With the postseason fast approaching, I’ve always been interested in the special teams aspect of the playoffs. Games for the most part are played at even-strength, but to me, it always seemed like the power plays and penalty kills had a heightened importance come playoff time. Playoff games are vastly more important than regular season games and every advantage a team gains is huge. While there are about the same amount of penalties called during the playoffs, the power plays they create are generally more important. As games get tighter and more competitive, every goal matters and heavily impacts the game.
However, like with a lot of other aspects of the game, there is generally limited data available to analyze special teams in the NHL. There has been some great work done but as of right now there is little information. When the playoffs start for the Blackhawks, I plan on tracking data about their power play and how they performed with the man advantage.
However, I thought it would be even more helpful if I’d be able to compare the playoff data to how the Chicago Blackhawks power play performed in the regular season. I’ve gone through past Blackhawk games from the last two months and have rewatched the their power plays, evaluating a wide range of different statistics and tactics such as shot attempts, scoring chances, zone entries, etc. Prashanth Iyer recently took a look at the Detroit Red Wings power play and I used in my study some of the key elements he used. Specifically, some of the things I tracked that may need clarifying:
Dump: When the puck carrier attempts to force the puck into the offensive zone by shooting it in from the neutral zone.
Pass: When an attempted pass is made from the neutral zone to a player entering the offensive zone.
Carry: When a player attempts to carry the puck into the offensive zone by crossing the blue line.
Successful: Any entry that results in the puck entering the offensive zone for at least two seconds.
Scoring Chance: I considered a scoring chance as any shot attempt inside the home plate area, outlined in the below picture.
For each powerplay, I tracked every zone entry that occurred and marked what type of breakout formation the Hawks used to attempt to enter the zone. For the breakouts, I mostly used the tactics outlined in Hockey Plays and Strategies. While there were many different setups, throughout their power plays the Blackhawks used the Canuck Center-Lane Option, Dallas Cut, Drop Pass, and Five Back formation.
But besides those four formations, I also tracked faceoff entries, turnovers, and a quick regroup after being forced out of the offensive zone. If there was an offensive zone faceoff, it was marked as “Ofaceoff”.
For the data results, I divided it into two tables, one with stats based on per entry and one based on per successful entry.
While I did track a lot of entries, there were only so many goals, so for some categories there were zero goals scored.
How Passing Affects Entries
|# of Passes||Usage||Success%||Avg. Time/ Entry||Avg. Shot/ Entry||Avg. Shot Attempt/ Entry||Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry||Avg. Goal/ Entry|
|# of Passes||Usage||Success%||Avg. Time/ Successful Entry||Avg. Shot/ Success Entry||Avg. Shot Attempt/ Success Entry||Avg. Scoring Chance/ Success Entry||Avg. Goal/ Success Entry|
I actually ended up including passing data because of Arik Parnass and Prashanth Iyer’s previous work as I was curious to see if I would get similar data. Interestingly, I ended up with some vastly different results as the Blackhawks performed best all across the board when making two passes before entering the zone. Zone entries with two passes preceding them led to the most shots, shots attempted, scoring chances, goals, and time in the offensive zone compared to entries with zero, one, or three or more passes. The only category two passes didn’t lead in was Success%, as the 90% success rate of zone entries with two passes before it was only second best.
After that, one pass and three or more passes before a zone entry seemed a bit similar, with average offensive zone time per entry and average shots per entry being very close. However, entries with only one pass fared much better in shot attempts and scoring chances as the average shot attempts and scoring chances for three or more passes was much lower.
The real outlier seems to be zero passes, which is far below the averages in average offensive zone time and average shots per entry. And despite every entry with zero passes preceding it being successful, those entries were the only ones to fail to average over 10 seconds of offensive zone time per entry.
While this data is interesting and warrants further possible research during the playoffs, I wouldn’t put too much stock into it though. Unfortunately the sample sizes for both zero passes before entering the zone and three or more before entering were very low so it’s tough to draw very reliable conclusions from this specific aspect of the data.
How Entry Types Affect Play in the Offensive Zone
|Type of Entry||Usage||Success%||Avg. Time/ Entry||Avg. Shot/ Entry||Avg. Shot Attempt/ Entry||Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry||Avg. Goal/ Entry|
|Type of Entry||Usage||Success%||Avg. Time/ Successful Entry||Avg. Shot/ Success Entry||Avg. Shot Attempt/ Success Entry||Avg. Scoring Chance/ Success Entry||Avg. Goal/ Success Entry|
The Blackhawks by far preferred to carry the puck into the zone when on the powerplay, with 63.7% of their entries being attempted carries. After that 20.4% of their attempted entries were passing it into the offensive zone and coming in last at 15.9% was simply dumping the puck in.
While dumping the puck into the zone resulted in the highest success rate (it should considering how much easier it is dumping the puck rather than trying to enter the offensive zone with control), there was a stark difference between the Hawks dumping the puck and carrying or passing it. Dumping the puck led to the Hawks worst offensive zone time, shots, shot attempts, scoring chances, and goals per entry by a significant margin. Dumping the puck was the only option to fail to average over 10 seconds of offensive zone time per entry and only resulted in an average of .235 shot attempts per entry. There was also a grand total of zero goals scored by Chicago from dump ins and scoring chance rates plummeted for dump in attempts.
Compare that to carrying the puck in or passing it and you can see that the Hawks performed much better. Both passing and carrying had excellent measurements with passing doing slightly better than carrying the puck in. Despite it having a slightly lower success percentage, passing the puck in the zone resulted in slightly higher shot and shot attempt rates and about an average of two seconds more offensive zone time for the Hawks. It could be possible that passing the puck in forces the defense to move around more and makes it a bit easier to get off shots.
