June 14 2012 02:05PM
Photo by Michael Miller, via Wikimedia Commons
Zone exits are a new development in hockey analytics (or at least they are on the blogosphere) and they are meant to study how effectvie certain players are at moving the puck forward. Most hockey metrics are based on puck possession and driving the play forward. Most plays begin from the breakout game in the defensive zone, and tracking zone exits can give us a better idea of which players are contributing more to pushing the play forward. This is still a work in progress so the method I am using isn't perfect but as of right now, I look for a few different things for when I track zone exits:
Puck Touches: Number of times a player touched the puck in the defensive zone in an attempt to move the puck out of the zone.
Carries: Number of times a player successfully carried the puck into the neutral zone.
Passes: Number of times a player successfully passed the puck into the neutral zone, from the defensive zone.
Other: Number of times that a player successfully moved the puck into the neutral zone without carrying the puck or passing it to another player.
Turnovers: Number of times that a player turned the puck over to the opposing time while still in the defensive zone.
Icing: Number of times the player iced the puck from the defensive zone.
Success Percentage: (Carries + Passes + Other ) / Puck Touches
This is largely based on the method Jonathan Willis used to track zone exits for the Oilers earlier in the season. This is all five on five data.
Kings Zone Exits
Doughty was relied on more to move the puck forward than any other player and he was more effective at it than any other blue-liner. He also turned the puck over less often than any other player and didn't ice the puck much either. This coupled with the scoring chance data shows how terrific he played in this series. It is amazing that he is only in his early 20's and can play at such a high level. The Kings had a much easier time at exiting the zone than the Devils and Doughty's puck-moving skills were a big reason why. He earned a big payday this off-season and he certainly looked like he was worth every penny in this series.
Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Justin Williams were also very effective at moving the puck forward and Carter was actually the Kings' best player in that area. He wasn't relied on as much as Williams and Kopitar but he managed to at least get the play moving in the right direction whenever get got the chance. Carter is known for being a terrific possession player so this shouldn't come as too big of a shocker. Richards was also good in this area but he also turned the puck over quite a bit.
Mitchell, Scuderi, Voynov, Martinez and Stoll were the Kings worst players at exiting the zone and Voynov constantly put his team in bad situations by turning the puck over. He led the Kings in D-zone turnovers with 17. This could explain why those two had very poor scoring chance numbers. Regarding Scuderi, he ranks so low because he plays with Drew Doughty and constantly relies on him to move the play forward. Every time those two were on the ice and had a breakout attempt, Scuderi would just give the puck to Doughty and let him do the rest. It's not a bad system but it makes me wonder how Scuderi would perform with a different defense partner.
Devils Zone Exits
New Jersey's most effective players at moving the puck forward were Alexei Ponikarovsky, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter, which is interesting because all three were underwater in terms of scoring chances. This could be due to a small sample size because Carter & Bernier were relied on to move the puck less than most of their teammates. They managed to get the job done, though.
Another one of the Devils better puck movers was Ilya Kovalchuk, who had no issues with exiting the zone by himself but he also turned the puck over more often than all but one of his teammates. Ponikarovsky had the same issue. You'll notice that most of their zone exits were done via carry, which could show that they have problems when having to make an outlet pass to another player. Something that Marek Zidlicky seems to specialize in as he led the team in that category with 23.
Zidlicky was also the Devils most effective puck mover this series, which makes sense because that was the main reason why they acquired him. He had a lot of turnovers, but that doesn't look so bad when you compare it to the Devils' other defensemen. Fayne, Salvador, Volchenkov and Tallinder all turned the puck over more often than Zidlicky did and none of them were as effective at moving the puck forward. Volchenkov and Salvador both struggled mightly in that category and the two were often stuck in their own end when they were used as a defense pairing.
The only defensemen who played a safer game and didn't turn the puck over that much were Peter Harrold and Andy Greene. Harrold's overall ability is obviously very limited but as a puck mover, he doesn't appear to be that bad of an option. Greene on the other hand wasn't great at moving the puck forward but he had to do the bulk of the work on his unit with Mark Fayne, who was New Jersey's worst player at exiting the zone.