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Reviewing how the Sharks exited the defensive zone in the season's first half

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We commemorate the conclusion of the All-Star Break with a look at the Sharks' zone exit numbers over the first half of the season.

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

We here at Fear the Fin began tracking zone exits late last season, posting the results in our "By the Numbers" posts, and we've continued that trend over into this season.  This season though, due to improved tracking procedures, we are able to present the numbers by each player's season totals, something which we are doing today.  Given that this post will be exclusively about zone exits, let's revisit our definitions for zone exits terms, shall we?

The most frequent event that occurs during zone exits is a "touch."  While definitions for a "touch" likely vary from place to place, the definition we will be using will define a touch as any time when a player has control of the puck while under pressure.  Using this definition, we can cut out mindless pokes or swats at the puck and easy breakouts performed under zero pressure, giving us an idea of how each player does strictly when they have full ability to make a play, and are doing so while the opposition is pressuring them.

An "in-zone pass" is a pass that occurs within the defensive zone to a teammate, generally performed when a player wants to quickly escape opposition pressure, or to advance the puck forward to a teammate who is more readily able to perform a successful zone exit.

"Pass-outs" and "carry-outs" are basically what they sound like.  If a player manages to successfully break the puck out of the defensive zone by passing it to a teammate located either in the neutral or offensive zone, they are credited with a pass-out.  Similarly, if a player is able to exit the defensive zone by carrying the puck out of the defensive zone, then they are credited with a carry-out.

Turnovers and icings are well known hockey events, though the definition of "turnover" we use here is a bit stricter than whatever it is the NHL uses.  With our definition, any play that results in a change in possession of the puck counts as a turnover.  With this definition, when a player chips the puck off the boards and it ends up on an opposing players' stick (a very common play), it counts as a turnover.  As you might imagine, this leads to pretty big turnover numbers for players, and is the cause for the discrepancy between the turnover numbers here, and what the NHL presents.

Overall Success % is a rate expressing what percentage of a player's touches result in successful zone exits, calculated using the formula (Pass Outs+Carry Outs)/(Touches).

Exit Success % is a rate expressing how effective a player was at exiting the zone on their touches that didn't result in in-zone passes.  It is calculated using the formula (Pass Outs+Carry Outs)/(Touches-In Zone Passes).

Turnover % is a rate expressing how ofter a player turns the puck over on their touches, calculated using the formula (Turnovers)/(Touches).

With all of our definitions set straight, let's dive into the numbers.

