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)
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.