Tactics: Entering the OZ with Control of the Puck (Part 2)
Analyzing what happens when Ds support the rush as P4
Last year, I had the opportunity of presenting at the Open Hockey Conference alongside Alyssa Longmuir (@alyssastweeting). Our project revolved around winning the NZ battle in order to create valuable entries.
Past research had shown that middle entries were the most valuable type of entry in women’s hockey. As such, we used a ridge classifier to identify the characteristics which yielded the highest probability of entering the OZ between the dots. The characteristics (variables) we used in our model were the following:
Length of NZ sequence
Length of Passes
Number of Passes
We then also adjusted our model for contextual factors such as score and strength.
Based on the above, we can gather the following insights.
Quickly getting in and out of the NZ by changing the point of attack would maximize the probability of successfully completing a middle entry.
On the contrary, the number and length of passes were negatively correlated with our target variable. As such, we found that making a high volume of long, and therefore high risk, passes is not the optimal way of gaining the middle of the ice when entering the OZ.
4 on the rush
When thinking about high value tactics off the rush, my mind directly jumps to middle entries, which we just discussed. But when thinking about modern tactics off the rush, I directly think of Ds supporting the play as P4 (i.e., 4th player off the rush).
Linking these 2 ideas, I wanted to figure out the optimal strategy for Ds when jumping up to support play. To achieve this objective, I used player tracking data from the Bucketless’ NWHL project and identified zone entry sequences in which a D would step up to support the rush as P4.
Interestingly, on middle entries, Ds who are supporting the rush as P4 only touch the puck about 12% of the time. Their role is to create confusion and force the defending team to commit on coverage, in what often becomes an odd player situation.
On side entries, Ds who sprint up through the middle contribute to offensive rush sequences 22% of the time by directly touching the puck. When Ds touch the puck on side entries, as P4, the offensive team takes a shot in 56% of the sequences. However, when P4 doesn’t touch the puck, the shot conversion rate decreases to 33%.
Overall, middle entries are still more advantageous than side entries. But, on side entries, a D who sprints up the ice to support the rush can directly add value to what is otherwise a lower value play.
By sprinting through the middle and receiving the puck in good ice, Ds can change the point of attack and leverage this advantageous position to put more pucks towards the net.
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