Tracking the Riveters First Game

Editor’s note: I know that this is a Blackhawks blog, but with how they have been handling the Patrick Kane situation of late, I am far more excited about the Riveters right now, so they may get more of my writing time this year. I like to write about what excites me, and right now that’s the Riveters.

 

                Tracking zone entries is a hot topic in hockey analytics. Since the landmark paper by Tulsky, et al. showing that entering the zone with control leads to far more offense than dumping the puck in, numerous teams have been tracked including the Flyers, Blackhawks, Sharks, and the entire friggin NHL (Corey you’re a damn hero). There is no reason this kind of methodology cannot be used to achieve a greater understanding of my new favorite hockey team, the New York Riveters.

Simply put, it has been found repeatedly that controlling the puck during a zone entry, such as a carry in, leads to far more offense than an uncontrolled entry, like a dump in or a chip and chase. I’m tracking the Riveters zone entries this year (and possibly their zone exits and defensive targets, but we’ll get to that) and wanted to share the results of their first game against the Connecticut Whale. Hopefully, this can lead to a greater understanding of where the Riveters offense is coming from, and how it can be improved.

To do this, I tracked every even strength entry the Riveters made into the offensive zone, following closely the methods put forward by Corey Sznajder and Jen Lute Costella. Every time the puck was carried into the zone, it was marked as a controlled entry. Pucks that were dumped in, brought in with chip and chase, or the result of a turnover forced in the offensive zone were categorized as uncontrolled entries. There was a wrinkle that the archived feed of the game would skip around sometimes, so occasionally I would miss who brought the puck into the zone, or how they did it. Those were categorized as unknowns. I don’t believe this will continue during the season, just an understandable growing pain. I also tracked the number of shots that were generated for each entry. Here, I am using unblocked shots, or Fenwick numbers, but it also could be done with Corsi numbers as well (and I counted them as well so they can be used in the future). Entry attempts that did not work were categorized as failed entries. I will be posting a more rigorous tracking methodology, but this should be fine for now. (Click on the picture below to enlarge)

bestest riveters tracking

The Numbers

First, before we get into the numbers, let me say this is a very small sample size, and the number of unknown entries, or unknown players making the entry, makes for more uncertainty with the data. This post is mostly about showing what the data can do, and this data will be more useful when there are more data points, but we might as well have some fun with it!

The Riveters entered the offensive zone “successfully” (that just means they got in, not that they did anything) 83% of the time, failing to enter the zone 17%. In the 2013-2014 NHL season, most teams failed to enter the zone about 7-9% of the time. While this is a small sample size, this is something the Riveters can work on. Successful zone entries are key to an effective offensive attack, and without them it is difficult to score or control the game. Of the successful entries, 48% were controlled, 38% uncontrolled, and 14% were unknown due to difficulties with the archived stream. Uncontrolled entries generated shots at a rate of 0.3 per entry, while controlled entries almost doubled that at 0.59. This goes with what is to be expected, if you maintain control of the puck, more offense will be generated.

Several players stand out. The first, and my favorite Riveters forward, is Lyudmila Belyakova. She was tied for the Riveters lead for successful entries with 9 respectively. Furthermore, 2/3 of the time she carried the puck in, and generated 0.67 shots per attempted entry. Belyakova played a great game, driving the offense by consistently moving the puck and allowing the offense to generate numerous shots. Watching her, she sees the ice and uses space well, and is an excellent 2-way player. Belyakova is a joy to watch, and as she gets more comfortable with her teammates will be a force in the NWHL.

Janine Weber was another standout. Carrying the puck in on 80% of her successful entries, she generated an average of a shot per carry-in. This exceptional rate may not be sustainable through the regular season, but in both games I have seen, Weber has been one of the Riveters best forwards. I think she is going to surprise a lot of people.

Ketchum, Packer, Fritz-Ward, Ammerman, and Hanrahan were all excellent, and all preferred to carry the puck in, while none of the defense carried the puck in. Whether this is an artifact of the small sample size, or is from the Riveters system not wanting their defense to jump into the play remains to be seen.

A few observations to end with…

-The Riveters don’t use the point as often as they should. If you get in trouble down low, a pass to the point can allow the team to reset and keep possession of the puck. Plus, when you have a hammer of a shot like Ashley Johnston does, why not use it?

-Speaking of, Johnston has been very impressive. She’s tall and has a big wingspan, skates well, plays wonderful D, and shoots like a howitzer. She’s fun to watch.

-Something I noticed is that the Riveters have a lot of zone entries where they come in, get a shot, don’t get the rebound or keep possession of the puck, and have to leave the zone. A lot of this is because they don’t screen the goalie enough. Screening the goalie would both make the first shot more likely to go in, and put the players in a better position to collect rebounds and maintain possession.

