Which Specific Zone Entry Types Are Most Successful?

For the final piece in my power play zone entry series, I wanted to look at more specific ways in which teams enter the offensive zone to see if we could determine any more clues about what constitutes best practice on the power play. Once again, all data you will see comes from the six teams I am tracking for my project at 5-on-4. So let me start by defining the categories of entries I decided on when I set out to start tracking. Ideally, these could have been a little more technical in nature, but due the improvisational nature of most of them, coupled with frequent zoomed camera angles on breakouts, that wasn't practical.

Individual: A player skates with the puck from at least his own blue line and attempts to gain the zone with control without passing it at all.

Pass Wide: A player passes the puck from the middle of the ice out to one of the two wings, with the eventual puck carrier receiving the puck either in the neutral or offensive zone.

Pass Middle: Same idea, but the pass goes into the middle rather than to the wings.

Pass Across: Same idea, but the pass is made from one side of the ice across to the other (the faceoff dots are my guidelines for separating the middle from the wings).

Drop Pass Ind.: A drop pass play in which the player receiving the drop then attempts to carry the puck into the zone without a subsequent pass

Drop Pass Wide: A drop pass play in which the player receiving the drop pass then either immediately passes the puck wide or the final pass before an entry attempt is a pass wide.

Drop Pass DD: A drop pass play in which there are two players trailing the play. One passes across to the other who then attempts to enter the zone.

Drop Pass Other: I added the small samples of Drop Pass Middle, Drop Pass Across and Drop Pass Other together to constitute this category, which includes drop passes that are picked off.

Other: Any other non-drop pass attempted controlled entry.

Dump: The player shoots the puck into the zone with the idea of the puck being recovered on the opposite side of the ice, and the puck handler generally doesn't attempt to recover the puck.

Chip: The player shoots the puck more lightly into the zone such that it will be recovered on the same side of the ice, often by the same player.

Those are the categories I chose. For this piece, I won't be dividing by team because the samples become too strained. Let's begin by comparing strict success/fail results for each type of entry.

Predictably, it's not too difficult to get the puck into the zone on a dump or chip. After that, it seems as though individual entries are most successful. Keep in mind that I haven't differentiated between neutral zone regroups, full regroups and pressured regroups this time in order to keep decent sample sizes, so that may skew individual entries to make them look more successful than they are. Drop Pass Other entries are inherently going to look worse because they include the picked off drop passes, and the sample of those is by far the smallest.

Dumps and chips also lead to a lot of zone time, but that's to be expected considering that a dump-in is basically a guaranteed three-to-five seconds in the zone. But it is not only time in which there's no potential for offensive chances, it is also in fact wasted time considering the limited two-minute time frame for most power plays.

Shots per entry, as I've discussed before, is far from a perfect evaluative metric. But it's the best out of the three we've seen, as generating shots is at least half the battle to scoring goals. Drop passes appear to do pretty well here, and the Toronto Maple Leafs may be driving some of that.

Individual rushes also come out looking pretty good, while for the third consecutive chart passes into the middle don't look productive at all. Granted, passes into the middle can often lead to the best rush opportunities if executed with perfect timing. If we look at goals per entry rather than shot attempts, passes into the middle actually generate a similar amount to passes wide and individual rushes. That said, the Washington Capitals have scored eight of those 15 total goals on passes into the middle, meaning the rates for the other teams aren't good at all. I think the general rule should be that if you have the skill to pull off specially crafted stretch passes or other plays into the middle of the ice to try and spring your fastest, most skilled player, then go for it (as seen below). Otherwise, keep the puck to the outside. No need to force plays either into the middle or across ice with waiting sticks.

The Capitals use a set stretch play intended to send speedy players like Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov in on the break. It rarely works, but when it does look out.

The Capitals use a set stretch play intended to send speedy players like Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov in on the break. It rarely works, but when it does look out.

Generally, making fewer passes appears to be better overall (with drop passes being the exception). With less passes, there are less chances of something going wrong.

Finally, I wanted to look at post-entry dumps, or players where a player crosses the blue line with control of the puck but then immediately (meaning within a second or two and while still very high in the zone) rims the puck around the boards. I compared offensive zone time and shot attempts from successful controlled entries with no subsequent dump to those in which the player does decide to rim it.

I also included a third category which is missed entries. Missed entries are attempted controlled entries in which the pass is missed but the puck still winds up getting deep into the zone. I didn't think it was right to classify these as failed carries because the puck still ended up in the zone, but also didn't feel it was fair to make them dump-ins since they do far less good. Missed entries serve as a decent control group from which to assess the effectiveness of of post-entry dumps and also just an interesting point of comparison.

Post-entry control leads to only slightly more zone time, but remember that like with regular dumps, post-entry rims guarantee at least a few seconds of zone time during which the puck is along the boards. Even missed entries lead to those few seconds. That time, though, is essentially wasted.

Here is where we see a big gap. Post-entry control leads to 1.01 shots per entry, whereas post-entry dumps lead to only 0.67. It's one thing to give up possession of the puck to get into the zone, but it's another to already be in the zone and to give it up. Generally speaking I would advise against post-entry dumps except in extreme circumstances. Sure, sometimes a player may be stood up and doesn't have a choice, but it definitely shouldn't be a coaching tactic. And unless the rim is more of a pass with a player wide open along the boards, a player with time should always look to keep possession and keep the puck off the boards.