Photo Credit: © David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Pilot’s Logbook: Dissecting the neutral zone: Zone Exits

The Winnipeg Jets’ 2016-2017 disappointing season finally ended. While the extent of disappointment may be subjective from individual-to-individual dependent on expectations, fans without a single franchise playoff win prefer their seasons to carry some post-season excitement.

So, what went wrong? What went well? How do the Jets measure up against their competition? Which areas actually require improvement relative to others?

If your car breaks down, you need to know what is wrong with it prior to dropping cash to fix it. With that in mind, we continue our in-depth investigation on the Jets’ performance this season with their ability to create and prevent transition through the neutral zone, specifically zone exits.

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A quick intro

As I noted in our last Logbook, I was hoping to start breaking down the Jets’ roster player-by-player this week. However, this will be delayed one week. The reasoning why is because I’m waiting for some data and work to come through.

I work for a hockey tracking and analysis company called HockeyData, but all my data, algorithms, and work there is proprietary to that company. They are really nice though, so the allow me to do this public work for fun. This “forces” me to use the public data and work of others, but I have no problem with this because I really do enjoy and respect the public work that is out there.

The focus of my work on the Pilot’s Logbook series will come from the work of people like DTMAboutHeart, Ryan Stimson, and Corey Sznajder. If you do not know their work and do not already follow them, I suggest you do so.

This article will look a lot at neutral zone transitional data, tracked manually by Corey Sznajder. He provides this data for free with hundreds and hundreds of hours of work, living off of GoFundMe and Patreon donations. If you are someone that has the ability to, I would suggest you to assist him either monthly (Patreon) or with a single (GFM) donation as work by people like Corey is instrumental in us as a community moving forward.

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Corey has 26 games tracked thus far for the Winnipeg Jets, including the first 21 games. This means that the numbers in this article only represent about 1/4 of the Jets season, primarily October and November:

Visual courtesy of corsica.hockey

It’s still a good way to introduce these numbers to Jets Nation readers so you know what we mean when we cite certain statistics.

Zone Exits (Breakouts)

The Jets had 2431 opportunities to breakout the puck over the 26 games tracked, and 1876 of these have ended up one of the exit types listed above (the rest being things like defensive regroups, etc.).

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The Jets have exited with direct possession of the puck 54.2% of the time, where 32.2% of their total exits came from passes and 22.0% came from carries. Now, a team can get the puck out of the defensive zone without control by chipping it out, we can separate these uncontrolled exits depending on whether or not the Jets successfully gained possession in the neutral zone from these chip out plays. We find that 10.1% of the Jets exits were dump plays where the team recovered the puck, while 35.7% of their exits were simply clears where the opposition gained control.

The remainder is failed plays, where the forecheck or the opposition standing the blue line causes a break down, which made up 25.5% of the Jets breakouts.

Overall we find the Jets transitioned from their exits about 44.1% of the time, meaning that 1074 of the Jets 1876 exits resulted in zone entry plays at the opposite end.

This is really interesting as it highlights two common discussions revolving the Jets.

There was a lot of talk about the Jets inability to use the centre of the ice. While all teams exit using the centre ice far less often than the sides, a quick scan showed the Columbus Blue Jackets as the only playoff team using the centre ice less often per attempt than the Jets’ 16%. For context, the two playoff teams that used the centre ice area the most often per attempt were the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins, both at 20%.

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Another point to highlight is the Jets carrying far more of their exits on the right side. This makes sense really. Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Paul Postma are all adept puck movers, while the left side only really has Josh Morrissey and Toby Enstrom.

Here you see the Jets only defenders to post at least 100 puck touches in the defensive zone. We have the same zone exit types listed previously, although I have grouped passes and dumps together as possession exits. The order of the exit types are from highest to lowest in preference. The remaining unlisted areas include puck touches that do not become exits.

There of course is always environmental usage factors to take into consideration, like Postma and Chiarot playing relatively more often with the Jets weaker forwards, but this is fairly telling of which Jets were the most successful in getting the puck out of the Jets defensive zone.

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With forwards, there is a much smaller sample to draw from. Only Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Patrik Laine were the only forwards to carry over 100 defensive zone puck touches.

For the most part, the order of the list is not all that surprising. Burmistrov is pretty high, but the defensive zone side of the ice was never his issue, it was as soon as you passed the centre line things broke down.

Again, we’re dealing with some small samples, and we could see some dramatic changes when we get closer to a full season.

We will continue looking at the Jets as a team this Friday. Next week we’ll start a Monday, Wednesday, Friday series breaking down each player, one-at-a-time. All numbers courtesy of Corsica.hockey, @ShutdownLine, or @DTMAboutHeart unless otherwise noted.

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