Tactics: Breaking the Puck Out of the DZ (Part 2)
Fundamentally, it's important to beat the opposing F1
Earlier this week, we identified the relevant habits driving successful zone exits. Today, continuing our analysis of zone exits, we will discuss the key success factors to controlled breakouts from a tactical standpoint.
When thinking about tactics on DZ BOs, the first thing that comes to my mind is a piece of advice that a coach had given me a few years back: “if your team isn’t able to beat the opposing F1 (i.e., the first forward on the forecheck), your players haven’t accomplished anything on this breakout attempt”.
This assertion makes sense from a tactical standpoint, especially for a team prioritizing puck possession hockey. The additional space created by beating F1 can be leveraged to improve the condition of the puck on the breakout sequence.
But, from a statistical standpoint, does this assertion hold? If so, what insights can be gathered on how to beat F1?
DZ BO Fundamentals
To investigate the first question, we will use NWHL tracking data from the 2020-2021 season. This data was made available to the public by The Bucketless.
The player tracking information, which is linked to play-by-play events from Stathletes, allows us to identify puck recoveries in the DZ and follow the movement of different players as the breakout attempt unfolds.
Having identified over 380 breakout attempts based on the tracking data, we were able to make an educated guess regarding the movement of the puck and compare its advancement to that of the opposing F1.
The results of this first experiment are the following:
Based on our sample, the ability of NWHL teams to beat the opposing F1 in a DZ BO situation is about 50/50. When the puck carrier fails to beat F1, only 1 out of 5 zone exits are controlled. But when the puck carrier is able to beat F1, the control rate for zone exits significantly increases (approx. 53%).
Thus, beating F1 is important.
Carry vs Pass
As we had discussed in our last article, there are 2 ways of exiting the DZ: via pass or stickhandling. Interestingly, in our data, breakouts are distributed almost evenly between pass (52%) and stickhandling (48%) exits.
Going one step further in our analysis, we find that passes are a more efficient way of beating F1. Whether it be thanks to good support through the middle, a strongside push with F2 and F3 stretching the ice or weakside D activations, area passes are key to successful zone exits.
On the contrary, beating F1 via stickhandling only occurs 41% of the time when the opposing F1 is pressuring the puck carrier.
As such, teamwork makes the dream work on DZ BOs and for Ds, making a solid first pass is a more efficient way to break the puck out than trying to dangle around the opposing OZ FC all alone.
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