play from behind-the-net.
Based on Corey’s tracking methodology, the Edmonton Oilers made 2,743 passing plays that led to a shot in 82 regular season games in 2017/18. Of those passing plays, 22.06% were low-to-high plays, which is just above the league-wide average of 20.95%. This isn’t overly surprising as the Oilers coaching staff last season was fond of volume shooting and getting shots through from the blue line.
And of the Oilers total passing plays, 6.78% were from behind-the-net plays – right around the league-wide average of 6.75%. Not overly surprised to see this as I found last season that forwards were constantly sending passes to the point, possibly due to the fact that there wasn’t enough skill and finishing talent up front.
In the first 16 games of the 2018/19 season that Corey has tracked so far (569 total passing plays; McLellan behind the bench), the Oilers have had right around the same proportion of behind-the-net passing plays that led to a shot as last season with 6.70%. And not surprisingly (based on what I found in my previous post) the Oilers have a much higher proportion of low-to-high passing plays this season compared to last season – 27.4%. Ideally, the team should work towards having a higher proportion of shots being generated from behind-the-net plays as it has a higher chance of generating rebounds and goals.
The good news for the Oilers is that they may see that increase in behind-the-net plays with Ken Hitchcock behind the bench. In 2017/18, based on the data that was tracked, the Dallas Stars finished with one of the highest proportions of behind-the-net passing plays that led to a shot with 8.67%. It’s only one season that we have for Hitchcock (67 games were tracked for the Stars, including 1,822 total passing plays), but it’ll be interesting to see how much of an impact he’ll have on the type of passing plays.
Worth noting as indicated in the image above that last season the Stars still had a lot of involvement from their defencemen – namely right-shooter John Klingberg – to create chances. But there was a lot more activity from in close, something that hopefully starts to occur more often in Edmonton.
Data: Corey Sznajder’s tracking project, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz