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2016 Passing Project Preview: How You Can Help

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This post covers what changes I'm making to the passing project as well as providing details on how you can join the group. It also includes a preview of some of that data. Read on for the details.

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, over a dozen people helped with the project I started almost two years ago. We tracked close to 500 games and released a ton of new data that the hockey analytics community had never seen before. I plan on continuing the project next season and hope to have even more games tracked. Of course, this means I need more people.

I'm making changes to the project. These are mostly focused on quantifying the precise situation in which a shot is generated. We'll be recording the third passer as from doing some test games this summer, I feel we'll gather more breakout passes by defensemen, specific regroups in the neutral zone, as well as sustained offensive pressure in the offensive zone. We'll also be recording the zone in which the pass comes from, not merely whether it was in the offensive zone or not.

A few other characteristics will be added, specifically passes from below the end line and passes back to the point. You'll see why I think these are important below, but in addition to this idea, odd-man situations will be recorded, as well as rebound attempts and goals. I'm curious if specific sequences produce more rebounds than others, not necessarily only shot type or placement.

This will also be more work, so I'm only asking people to track one game every week or every other week. A couple games a month from twenty to thirty people adds up quickly. My fellow ILWT writer, Brian Franken, who tracked the New York Rangers last season, will be splitting the New Jersey Devils games this season. I may do some of them, but if there's a Devils fan who wants to help track this team, let me know. I'd like to free up my obligations to allow me to check people's work more often and track games here and there to fill in gaps in our data. Primarily, I'd like to get more data on a variety of teams. I'm proud of what we did last year, but there were some Western Conference teams we didn't get a whole lot of data on. I'd like to remedy that this season.

So, if you are interested, please email me (hockeypassingstats@gmail.com) or hit me up on Twitter (@RK_Stimp) if you have questions or would like to volunteer. There is a process to ensure you're up to speed on how we do things, so please don't email me the night before the season starts asking to join. I mean, it's great if you do, but try and reach out earlier.

To show you what we'll be able to look at, Brian and I went back and tracked the 2012 Devils Eastern Conference Semifinal Series against Our Second Rate Rivals. This will be a preview of what you can expect going forward. Let's have a look.

Overall Comparison

Now, we know the Devils had their way with the Flyers in this series, but one area in which they truly dominated was in generating shot attempts from below the goal line. Why are these so dangerous? Over the course of five game series, twenty-two shot attempts came from passes made below the goal line, eleven resulted in shots, five resulted in goals. Compare that to Royal Road passes made in this series: thirty six shot attempts, twenty-two shots, and four goals. We'll know more as the season goes on, but I do wonder if shots preceded by passes below the end line are more troublesome for goalies than passes across the Royal Road.

Before I get to the team totals, I want to briefly highlight a reason why Zach Parise was so dearly missed after this playoff run. In the playoffs, Pete DeBoer played Patrik Elias and Parise together during this series quite often. They had only played a little over 200 minutes together during that season, but were quite effective. Of the fourteen shot attempts generated by passes below the end line, or what I simply call "End Line Passes" for brevity, Parise and Elias generated a combined seven of them. A big part of why they were so successful was the aggressive forecheck of the Devils. Have a look below.

Forecheck1

The Devils have Elias and Parise applying pressure. Elias is taking away the near-side options in Matt Carle and Max Talbot. Parise is heading across to pressure as Matt Read ponders where to go with the puck.

Forecheck2

Read fails to recognize that Elias follows him behind the net. He tries to reverse it, but Elias is able to intercept, collect, and make a pass to Parise, who has found the soft ice between Brayden Coburn and Baryden Schenn.  Ilya Bryzgalov knows Parise is going to shoot, but may not see the release cleanly due to Coburn caught between passer and shooter. Parise scores on this shot.

Forecheck3

Later on this game, Dainius Zubrus is working the boards and frees up a puck, sending it down low to Elias. This comes after a tenacious forechecking sequence that sees all three of these players apply pressure.