The Raw Numbers

Totals Relative to Position
Player # Touches In-Zone Passes Pass-Outs Carry-Outs Turnovers Icings Overall success % Exit Success % In-Zone % Turnover % Icing % Overall success % Exit Success % In-Zone Pass % Turnover % Icing %
4 283 181 16 14 65 7 10.60 29.41 63.96 22.97 2.47 -4.71 -4.30 9.38 -4.52 0.22
5 291 148 40 16 82 5 19.24 39.16 50.86 28.18 1.72 3.93 5.45 -3.72 0.69 -0.53
8 310 97 55 63 89 6 38.06 55.40 31.29 28.71 1.94 3.03 3.85 -0.74 -2.60 0.44
10 259 92 30 55 80 2 32.82 50.90 35.52 30.89 0.77 -2.21 -0.65 3.49 -0.43 -0.73
12 304 94 49 54 102 5 33.88 49.05 30.92 33.55 1.64 -1.15 -2.50 -1.11 2.24 0.15
13 0 0 0 0 0 0 #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0!
15 277 102 41 67 73 0 38.99 61.71 36.82 26.35 0.00 3.96 10.17 4.79 -4.96 -1.50
18 20 6 3 4 7 0 35.00 50.00 30.00 35.00 0.00 -0.03 -1.54 -2.03 3.69 -1.50
19 351 136 59 67 81 8 35.90 58.60 38.75 23.08 2.28 0.86 7.06 6.71 -8.24 0.78
20 57 19 7 7 24 0 24.56 36.84 33.33 42.11 0.00 -10.47 -14.70 1.30 10.79 -1.50
25 178 49 29 37 60 3 37.08 51.16 27.53 33.71 1.69 2.05 -0.38 -4.51 2.39 0.19
27 320 175 29 9 95 12 11.88 26.21 54.69 29.69 3.75 -3.44 -7.50 0.11 2.20 1.50
37 82 25 11 15 29 2 31.71 45.61 30.49 35.37 2.44 -3.33 -5.93 -1.55 4.05 0.94
38 12 4 0 4 4 0 33.33 50.00 33.33 33.33 0.00 -1.70 -1.54 1.30 2.02 -1.50
39 394 127 62 59 139 7 30.71 45.32 32.23 35.28 1.78 -4.32 -6.23 0.20 3.97 0.28
41 368 237 35 17 78 2 14.13 39.69 64.40 21.20 0.54 -1.18 5.98 9.83 -6.29 -1.71
43 0 0 0 0 0 0 #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0! #DIV/0!
44 623 380 57 19 154 13 12.20 31.28 61.00 24.72 2.09 -3.11 -2.43 6.42 -2.77 -0.17
48 319 94 56 45 121 3 31.66 44.89 29.47 37.93 0.94 -3.37 -6.66 -2.57 6.62 -0.56
50 99 39 12 21 26 1 33.33 55.00 39.39 26.26 1.01 -1.70 3.46 7.36 -5.05 -0.49
52 273 138 25 13 87 7 13.92 28.15 50.55 31.87 2.56 -1.39 -5.56 -4.03 4.38 0.31
57 304 96 40 67 93 7 35.20 51.44 31.58 30.59 2.30 0.16 -0.10 -0.45 -0.72 0.80
61 689 365 87 25 194 18 16.26 34.57 52.98 28.16 2.61 0.94 0.86 -1.60 0.67 0.36
75 2 2 0 0 0 0 0.00 #DIV/0! 100.00 0.00 0.00 -35.03 #DIV/0! 67.97 -31.31 -1.50
76 22 6 2 9 5 0 50.00 68.75 27.27 22.73 0.00 14.97 17.21 -4.76 -4.76 -1.50
80 149 89 10 10 39 1 13.42 33.33 59.73 26.17 0.67 -1.89 -0.38 5.15 -1.31 -1.58
81 89 13 17 32 27 0 55.06 64.47 14.61 30.34 0.00 20.02 12.93 -17.43 -0.98 -1.50
83 267 71 48 45 88 6 34.83 47.45 26.59 32.96 2.25 -0.20 -4.10 -5.44 1.65 0.75
88 794 382 111 34 235 21 18.26 35.19 48.11 29.60 2.64 2.95 1.48 -6.47 2.11 0.39
89 323 96 56 63 103 5 36.84 52.42 29.72 31.89 1.55 1.81 0.88 -2.31 0.57 0.05
Forwards 3334 1068 521 647 1044 50 35.03 51.54 32.03 31.31 1.50
Defensemen 3507 1914 394 143 964 79 15.31 33.71 54.58 27.49 2.25
Team 7298 3165 962 856 2159 139 24.91 43.99 43.37 29.58 1.90

As some may notice, the five columns to the far right are under the heading "relative to position."  I don't think it would come as a surprise to many people if they were told that zone exit results tend to vary heavily between forwards and defensemen, with the numbers really backing that up (SJ's forwards exited the zone at a rate 20% better than SJ's defensemen did).  Due to this, I've found it best to analyze zone exit numbers "relative to position," that is, comparing players' results with those posted by fellow forwards/defensemen, depending which position they play.  Thus, numbers presented in the rightmost five columns are expressed in comparison to the averages posted by the Sharks' forwards/defensemen (for example, Dillon exits the zone on 10.6% of his touches, whereas the Sharks' D as a whole exit the zone on 15.31% of their touches, giving Dillon a -4.71% overall success % relative to his position).

Another thing you all might notice is that these numbers are really hard to digest in this form.  So, let's take a look at these numbers in smaller, more digestible forms, starting with a comparison of overall success % vs. exit success %.