The data reinforces the idea that it is much better to try to enter the offensive zone with possession instead of dumping the puck in, especially when there is only so much time a team has with the advantage that comes with a power play.
How Breakout Formation Affect Play in the Offensive Zone
|Plays||Usage||Success%||Avg. Time/ Entry||Avg. Shot/ Entry||Avg. Shot Attempt/ Entry||Avg. Scoring Chance/ Entry||Avg. Goal/ Entry|
|Dallas Cut||19.3%||81.3||10.4 s||.438||.625||.375||.063|
|Drop Pass||17.5%||96.6||13.6 s||.345||.690||.207||0|
|Transition Turnover||8.4%||92.9%||9.9 s||.643||.857||.643||.071|
|Five Back||6%||80%||5.3 s||.2||.3||.2||.2|
|Canuck Center-Lane||3%||80%||11.4 s||.4||.4||0||0|
|Drop Pass Variation||1.8%||33.3%||3.3 s||0||0||0||0|
|Plays||Usage||Success%||Avg. Time/ Successful Entry||Avg. Shot/ Success Entry||Avg. Shot Attempt/ Success Entry||Avg. Scoring Chance/ Success Entry||Avg. Goal/ Success Entry|
|Dallas Cut||19.3%||81.3%||12.8 s||.538||.769||.462||.077|
|Drop Pass||17.5%||96.6%||14 s||.357||.714||.214||0|
|Transition Turnover||8.4%||92.9%||10.6 s||.692||.923||.692||.077|
|Five Back||6%||80%||6.6 s||.25||.375||.25||.25|
|Canuck Center-Lane||3%||80%||14.3 s||.5||.5||0||0|
|Drop Pass Variation||1.8%||33.3%||10 s||0||0||0||0|
Misc., the Canuck Center-Lane Option, and Variations of the Drop Pass were seldom used by the Hawks but I thought I’d put them in the table anyway. The sample sizes for those are way too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.
When breaking out, the Blackhawks mainly had three go-to plays: the Dallas Cut, the Drop Pass, and the Five Back Formation. The Five Back Formation seemed to be less effective in generating offense than the Dallas Cut or Drop Pass as out of all ways to enter the zone (that were at least used 5% of the time), it had the lowest average offensive zone time, shot rate, shot attempt rate, and scoring chance rate per entry and was also the least successful. However, it terms of quality of offensive generated, the Five Back Formation did much better, as the average goals per entry and scoring chances per entry were much higher. The Blackhawks had some nice chances when deploying this breakout and I wonder if they get better quality chances in the offensive zone when using it. The Blackhawks did great when entering the offensive zone with speed with this formation and could create great chances off the rush.
I was actually surprised to see here how well the Blackhawks did with the Drop Pass breakout. Many people loathe the concept but Chicago was quite effective when employing it. I think a big part of that comes from having Patrick Kane take up the puck, as the majority of time Kane would receive the drop pass from one of the Blackhawks defenders. He’s such a talented forward and it seems like a smart idea to get him the puck with speed going up the ice and let him try to penetrate the offensive zone. However, it also led to one of the lower shot rates and scoring chance rates per entry so this may not be the ideal breakout for the Blackhawks.
Used in almost every one out of five attempts to enter the zone, the Dallas Cut is probably the Blackhawks best bet for planned breakouts through the neutral zone. The Dallas Cut gives the puck carrier plenty of options for how to attack the offensive zone and this led to high average scoring chances and shot totals per entry.
Ofaceoff was when there was any faceoff inside the offensive zone and this resulted in the largest average offensive zone time per entry (most likely because here the Blackhawks would already start deep in the opponents zone). The only problem here was that the Blackhawks failed to generate many scoring chances from the offensive zone faceoffs they were given.
I was also surprised by how well the Blackhawks fared with regroups after being forced out of the offensive zone and quickly trying to re-enter. I thought the lack of structure and planning would result in worse results from these types of entries but the Hawks seemed to do okay with them. They were only used about 10% of the time so it seems like the Blackhawks did a good job of picking the right moments when to quickly try to re-enter the zone or just start over and try a planned breakout.
One of the main things from the data that I noticed (and touched upon) was the huge difference between dumping the puck in and carrying or passing it. Passing the puck in or carrying it both had very high success rates (both at least over 75%) and it’s definitely in the Blackhawks best interest to limit dump ins when possible.
And while in Prashanth Iyer’s analysis of the Red Wings he found that it would be a bit better for the Red Wings to not use the Drop Pass Formation, I didn’t find too much of a difference between the Blackhawks three main powerplay breakouts. The Dallas Cut and the Drop Pass are better for entering the zone and maintaining possession but the Five Back formation led to more high quality scoring chances when used. And between the Dallas Cut and Drop Pass there wasn’t a clear cut winner as both performed better in some categories and worse in others.
I have more information and types of data that I collected that I was originally going to include but this post is already over 2000+ words so I might save it for another time. If people enjoy this post, maybe I’ll post a Part 2 soon with some other interesting aspects and a closer analysis of specific players and how they performed before the playoffs start up.
It is important to note though that this data can be a bit subjective and was all manually tracked by me. Sample size could also be an issue and hopefully I can collect more data in the future. But even with that, I hope I can collect similar data for the Blackhawks in the playoffs and potentially the other teams to see how they do.