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2015 Passing Project Data Release: Volume II

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In this article, I release the linkup play between passer and shooter. Scott Gomez was the most prolific passer on the team, so who were his favorite targets? All this and more for each player we tracked. Read on the details.

Steve Bernier: Scott Gomez's most efficient target
Steve Bernier: Scott Gomez's most efficient target
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last time, I released the player data we tracked for 492 games. This included how players generated shot attempts from their passes, how often they contributed to the team’s offensive output, and a variety of other unique metrics. I also showed that passing production was something that is repeatable and had a slightly stronger correlation to future point production when compared to a player’s shooting production. I also made this available for download from within the article itself, so if you missed that or forgot to download it, I encourage you to use the link above and do so.

In this second phase of releasing our data, I’m a little behind schedule. I’m waiting on a few things to arrive from other people to finish up, but what I have today is where I anticipate this project moving towards in the future: Linkups.

It’s one thing for a player to shoot the puck. It’s another thing for them to generate offense from a pass. These are both valuable and, should be, essential means of player evaluation. If you’re only looking at a player’s individual shot attempts, you’re only getting half the picture. If you want a total picture, you need to look at both means of production.

Along that same line, certain players may combine with certain line mates better than others. So, if we can quantify how often Player A passes to Player B and vice versa, it allows to move closer to answering questions like, "Does Player A do something to improve Player B’s production? How does he do that? Is there a ‘chemistry’ between the two players? Is one simply easier or harder to play with?" Lots of questions like this come to mind when we look at players together and apart. That’s why I think tools like David Johnson’s WOWY and Super WOWYare of the utmost importance. How players play together and apart is incredible information. The passing linkups below simply take it a step closer to the ice level of what is actually occurring.

Once again, you can download it for your own reference (icon in the bottom right of the display) and use at your leisure. My hope is that more and more people volunteer to help finish the season over the summer, so we’ll be adding to this and, depending on how much help I get, I’ll do another release in August/September. But, I want to keep sharing what we have so far.

Now, this data comes from 260 games, not the full 492. Why? We changed the way we track about halfway through the season to include the shooter, time, period, one-timer, and Royal Road data. It was the way to get on-ice data and incorporate the shooter element to the passing sequence. Once again, we have the most data (about 40 or so games) on the Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Washington Capitals. As far as how much data we have on other teams, below is the total number of games tracked in this format. The time on ice and other data is what I'm waiting on, so I will update when I have it.

Teams

You can filter by team to get started. Then, select a player from the Primary Passer column and all the shooters they generated shot attempts for will display in the Shooter column. You can also look at it from the other side: filter by shooters and see who was setting up each shot. The total attempts generated for each shooter is in the Attempts column, while the total number of shots and goals are in the SOG and G columns. The overall efficiency for each combination is in the final column.

The fourth column indicates how many one-timers were set up. Multiple Passing Sequences tells you how many sustained passing sequences the players were involved in - meaning that if a player set up ten attempts, if five were sustained passing sequences, there was at least one other pass preceding the shot attempt. A1 Transition indicates if the primary pass was made in transition (prior to entering the offensive zone). A1 RR and SC indicate whether the primary pass crossed the Royal Road (line extending from the goal to the top of the faceoff circles) or was sent in and around the home plate area.

So, if you wanted to really know what Rick Nash missed from Mats Zuccarello in the playoffs, you can filter by Rick Nash in the shooter column and you'll see that of the twenty-six attempts Zucs generated for Nash, twenty were actual shots. That's very efficient and Nash certainly missed him. However, if you look at the characteristics of the attempts generated by Derek Brassard, you'll see that Brassard generated higher quality chances for Nash. There's certainly a difference in the type of supply players will generate each other.

Similarly, you can learn more about a player that you might not have realized. For example, I'm going to talk a lot about Scott Gomez later on in this piece, but Travis Zajac may be just as dangerous a passer, especially when paired with Mike Cammalleri. Filter through various combinations and you'll see which players combined better than others.

You’ll get the hang of it after you play around with it.

A Closer Look at Scott Gomez

With the rest of this space, I wanted to take a closer look at how some of the favorite targets of the Devils’ more productive passers. Starting with Scott Gomez, have a look see.

Gomez_2

This is a breakdown of each player that attempted a shot from one of Gomez’s passes. You’ll quickly see that Adam Henrique and Steve Bernier were his two favorite targets as he generated about half of his output through these two players alone. I decided to take a look at how Gomez was setting them up.