Overall Success % vs. Exit Success %

Forwards

Overall success % Exit Success %
81 20.02 12.93
15 3.96 10.17
8 3.03 3.85
25 2.05 -0.38
68 2.00 -0.91
89 1.81 0.88
19 0.86 7.06
57 0.16 -0.1
83 -0.2 -4.1
12 -1.15 -2.5
50 -1.7 3.46
10 -2.21 -0.65
37 -3.33 -5.93
48 -3.37 -6.66
39 -4.32 -6.23
20 -10.47 -14.7

(Overall, Exit)-Forwards

It's pretty obvious that so far this season, the Sharks haven't been what they've been in years past, and a lot of this is due to the decreased effectiveness of the Couture line.  Admittedly, we're working without numbers from last year to compare, but if I had to take a wild guess, I'd say one of the factors that led to the Couture line managing much better possession stats last year was a zone exit game that wasn't as below-average as the ones being put up by Marleau and Couture so far this season.  Still, Marleau and Couture aren't alone in their ugly zone exit numbers, as only five out of the sixteen Shark forwards shown here have managed positive numbers--relative to their teammates--in both overall success percentage and exit success percentage.  Among those five forwards, Kennedy, Sheppard and Thornton lead the way, with Thornton's zone exit success going hand-in-hand with some mighty good possession numbers this year.  Kennedy unfortunately hasn't been healthy for much of this season, but should he be healthy for any extended stretch here in the second half of the season, I'm definitely in favor of him getting another look on the wing with Couture and Marleau.  Although you can't argue with the results that line's put up when Nieto is occupying that third slot, I think Kennedy's done well enough this season to warrant another opportunity there, and I think he could really help that line when it comes to exiting the defensive zone effectively, and hopefully giving that line a bit of a possession bump.

Also: John Scott's a guy who plays hockey (technically).

Defensemen

Overall success % Exit Success %
88 2.95 1.48
61 0.94 0.86
41 -1.18 5.98
52 -1.39 -5.56
80 -1.89 -0.38
44 -3.11 -2.43
27 -3.44 -7.5
4 -4.71 -4.3

(Overall, Exit)-Defense

I think it's definitely worth noting here that Burns' numbers relative to his teammates were much better at the start of the season than they are now, as his current 2.95% lead on his fellow defensemen in terms of overall success percentage was once a 5.63% lead after game 20 quite a bit of time ago.

Anyone who's been reading our By the Numbers posts here will know that zone exits haven't exactly been a strength of the Sharks this season, with the numbers here really going to show that, as only two D-men (Burns and Braun) have managed positive results relative to their teammates in both zone exit statistics shown here (with Braun's numbers really only being a tad bit better than the D's average).

While I think overall success percentage is likely the more important of these two statistics to look at, there's obviously value in looking at exit success percentage as well, as it gives us an idea of how effective a defenseman is at attempting breakouts when he isn't just utilizing in-zone passes.  Looking at exit success percentage, we can see that Mueller's numbers are the best on the Sharks' D by far, though I think there is something to be said about the fact that Mueller's numbers are probably impacted by the fact that we're dealing with a much smaller sample size for him than we are for some of the other Sharks' D-men.  Still, that being said, it's hard to argue with the numbers that he's posted when he isn't passing the puck around in his own zone (which he does quite frequently), as he's easily leading the Sharks in exit success percentage.  On the other side of the spectrum are the rest of the Sharks' left handed D, with Hannan and Dillon highlighting the list of Sharks' defensemen who are posting pretty bad zone exit numbers this season.

I've mentioned before that I think Dillon's numbers are somewhat misrepresentative, as some of his in-zones set teammates up for easy carry-outs, but ultimately it's just a matter of him not being able to manage break outs single handedly nearly as well as some of the Sharks' other D.  Even when shifting attention to exit success percentage, his numbers look pretty bad, showing just why zone exits might be the weakest part of Dillon's game.  Still, as bad as he's been, I'd argue Hannan's been worse.  I know we here at FTF have a tendency to toss a lot of criticism Hannan's way, but when looking at these numbers, I think it's hard to say that that criticism isn't warranted.  Whereas the Sharks' D, on average, managed about a 38% exit success percentage, Hannan's only managed about a 26%, which only partially shows the zone exit woes Hannan and his aging legs have had this season.  Despite having the fifth highest 5v5 time on ice this season for Shark's defensemen, he's only managed nine carry-outs, easily the worst on the Sharks' D.  A breakout's a breakout, but I think there's a lot to be said about a defenseman who can utilize his legs to not only generate a successful breakout, but also lead the attack the other way (see: Karlsson, Erik), and Hannan simply has not shown the ability to do that so far this season, nor do I expect him to the rest of the way.