-Nana Fujimoto had a good game. A lot of the goals that she let in were fluky or the kind of thing she would have had no chance with. She has some really good defenders in front of her, and as they get to know each other more good things will happen.

-I really believe this is a very talented team, it just can take a while for everyone to learn the system and get on the same page. Once they click though, this team will be able to take on any team in the NWHL

Thank you so much for reading! If you have any questions, or want the raw data, don’t hesitate to ask! I’ll be posting these every 4-6 weeks (to increase the sample size) but I’ll be posting observations and the like more often. In the future, I also hope to include zone exits and targeting data.

Go Riveters!

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Thoughts on the Riveters Final Preseason Game

Editor’s note: I know that this is a Blackhawks blog, but with how they have been handling the Patrick Kane situation of late, I am far more excited about the Riveters right now, so they may get more of my writing time this year, especially if this project I’m thinking about comes around. Basically, I like to write about what excites me, and right now that’s the Riveters.

So on Sunday I went to the Riveters preseason game, and I wanted to share my thoughts with y’all about it.

-First of all, it was an absolute blast. It was a small rink, but it was packed with fans of all shapes and sizes, all of whom were pumped for Riveters hockey. You had hard core Riveters nuts who already had gear, you had kids coming in from playing hockey next door, hell, there was even a girls hockey team there, fist bumping the players as they walked by! To me, this just represents what the NWHL can be, hockey for everyone. The NHL without the baggage. Do you like first class hockey, run by first class people that is open to all and accepting of all? That’s what I think the NWHL can be! Now, let’s get to the game…

-Right away my new favorite player, Nana Fujimoto, was amazing! Just the night before she had flown in from Japan, but still showed up and brought it! She is every bit as small as advertised, but also every bit the goalie that was advertised. She moves incredibly well in the crease, tracks the puck well, even though screens, and is dynamite with the pads. Also, she was a fierce competitor, clearly pissed when weird, fluky goals went in on her, and shoving larger players out of her crease when need be. I get that it’s a small sample size, but Nana Fujimoto is everything you want in a hockey player. I’m wildly excited!

-On defense, Ashley Johnston was very impressive. She is a very, very big blue liner, and is fast too. She is active in the play, and her stick was constantly causing trouble for the Whitecaps. She positioned herself well, and contributed in the offensive zone. She’s everything you want on the back end, and is a real joy to watch.

-Beth Hanrahan was a name that I didn’t really know going into the game, but that changed fast. She was involved in everything, and created offense every time she was on the ice. Hanrahan is active in the rush, and her head is always on a swivel. I was very impressed by her play, and look forward to watching more of it.

-Another forward who had the wow-factor was Bray Ketchum. She was fast, like, super-fast. She moves the puck very well, and her forecheck that lead to her goal was one of the prettiest plays I’ve seen in quite some time. Every time she was on the ice, she was making things happen.

-Janine Weber was an all-around beast. A forechecking monster who played amazing D and was awesome with the puck. She was another player who was very noticeable, and is a really excellent addition to the Riveters forward core.

-The Riveters lost, but they lost to an experienced team who has world class talent up and down the roster. A loss is ok. What was not ok was the lack of structure to their game. It was noticeable everywhere. The Riveters took a LOT of penalties, most of which were unnecessary. After they took the penalties, the PK lacked the structure that I usually associate with a good PK. They were reacting to the Whitecaps, not smothering them and dictating play. In the defensive zone, the Riveters forwards would often get sucked down below the faceoff dots, and any good work they did to stall offensive progress would be canceled out by a quick, uncontested pass to the point. This cost them at least one goal. And speaking of the point, the Riveters refused to use it. A number of times that the Rivs had the puck on the halfboards under pressure, and instead of making the easy pass to the D, which would then set up the pass to the other D and a good shot at the net, they would dump the puck in or pass it to a guarded forward on the goal line. And it never worked. Using your defense well in the offensive zone is essential when playing good teams, and the Riveters are going to play a few. Also, not to harp on the lack of structure, but the zone exits, neutral zone play, and zone entries were all sloppy. The good news is, all of this can be fixed. It’s a young team, with tons of exciting talent. I have no doubt they can bring it all together, and when they do it’ll be a sight to see!

-The Riveters excellent Russian forward, Lyudmila Belyakova, was not present at the game. Look for Belyakova to be an impact player with this team. She is an excellent 2-way forward, who handles the puck exceptionally well, is a beast in the slot, and has a killer shot. Belyakova is going to be an excellent addition to this team during the regular season, and will be fun to watch!  If you want a preview, enjoy this video of her recent play.

One last thing, I was hoping to start a zone entry and exit tracking project with the Riveters this year. I was wondering, is there anything you all want to see in it? I was going to do it the way most tracking projects have been done recently, but maybe there is something that would be helpful to you. And maybe there are other fans tracking other teams you know. This is a new league, and things like this have a lot of potential to be new, fun, and useful!

Go Riveters!