The NHL doesn't track passing, but what if it did? Would we actually learn anything from it? Here's a quick breakdown of passing in two recent Winnipeg Jets games.
Unlike the hallowed EA NHL video game series, NHL statisticians do not track passing statistics. Given the amount of passing that occurs in each game, it is somewhat understandable – you would need at least one person tracking only the passes. More if you wanted to get more in depth (who made the pass, who received it, if it successfully reached the target and if it was successfully received). It’s a lot to ask.
But I did it anyways.
I started tracking the passing at the Winnipeg Jets January 25 game vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins, and followed up with a slightly expanded version (breaking it down by period) for the January 27 game vs. the New York Islanders.
Methodology: Quite simply, did the player make a successful pass? The criteria I was looking for was 1. An obvious attempt to get it to a particular player (i.e. not dumping around the boards or into the zone) 2. The receiving player taking obvious control of the puck. Having to fight off the opposition to get it, or a bounce over their stick was not successful. This was then tracked by the zone the pass was made in: defensive, defensive to the neutral zone, neutral zone, and offensive zone.
It’s very basic, further tweaks will likely be forthcoming.
So, let’s look at some numbers:
Friday, January 25, 2013 -- vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Defensive Zone: 78.9%
Defensive to Neutral Zone: 68.0%
Neutral Zone: 73.1%
Offensive Zone: 71.2%
Sunday, January 27, 2013 -- vs. New York Islanders
|Period||Def. Zone||Break Out*||Neu. Zone||Off. Zone|
*Break Out indicates passes that started in Winnipeg's defensive zone but ended in the neutral zone.
Not a whole lot to see in the Pittsburgh game, although the passes from the defensive zone up past the blue line seem to be a weak spot. From memory, the passing game (overall) seemed to improve as the game went on, and the final score of 4-2 would be indicative of that.
Conversely, you can watch the numbers come crashing down in the next game. The Jets started the game by playing absolutely dominant hockey. A bad break put them down early, but they carried the play in the first. The wheels really came off in the second, though, despite carrying most of the play, and followed them into the third, where they suddenly found themselves trailing by two goals.
The offensive zone stat, while looking bad, should be expected to be the lowest of the bunch. Players will consistently be under more pressure than any other zone, and are more likely to try and make a pass into (or though) traffic. When it works, it can result in quality chances (and goals). Missing means possession change, but the risk is generally worth it. As an example, look at Nik Antropov’s feed to Bryan Little during the Jets second goal in the Islanders game. He passes across the slot area, through two defenders, with a third defender right behind Little.
The defensive zone, on the other hand, should be the highest of the categories. Missed passes here almost always mean a possession change, which leads to opposition chances. Not what a team wants, obviously. Playing sloppy in your own end will come back to haunt you. Although the Islanders didn’t score in the second period, they were coming on strong as the period closed and would go on to put up three in the third.
This is still all very preliminary, but I think it is clear that team passing can relate a lot of the game story. Teams that are successfully moving the puck are going to, over the long haul, be successful on the scoreboard.
As mentioned earlier, I will be looking to tweak things a bit. I hoping to add both forced and unforced dumps of the puck to the list, as I think they will add more detail. Being forced to dump the puck, particularly in the defensive end, indicates a team that is scrambling and has no open passing lanes. Unforced dumps may reveal game strategy and tempo – teams that are leading may be more likely to just dump the puck in, rather than risk a turnover.
Special thanks to Peter Tessier of HockeyBuzz.com for his input on this project. We hope to have passing stats for both sides available to you after the Feb. 5 Winnipeg Jets game vs. the Florida Panthers.
I’d welcome any additional suggestions on how to improve the tracking and methodology in the comments section.