In-Zone Pass % vs. Turnover %

Now let's take a look at a comparison of every Shark players' in-zone pass percentage compared to their turnover percentage.  By looking at these numbers, we should be able to discern who is/isn't likely to pass off their zone exit troubles to their teammates, and who gives away possession of the puck the most when they have it in the defensive zone.

Forwards

In-Zone Pass % Turnover %
81 -17.43 -0.98
83 -5.44 1.65
68 -5.18 2.02
25 -4.51 2.39
48 -2.57 6.62
89 -2.31 0.57
37 -1.55 4.05
12 -1.11 2.24
8 -0.74 -2.6
57 -0.45 -0.72
39 0.2 3.97
20 1.3 10.79
10 3.49 -0.43
15 4.79 -4.96
19 6.71 -8.24
50 7.36 -5.05

(In Zone, Turnover)-Forwards (good version)

I mentioned it already, but I'll say it again, TK is awesome.  We discussed his good work on zone entries last summer, and he's replicating that work this season while also polishing up the areas of his game that were lacking in his first season in teal, with his possession numbers improving (his RelCorsi% seeing a bump of more than 5%), and his scoring chance numbers looking much better this season (in my 20+ games of scoring chance data, Kennedy is one of the Sharks' only bottom six forwards that's posted a positive scoring chance differential).  Obviously we're dealing with a much smaller sample size with TK than we are with most of the other players' presented above, but given that his results on zone exits and scoring chances are coinciding with a jump back up to the kind of possession numbers he put up in Pittsburgh, I think it's reasonable to assume that he might just keep his numbers going as good as they are now (though I'd expect his in-zone pass percentage to likely jump a bit the rest of the season.  It's almost inhuman how little he does in-zone passes).

Aside from Kennedy's awesome numbers here, I think there's a pretty obvious trend here that players who perform high amounts of in-zone passes tend to turn the puck over the least (makes sense, as in-zones tend to be easy, safe plays) and vice-versa, with Scott, Pavelski, and Kennedy really being the only exceptions to this rule (man are Scott's numbers real bad here).  While there's not necessarily anything bad with performing a high amount of in-zone passes (whatever you have to do to not turnover the puck is basically fine by me), I think we can all agree that it's preferable when a player excels at getting the puck out of the zone by their own power, not relying on teammates to do it for them.  It is for this reason that I will give Thornton probably the only criticism I will ever give him this season (cause he's having a fantastic season), and say that it would be nice if he in-zone'd less.  It's hard to argue with the results he's put up this year both by traditional and advanced metrics, but you have to figure a player with Thornton's abilities could probably take on a bit more of the zone exit burden than he has so far this season.  It's hard to say for sure what would happen if he did, but I think there's a very real possibility that it could lead to more successful SJ zone exits, and more time spent in the offensive zone (which is where we all love to watch Jumbo play).

Defensemen

In-Zone Pass % Turnover %
41 9.83 -6.29
4 9.38 -4.52
44 6.42 -2.77
80 5.15 -1.31
27 0.11 2.2
61 -1.6 0.67
52 -4.03 4.38
88 -6.47 2.11

(In-Zone, Turnover)-Defense

As I alluded to a bit earlier, Mueller does a lot of in-zones, as can be seen in his numbers here, with Mueller managing almost a 10% higher in-zone pass rate than the average for Sharks' defensemen.  Now, he's turning the puck over far less often than the other Sharks' D, and as we saw before, he's doing a pretty good job at exiting the zone when he isn't just doing in-zone passes, but wow is that a lot of in-zones.  Much like with Tierney, I think it's reasonable to expect a player as young as Mueller to have to rely on in-zones a lot, but purely as something that he should improve on as his career progresses, I think lessening his amount of in-zones should be pretty high on his to-do list.

Though it's clear to see that Burns has been turning the puck over a lot this season when attempting zone exits, I feel like he honestly deserves some credit for his turnover count not being as high as we'd expect it to be, with how rarely he executes in-zone passes.  Obviously his high turnover rate isn't preferable, but given that fellow defensemen Scott Hannan and Matt Irwin are managing higher turnover rates while also utilizing more in-zone passes than Burns does, I think it's clear to see that Burns is performing above what we should expect (though obviously Irwin and Hannan aren't exactly high standards to be compared against).