This is an example of having to go the video to explain. I’ve included screenshots of Gomez supplying both Henrique and Bernier. One aspect of their game that was remarkable was that of the thirteen one-timers that Gomez set Bernier up for, he converted nine of them into shots, with one goal and another goal scored off a rebound of the original shot. Henrique converted only five of the twelve one-timer attempts on goal, with no goals to show for his efforts. This might mean nothing, but it intrigued me. Below are a variety of setups from Gomez to both players.

Gomez and Bernier

Gomez_Bernier_1

As this sequence unfolds, Bernier wins the puck off the boards and carries away from the half-boards. Gomez is down near the end line and Tuomo Ruutu is near the goal. Bernier can drive the net for a shot, pass to Gomez to continue the play, or try for tip that Ruutu can redirect on net.

Gomez_Bernier_2

Bernier ends up passing to Gomez, who takes the puck behind the net. He stops and creeps back the way he came, undoubtedly recognizing Bernier’s positioning. In fact, in the second screenshot, it doesn’t appear Gomez has much of a chance to get this puck to Bernier.

Gomez_Bernier_3

However, he is able to thread this to Bernier, who doesn’t move from the second to third frames. The Vancouver Canucks collapse rather than commit another body to fronting Bernier, denying the passing lane, or checking Gomez. They remain passive and Gomez is able to take advantage of the opportunity and get it to Bernier for a one-timer from the inside the scoring chance area. The Canucks goalie makes the save and play continues, but this is a quality chance. We would expect this shot to go in 15% of the time based on the sequencing, so this is a solid play by both Gomez and Bernier.

Gomez_Bernier_4

This next sequence is a two-on-one with Bernier driving to the net and Gomez on the left wing side of the ice. The Sabres defenseman has good depth and his stick is on the ice. There’s two Sabres behind Gomez. Gomez can’t stop and look for a trailer due to the chasing Sabres, so he must decide when to release the pass. Releasing it early doesn’t seem like a good option given the sticks in the lane. Waiting to pass will be a difficult play as well given how much room he has to cover to get the pass around the defenseman.

Gomez_Bernier_5

Look how far Gomez takes this before releasing it. You can see multiple Sabres converging on him and the pass hasn’t even reached Bernier yet. Bernier directs this in for a goal. Gomez waited to make a difficult play seem easy and the Devils were rewarded with a goal. If this pass is any deeper, the Sabres goalie covers it or just knocks it away, and if it’s higher in the slot, Bernier likely has a difficult time putting it on net. Great play.

Gomez_Bernier_6

In this next sequence, Gomez is behind the net. Reid Boucher is moving across the slot, likely planning on providing Gomez with an option on the left faceoff circle. Bernier is on the end line in no real position to receive a pass. The Rangers seem okay right now.

Gomez_Bernier_7

Well, that changed. Bernier moved to the front of the net as Kevin Hayes protected the side of the net rather than checking Gomez. Dan Boyle and Martin St. Louis both tracked Boucher across the slot. Bernier beat Carl Hagelin to his spot and Gomez fed him out on front on a similar play to the first sequence.

Gomez_Bernier_8

Here, Gomez has Bernier and Henrique layered and heading towards goal. Does he opt to play it across for Henrique, who does have positioning on Alexsander Barkov, or does he lead Bernier?

Gomez_Bernier_9

It’s tough to see, but Gomez opted to flip this forward for Bernier, who swats at it, directing it on net for a right pad save (eventually). It’s not a bad play as Henrique is there for the rebound, but can’t quite get there.

Gomez_Bernier_10

Gomez_Bernier_11

Here, Gomez, Henrique, and Bernier all enter the zone. You see Henrique’s movement opens a lane for Bernier to skate into. Gomez could still hit Henrique with a pass, but Bernier is clearly the more open of the two.

Gomez_Bernier_12

Bernier receives the pass and is able to one-time it on goal. I would have hoped Bernier could have passes this to Henrique and then drove to the net for the return pass. Would have been a better play, but this is about Gomez. Here, he finds the open find for another attempt.

Gomez_Bernier_13

His last linkup with Bernier. Here, Gomez forced the turnover behind the net and, as you can see, sets up Bernier with a scoring chance. Bernier would score on the rebound.

Gomez and Henrique

Gomez_Henrique_1

Gomez sets up Henrique with a one-timer from the just above the faceoff circles. It’s a good play to get the puck away from his defender and beyond the stick of the Kings forward to allow Henrique to get a clean shot away. It’s only unfortunate that there are two Kings players there to hurry the shot, though Henrique still puts it on net.

