Which NHL teams employ "zone matching" the most?

Cam Charron
June 24 2013 07:31PM


via Wikimedia Commons

With John Tortorella coming to Vancouver, I admit I'm quite curious as to how he stacks up compared to Alain Vigneault in "zone matching", the practice of having your more offensive centremen take faceoffs in the offensive zone and your more defensive forwards take faceoffs in the defensive zone.

Thomas Drance made the point over at Canucks Army that Alain Vigneault is going to become very familiar with Brian Boyle this season. Boyle, like Manny Malhotra or Maxim Lapierre in Vancouver, took a large percentage of his faceoffs in the defensive end, while Brad Richards and Derek Stepan were left with a lot more offensive zone opportunities.

Tortorella, like Vigneault, subscribes to the practice. Here's a primer on zone matching, along with a comment that the practice has become increasingly more common over the last two seasons. Which teams did it the most in 2013?

Well, it was Vancouver and Alain Vigneault, obviously.

The way I determine this is I look at the zone start numbers on Behind the Net dot ca, and take the four players on each team who were in the top four in faceoffs taken for any given team. I subtract their defensive zone starts by their offensive zone starts, then take the difference between the top offensive centreman and top defensive centreman.

Example… in Vancouver, Henrik Sedin started 330 shifts in the offensive zone and 188 in the defensive. That's a difference of +142. Lapierre was 90 in the offensive zone and 251 in the defensive zone, for a difference of -161. The overall difference between +142 and -161 is 303. I'd do this for every team.

Here's the chart:

TEAM Overall Diff Top Offensive Top Defensive
VAN 303 142 -161
MIN 244 136 -108
PHX 226 84 -142
MTL 209 87 -122
NYR 187 124 -63
TOR 186 -17 -203
PIT 165 75 -90
NYI 147 103 -44
CHI 134 43 -91
PHI 129 19 -110
T.B 125 41 -84
BOS 120 18 -102
NSH 117 -41 -158
DAL 99 60 -39
STL 99 24 -75
COL 90 32 -58
OTT 89 79 -10
CAR 89 78 -11
WPG 85 35 -50
L.A 84 63 -21
EDM 81 14 -67
FLA 77 78 1
ANA 63 12 -51
WSH 62 7 -55
BUF 59 -9 -68
CGY 47 -24 -71
DET 46 87 41
N.J 46 31 -15
CBJ 28 4 -24
S.J 21 15 -6

 

And here it is, visually:

So Tortorella employed zone matching quite often. Surprisingly, Mike Yeo in Minnesota caught onto the practice, sheltering his top forward Mikko Koivu while Kyle Brodziak took 264 defensive zone draws for the Wild.

Does zone matching help your team? I think if you strike the right balance. The goal is to keep your most offensive players away from the top defensive players on the other team. Sometimes the personnel works, sometimes it doesn't.

Anyway, I find crap like this interesting.

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 leaferfan
June 24 2013, 09:30PM
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Interesting post. Did you look at the correlation vs P%. It would likely be as predictive as faceoff or fighting. However, I think zone matching and sheltering is useful but more advanced statistics are needed to see how they help the team. Thoughts?

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#2 Patrick D. (SnarkSD)
June 25 2013, 09:27AM
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Nice article Cam,

Have you considered using zone start standard deviation? The larger the SD the overall larger distribution in of zone starts for the whole team.

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#3 antro
June 26 2013, 11:40AM
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Just a question considering the negative values in the "top offensive" column: speaking in terms of total team number, are the stronger possession teams getting more OZone face offs relative to weaker teams? For example, does Chicago or LA get way more than OZone starts than Colorado or Florida?

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