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2013 - 2014 Devils Passing Review: Possession and a Team Comparison

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This is a look at how much possession matters during a hockey game as well as how the New Jersey Devils compared on a team-level to their opposition. Read on for the details.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

This is a comparison of the Devils as a team to their opposition this past season. Previously, these articles have been focused on players. This one will focus on how well the Devils as a team compare across a variety of statistics. All statistics and findings you see here are from a passing experiment using the Devils and their opposition as a case study to determine which statistics offer value in analysis. They are not to be taken as gospel across the league or teams I have not tracked in full as of yet.

Something I want to discuss first, before I put up the winning correlation chart you’ve all memorized by now, is possession. Controlling pass attempts by zone shows us which teams control most of the play and overall possession. There are several hundred pass attempts per game as opposed to maybe a hundred combined shot attempts, so using passes to measure possession is a truer sense of who had the puck more.

Let’s get to it.

Summer Passing Series Links

Primer

Part One: Efficiency and Winning

Part Two: The Transition Game

Part Three: Offensive Zone Analysis

Part Four: Generating Goals

Part Five: Corsi Contribution

Part Six: Frequency of Offense

Part Seven: Does Accuracy Matter?

How the Devils Measure Up

To start, I’ll take the five stats that correlate closest to winning percentage and we’ll compare the Devils and their opposition in those categories. Those stats are Shot Attempt Generation Efficiency (SAGE), both overall and by zone, shots for as a percentage of Corsi for (all shooting attempts), larger possession share of shots generated via passing (SG), Neutral Zone completion percentage (NZ%), and larger possession share of shot attempts generated in transition (passes originating in the defensive or neutral zones that precede shot attempts, or D/NZ SAG).

Win_correlation

As you can see, the Devils do not look good at all. They are not as efficient as their opposition, whether that’s in the transition game or once they establish their forecheck and cycle game. They miss the net or have more shots blocked than their opposition in general, not just those generated via passes. The Devils are really behind in transition shot attempts.

The Devils are much closer in terms of neutral zone completion percentage, but still behind their opponents. The one are the Devils excel is controlling the larger percentage of shots generated via passes. Of course, when you only win one of seven categories, chances are you’ll not be a very good team.

Frequency of Events as a Team

Pbz_frequency_team_comparison

This chart illustrates how often the Devils and their opposition attempt passes in each zone. In each team’s offensive zone, the Devils attempt passes fifteen seconds faster than their opponents. That is a massive territorial advantage. It helps to quantify what we see when watching the Devils on the forecheck. In the neutral zone, the Devils attempt passes slightly quicker than their opponents, which is more important than their offensive zone dominance. They end up just a single second behind their opposition when passing in their own end.

Now that we’ve seen the Devils are, primarily, a better possession team than their opposition, let’s see what they did with all of that possession. Team_comparison_sag_frequency

Well, we knew the Devils would generate shot attempts and shots in the offensive zone quicker than their opponents, but we also know that generating shots in transition correlates stronger to winning. Despite attempting passes in the neutral zone quicker than their opponents, the Devils generate transition shot attempts about ninety seconds slower than their opponents. The lower efficiency than their opponents means the Devils generate an actual shot in transition 2:48 slower than their opposition.

Breakdown_of_sag

Another way to look at this production is see how much of a team’s offense comes from each zone. In the above chart, you’ll see what percentage of the Devils offense comes in transition versus what is set up in the offensive zone. The Devils generate only 16.3% of their shot attempts in transition. Their opponents generate 10% more. There’s a big reason why the Devils failed to score, or even register shots on goal for much of the season. I covered this a bit earlier in the series, but now we’re going to look at who’s to blame.

Positional_sag_breakdown

This chart tells us how, positionally, the Devils compared to their opponents in terms of what percentage of offense was coming either in transition or in the offensive zone. Let’s look at the defensemen first.

Of all the shot attempts opposing defensemen generated, 37.2% of them were with passes originating in either the defensive or neutral zones. Compare that to only 22.4% with the Devils defensemen. As I’ve shown previously, shot attempts generated in transition are more likely to register as actual shots and lead to a team winning. The opposing defensemen have nearly 15% more of their SAG figures come from this area than the Devils defense. It wasn’t as bad for the forwards, but there was still a stark difference as the Devils forwards generated 14.2% of their shot attempts in transition, while the opposing forwards generated 21.9% of theirs in transition.

Despite only 22.4% of their shot attempts coming in transition, the Devils defensemen generate 29.4% of their shots in transition. Each position group for both the Devils and their opposition saw a greater percentage of their overall shots generated come in the transition compared to their attempts. The reason for this is that despite more attempts being generated in the offensive zone, the transition attempts register shots at a much greater rate of success.

While the forwards (18.3%) are still a bit behind the opposition forwards (26.8%), the Devils defensemen (29.4%) are way behind their opposition (46.4%). The Devils clearly aren’t getting enough help from their backend in the transition game. Is that the team’s skill? Is it a function of how they play? It’s probably a bit of both and I believe that a full season of Larsson, Gelinas, and Merrill and the departures of Volchenkov and Fayne will help to improve this. But for this past season, more blame can be laid at the feet of the Devils defense for their offensive woes.

Concluding Thoughts

Much of this data confirms what Devils fans suspected: the team controlled play in the offensive zone and possessed the puck more than their opponents, but failed to do much with all of that possession. It’s interesting to isolate phases of the game and see how players thrive in certain situations (Zidlicky in transition) and are more of a liability in others (Zidlicky’s defensive zone completion percentage). With more data to come next season, there will be even more data points to evaluate players in a deeper level and give us a more accurate picture of what’s happening on the ice and who is contributing to a team’s offensive production.

So, after this series introducing many of the ways to look at the data unearthed by tracking passing and shot generation statistics, what are your thoughts on all of this? I’ve mentioned that I’ll be tracking new data involving scoring chances and potential second assists for the upcoming season, but what are new ways we can look at this? How was this presented? I tried to do it in smaller chunks as a lot of it is brand new, so let me know what you got hung up on or what made sense.

This is just the beginning. I’ll be doing updates and in-depth posts during the season and how we look at this data may change, but I wanted to use time this summer to present this and get people’s feedback. Recently, people have reached out to me expressing interest in joining in on the tracking, so we’ll see how that goes. The more eyes we can get on tracking this data the better.

For the rest of the summer, I’ll have four more pieces up that go over how the Devils and their opponents matched up during the season. There will be one post for each division.