Gomez_Henrique_2

Gomez down low again, where he likes to work. What are his options here? Well, we’re going to see Gomez, yet again, able to set up a chance due to his patience and ability to read the play.

Gomez_Henrique_3

Jagr is going to leave the picture entirely as he moves down across the slot, allowing an opening for Henrique to circle behind him. Gomez is able to skate out a few feet to hit Henrique with the pass.

Gomez_Henrique_4

Gomez is shielding the puck from his Sabres defender (something the entire league was able to do). Notice Henrique here. He’s between two forwards and marked tightly at the moment. Gomez is going to skate up the near boards and Henrique is going to find space to present as an option.

Gomez_Henrique_5

Gomez sends the puck to him as Henrique and Gomez make the Sabres hesitant to commit to one or the other. Henrique gets this off quickly and on goal.

Gomez_Henrique_7

Gomez leading the three-on-two into the zone. Mark Fraser drives the net, creating the lane for Gomez to pass across to Henrique.

Gomez_Henrique_6

Which he does, though I would have liked to see Henrique drive closer to the net here. This would have allowed for a quicker shot. Notice that Jaroslav Halak is behind the puck here, still working to come across. Fraser does a nice job "getting hooked" by the Islanders defenseman, preventing him from interfering with the pass. Henrique gets this shot off, but it’s not as good as it good have been. I feel Bernier would take a tighter path to the goal, allowing for a quicker period between pass and shot. By the time Henrique shoots this, Halak is all the way over and set enough to make the save.

Gomez_Henrique_8

Gomez, behind the net again! You can see Henrique start to move to his left, thinking that Gomez will head that way. It’s a good option as all of four of the Florida Panthers players have their backs to Henrique. When Gomez escapes, we see that Henrique has managed to create plenty of separation for Henrique to hammer this puck on goal. Even Jussi Jokinen is telling Gomez where to hit Henrique with the pass.

Gomez_Henrique_9

Conclusions

Considering that Henrique and Bernier were two of Gomez’s most common line mates this season, it’s not surprising to see most of his production come off their sticks. However, upon closer examination, we see that despite Henrique being set up for thirty-seven shot attempts from Gomez, the duo only combined for fourteen shots. When passing to Bernier, on the other hand, Gomez generated sixteen shots on only twenty-six attempts. That’s a considerable increase in efficiency (61.5% to 37.8%). It’s even more impressive considering that only eleven of the attempts Gomez generated for Bernier were scoring chances, whereas Henrique was fed into the homeplate area on twenty (over half) of his attempts generated by Gomez.

So, I wondered if Bernier and Gomez simply had more chemistry between the two. After all, of the ten shot attempts Bernier generated for Gomez, nine registered as shots on goal, including five scoring chances and two Royal Road passes. If you look at the attempts Henrique generated for Gomez, you’ll see the same ten attempts, with four shots, and only two scoring chances and no Royal Road passes. If you combine the attempts the duos generated with each other, you’ll see a similar gap in efficiency with Gomez and Bernier combining on twenty-fiveshots from thirty-six attempts (69.4% efficiency) and Gomez and Henrique combining on only twenty-one shots on forty-seven attempts (44.6% efficiency).

As shown above, Gomez would typically generate similar chances for both Bernier and Henrique, but little things contribute to getting an attempt at goal versus getting a shot on goal. Bernier appears more direct in his off-the-puck movement, as highlighted by Gomez’s Royal Road pass to Henrique that should have been attempted much sooner has Henrique taken a more direct line on goal. Both players do read Gomez well enough to find pockets of space in the offensive zone, however.

Now that I have more time to get into reviewing events and doing more of this type of analysis, I do wonder if, once in the zone, Bernier and Henrique have different roles within the Devils system that would impact these types of numbers. That may be some part, but I doubt it explains all of it. Of course, part Henrique's inability to convert attempts into shots might have had to do with this injury that Tom Gilutti reported on once the season ended. Henrique's personal shooting efficiency dropped seven percent after January 1st, which fits the timeline Henrique gave for when he sustained the injury.

Seeing as how both Bernier and Gomez are free agents, I’d hope the Devils brought them back and played them in a bottom-six role. That’s be in a perfect world, but it’s clear the two combine very well in generating quality chances and, most importantly, get them on net.

Your Thoughts

What do you think of this linkup data? Any requests for future comparisons like this? I know I’m behind in getting to video work of analyzing Jon Merrill and more on Henrique, but it’s coming, I assure you. Getting this data ready to release has taken a bit longer than I’d anticipated. Anyways, sound off below on what you like or didn’t like about this. Til next time!