Photo Credit: Stan Szeto - USA TODAY Sports

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

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 entries and defending them.

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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. Every little bit counts.

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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.

You vs the other guy she told you not to worry about

Winnipeg Opponent
Entries 1440 1346
Carries 708 669
Passes 268 254
Recovered Dump-ins 178 157
Failed Entries 105 98
Shots off Entries 607 589
Shots off Carries 417 413
Shots off Dump-ins 190 176

The Jets outperformed their opponents in the neutral zone for the games tracked thus far. They had more entries, more carries, more passes, and more recovered dump-ins. They also generated more shots off these situations.

This doesn’t tell the whole story, and we should look at rates as well:

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Winnipeg Opponent
Entry% 51.7% 48.3%
Carry-in% 49.2% 49.7%
Pass off Entry% 37.9% 38.0%
Recovery% 24.3% 23.2%
Failed Entry% 7.3% 7.3%
Shots/Entry 0.42 0.44
Shots/Carry-in 0.59 0.62
Shots/Dump-in 0.26 0.26

While the Jets did indeed generate more entries, their efficiency was a lot more mixed.

The Jets controlled the greater share of entries (51.7 per cent) but their opponents were able to generate a slightly greater percentage with control through carries more often. The opposition also generated a greater number of shots via their carry-in entries.

These two factors compounded causing the Jets to only control 50.7 per cent of shots off entries despite controlling 51.7 per cent of entries. A one percentage point drop may not seem like much, but the NHL’s standard deviation in shot control was only two percentage points this season. A one percentage point increase in the Jets’ raw Corsi would cause them to leap-frog about 4-5 teams.

Being a team that often trailed, it is possible score effects are inflating the Jets’ results, meaning the team could be even worse than what is shown above.

Jets’ Entries

The blue bar gives you a general idea of how efficiently a player was able to generate zone entries, while the other shows their ability to generate offense off their zone entries.

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We can see here how Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler were able to gain the zone often whenever they tried. They did not rely on dump-ins nor were caught failing to put the puck past the blue line.

One thing zone entry data can highlight is how Lowry was able to carry a decent even-strength offensive rating in WAR despite scoring at a fourth line pace and having a replacement level offensive boxscore plus-minus impact. While Lowry struggled to generate offense in the offensive zone himself, he could at least get the Jets there and keep them there for others to make their own chances.

While Andrew Copp and Adam Lowry are imperfect players, they are huge upgrades on bottom-six pieces of the past like Chris Thorburn Tanner Glass, and Jim Slater.

Now this is really interesting.

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The Jets had a similar number of entries from their right-shooting defenders as their left-shooting. The bulk of their carry entries came from the right side. In fact, all of the Jets right-shooting defenders had more carries per entry than every left-shooting defender.

The Jets left-shooting defenders accounted for 43 per cent of the team’s entries by defensemen, but only 27 per cent of their carry-ins. That’s a significant loss of offense since the team generated nearly four times the shots from carry-ins by defenders versus dump-ins.

We’re dealing with smaller samples, so the shots per entry becomes noticeably more variant.

Jets’ Entry Defense

We’re dealing with small samples here unfortunately, as only Byfuglien, Enstrom, Morrissey, and Chiarot were targeted over 100 times.

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The data definitely seems to counter the narrative that Enstrom is often targeted for dump-ins to take advantage of his size for the forecheck.

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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