While you’ll sometimes hear about a team’s need to “get pucks deep”, often by playing dump-and-chase hockey, entering the zone with control of the puck has been shown to create nearly twice the offense as dumping the puck in.
No one has done more over the last few years to advance our understanding of zone entries and exits than Corey Sznajder. Corey’s tireless efforts tracking games has provided the hockey community with a valuable resource. Recently, Sean Tierney used Corey’s data to make visualizations of individual players’ zone entry defense.
What was uncovered may surprise you: Brooks Orpik was the best Caps defender at protecting the blue line on zone entries last season.
Before we dig into the numbers, a couple caveats:
Here’s a look at a viz Sean created using Corey’s data. This looks at how well a player defends his own blue line when targeted on a zone entry.
Carry-in percentage is the percentage of times a team successfully carried the puck in when targeting that specific player.
Break-up percentage is the percentage of times a player successfully broke up a zone entry when they were the targeted player.
And here’s the graph with just the Caps defensemen
This is a little surprising.
Bigger picture, Schmidt and Orpik had very similar numbers when it came to shot differentials last season, which isn’t surprising since they spent so much time together. Schmidt posted a 54.8 shot attempt percentage while Orpik checked in at 54.0. Schmidt was a little better in both on-ice shot attempts for and against.
Schmidt is able to maintain very good possession numbers while not being very good at defending his own blue line, but how? This likely is because of his particularly strong skating and passing abilities which allow him to both get the puck out of the defensive zone quicker than most and create a dangerous offensive attack through neutral. So, Schmidt may find himself in his zone more often than some defenders, but once in his defensive zone Schmidt is likely elite at getting it out.
One thing to watch for is if Orpik can maintain these numbers away from Schmidt next season. My instinct would be that he’ll be noticeably weaker in shot attempts, as Schmidt is one of the few players he’s found success with over the last several seasons. But, when it comes to zone entries against, we have much less prior knowledge to work with.
Was Orpik successful because skating alongside a player with Schmidt’s skating ability allowed him to be more aggressive? Was Schmidt unsuccessful because he had to play a more conservative style due to Orpik’s lack of foot speed and ability to cover up mistakes?
It will be interesting to see how Orpik fares defensively next season away from Schmidt.
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Headline image: Amanda Bowen
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