FanPost

Islanders Neutral Zone Play through 10 Games: Losing Steam Here

I'm coming into your zone. - Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Hey Guys.

So as I said after four games, I'm tracking Islanders Neutral Zone Play this season. In particular, I'm tracking Zone Entries.

If you don't know what zone entries are, I'd encourage you to read my intro post about them, but if you'd rather not for some reason, I'll explain quickly here:

Zone Entries are the name given to each entry made by each team into the offensive zone from the neutral zone. In effect, I'm going through each game and tracking each time the puck travels from the neutral zone to the offensive/defensive zone.

What do I mean by tracking? Well, ,what I mean is that I'm tracking who gets the puck over the blue line, how they do so (via dump, tip, carry-in, or pass), and whether it's even strength or not.

The whole point of this exercise is that it essentially gives us a method to measure which players are winning the battle of the neutral zone, which is incredibly important to the game of hockey, but basically unmeasurable by traditional statistics. Teams that win the neutral zone win more games because they get more time in the opponents' zone and manage to get more chances to score than their opponents.

How do we tell if a team is winning the neutral zone? Well, quite simply, the better neutral zone teams not only get the puck more often into the opponents' zone, but they also get it into the opponents' zone with POSSESSION. In other words, better teams will carry or pass the puck into the offensive zone more often than they dump the puck in. Getting the puck into the zone with possession results in more than double the amount of shots on goal than getting the puck in via dump-in (or tip-in), so it's a major factor in winning hockey games.

Okay so now that we're done with the primer again, let me give you the results through last night's rangers game. The Isles have an overall neutral zone close* play # of 49.5%. In essence this means that they're winning the neutral zone battle 49.5% of the time. In other words, they're losing more often than not.

* The word "Close" here simply means that these are the numbers while the game is within 1 goal through 2 periods and I BELIEVE tied in the third period. The reason we only talk about close situations if we can is that teams play far more conservatively with big leads and thus the stats can get skewed by teams who frequently are down or up large leads. In overall ice time, Isles are at 49.6%, so not much better.

Moreover, the last 3 Isles games have been big stinkers: The Isles' Neutral Zone Close Play in these 3 games:
Against Devils: 48.7%
Against Penguins: 46.7%
Against Rangers: 45.3%

Yeah, not a good direction. The Islanders still have had only one game where they've dominated Neutral Zone Play, way back in game 2 against Tampa. Not a good sign for a team without strong goaltending.

Now let's look again at our individual players - Note for sample size purposes I'm going with overall neutral zone play here for individual players, and not the close #s as I mentioned above:

NOTE: You may notice, as at least one commenter did in my last post, that the below statistics are incomplete: a complete representation would not only show the players' zone entries, but the zone entries' of his teammates while he was on the ice and the zone entries' of opponents while he was on the ice. After all, if a player makes a ton of zone entries but allows the opponents to make even more, he's not winning the neutral zone. For technical reasons however, this data is currently unavailable, and I'll make a new post when it is.

Line 1:

NAME Zone Entries Entries with Possession % of entries with possession
John Tavares
95 71 75%
Matt Moulson
38 15 39%
Kyle Okposo
71 32 45%

John Tavares is still amazing. No one else on the team has more than 35 entries with possession. Tavares has 71. Only one other player has a Entry with possession rate above 60%. Tavares is at 75%. As I believe PGI pointed out in the comments a few games ago, Tavares' motto is "Fuck it, I'm taking it." And for good reason, it's why the team has taken the most shots at the net after his entries than after anyone else's.

Matt Moulson again is not a neutral zone player - not making many neutral zone entries (for his ice time) and rarely creating an entry with possession. We see this here. It's why Tavares probably could use a second puck handler for neutral zone play to ensure he and Moulson are most effective.

This is why the third member of this line started out as Kyle Okposo, who last year was a very solid neutral zone player. This year, while hes putting up a good amount of entries, only 45% are with possession, which just isn't cutting it. So the Isles switched out to Brad Boyes.....

NAME Zone Entries Entries with Possession % of entries with possession
Frans Nielsen
29 22 76%
Michael Grabner
61 35 57%
Brad Boyes
49 23 47%

who is more like Moulson than KO. We saw this a bit in the Ranger game, where the JT line had trouble gaining the zone it seemed. Boyes' entry with possession rate has actually improved since the first 4 games, but it's still poor. This doesn't seem like a great idea to work with JT.

By comparison, Michael Grabner has the 2nd most entries with possession on the team and 3rd most entries overall. He's a very effective puck carrier in the neutral zone, as you might imagine.

Frans Nielsen remains very picky as to his own zone entries. Like Tavares - in fact he's slightly more efficient than JT - he nearly always enters via carry-in or pass, he'll rarely dump it in. Unlike Tavares, Nielsen doesn't enter the zone super often. I'm not sure how he pulls off this combination - i need to pay more attention, but I don't see Nielsen backing up if he can't enter with possession so I think it's more that he doesn't like to carry the puck through the neutral zone that often (which is why Boyes and Grabner have so many individual entries).

NAME Zone Entries Entries with Possession % of entries with possession
Keith Aucoin
39 19 49%
Colin McDonald
27 12 44%
David Ullstrom
44 25 57%

So Keith Aucoin has been okay at entering with possession but not great - the numbers have actually come up the last 3 games a bit. He's a big dropoff from the other two centers (Frans has more entries with possession despite 10 less entries overall), but it's okay.

McDonald is meh in neutral zone play - the #s have gone up like Aucoin, but they're still closer to Moulson-esque than you'd like from a guy who doesn't have any offensive ability.

But again, David Ullstrom is intriguing. A very solid zone entry rate despite lesser ice time and lesser linemates is very interesting. He's certainly a candidate for a first line spot in my opinion because of it.

NAME Zone Entries Entries with Possession % of entries with possession
Marty Reasoner
19 3 32%
Matt Martin
33 6 18%
Casey Cizikas
26 12 46%
Eric Boulton
5 1 20%

The Fourth line.....yeah. AKA the Oh thank god we're out of the defensive zone, dump it in and pray we somehow get possession in the offensive zone! Matt Martin's #s are especially depressing.

AGAIN the only bright spot here has been Casey Cizikas. He's certainly the only one of these guys attempting to enter the offensive zone and try to actually get some offense out of it. Why he's being scratched...I have no idea.

--------------------------------------------

The Defensemen:

NAME Zone Entries Entries with Possession % of entries with possession
Travis Hamonic
37 13 35%
Andrew MacDonald
26 6 23%
Mark Streit
35 18 51%
Brian Strait
19 8 42%
Matt Carkner
15 3 20%
Joe Finley
4 0 0%
Thomas Hickey
5 2 40%

I think these D-Men #s are more indicative of Cappy's D-Man strategy than any actual D-men ability. The D is basically told, other than Streit and Strait - and to a lesser extent Hamonic - to just dump it in or try to connect on super long passes from blue line to blue line. Needless to say this results in a ton of entries without possession.

This seems incredibly suboptimal. Yes having your D-Men move the puck up a little into the neutral zone is a little riskier, but you can get better zone entries to create your offense.

Conclusion:

It's hard to tell who's totally responsible for our d-zone failings since i don't have opponent zone starts while players are the ice. But certain guys need to improve, and I think a decent problem is the lack of use of our D-men in bringing the puck up.

<em>Submitted FanPosts do not necessarily reflect the views of this blog or SB Nation. If you're reading this statement, you pass the fine print legalese test. Four stars for you.</em>

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