Forecheck4

Elias will take the puck behind the net and now his movement forces Carle into a decision. He opts to move towards Elias and go down to try to take away the pass to the trailing Parise.

Forecheck5

The duo don't connect on this one, but Elias is able to thread  pass towards Parise, who just misses directing this on goal. Another example of the heavy forecheck by this line and aggressive behind-the-net play leading to a dangerous chance. They were like this all series long.

Overall, the Devils generated fourteen and the Flyers generated eight of these End Line Passes. Both the Devils and  Flyers generated eighteen Royal Road events, so in terms of the quality of chances, there were great chances both ways, but the Devils put significantly more pressure on Bryzgalov in terms of their forecheck and generating offense from down low. Recently, Jonathan Quick has explained why this type of offense is important due to the "heavier" minutes a goalie has to play when the puck is down low.

The Devils dominated in nearly every statistical category in this series, most notably in overall passing possession. The Devils generated 157 shot attempts from passes to only 117 for the Flyers, a possession share of 57.3%.

Players

Starting with the defense, here is how the Devils fared in passing possession based on overall passes, shot sequences from multiple passes, and scoring chance passes (passes leading to shot attempts from the home plate area in front of goal).

NJ_Def

Here, we see that the Devils had their best scoring chance pass possession with Adam Larsson on the ice. Andy Greene and Mark Fayne were quite steady throughout that entire postseason, but their numbers are nearly identical. Surprisingly, even Bryce Salvador has some great numbers. Of course, the forwards playing in front of these defensemen had an amazing series territorially, so it's more a question of who didn't do well. Anton Volchenkov was in decline even then.

Let's move to the forwards.

Nj_Fwd

Here we can see a bit more separation in how these players performed in the series. Despite the team's overall success, the fourth line still took a beating in terms of overall and secondary passing possession. Steve Bernier managed to get in some decent scoring chances apart from Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta. However, look at the possession numbers for Zubrus. What a beast he used to be. Adam Henrique and Petr Sykora also had solid secondary pass possession. That Ilya Kovalchuck guy was pretty good as well.

NJ_Fwd_Rates

Parise led the team in generating chances (shocking) both from primary passing and was tied with Elias in scoring chance generation. However, we can't look solely at passing contributions, as many of these events, especially those in close to the net, require the shooter to get into position for the pass. We need to look at a player's overall contributions (passing and shooting). Below is a chart looking at precisely that - primary contributions.

Pruimary_CC

Only a few years ago, and with Parise and Kovalchuck on the team, Elias was still the most involved player in generating offense for these Devils forwards. Stephen Gionta also did very well in the minutes he received. Adam Henrique, a rookie at the time, was essential to driving offense in the bottom six. Of course, not all shot attempts are created equal, as we wouldn't say Gionta was the third-most important forward for the Devils that playoff series.

Below is  a chart looking at total contributions (primary passer and shooter) for Royal Road and End Line events for the Devils forwards expressed as a per sixty minute rate.

Fwd_RR_EL

When we factor in the most dangerous of shot sequences, we see that the clearest reason for the Devils decline after this postseason, was the simple fact that they lost the two players most often involved in these chances.

Conclusions

So, there's a quick preview of what I plan on collecting going forward. I may do a follow up post on some more data from this playoff series if people are interested.

I've already started vetting trackers (12 ready for next season at the time of this post) this summer and I expect another push as we get closer to the start of the season. If you have suggestions on what you'd like to see, now is the time to make your voices known. Again, you can reach me at hockeypassingstats@gmail.com or on Twitter at @RK_Stimp if you'd like to join the project. If you don't have the time or patience to contribute, you can make a small donation here which will go towards reimbursing game center live costs for the various trackers. The goal is to make this data available in-season, so donations will go towards server costs and the time associated with managing that aspect of the project. Thanks for reading!