Simple vs. Complex and the Advantage of Regroups on the Power Play

NHL Power Play
Using data from the Playoff Data Project, Scott Maran analyzes regrouping in the neutral zone and the differences between a simple and complex breakout formation on the power play.

As a part of the data that I collected from the NHL playoffs this past spring, I tracked the breakout formations used by every team in the postseason when attempting to enter the zone with the man advantage. While there were a few teams that employed specific, unique breakout patterns, here are the breakouts that I gathered enough data on. Originally I was going to write about several different thoughts I had on the data but the article quickly grew way too long. So instead, I’m going to break it up into several different articles, today looking at two specific thoughts.

Important Notes:

-All stats are 5v4

– * means the sample size isn’t that great (only applies for InForm% of Five Back and Transition Turnover formation)

– Ofaceoff doesn’t have a success percentage because if you’re taking an offensive zone faceoff, then you’re already in the offensive zone

-Here are diagrams of the Dallas Cut, Canuck-Center Lane, Drop Pass, and Five Back formations:

Dallas Cut

Canuck Center-Lane Option

Drop Pass

Five Back

Terms:

-Suc% = The percentage of entries that were successful

-Control% = The percentage of entries that were controlled

-# Pass = The number of passes completed before entering the zone

-InForm% = The percentage of how many times the team successfully got into formation in the offensive zone

-Time into Form = The total time it took to get into formation in the offensive zone

-Time to 1st SA = The total time it took for the offensive team to register their first shot attempt

-Time in Zone = The total time the offensive team spent in the zone

-SA = Average shot attempts per entry

-SC = Average scoring chances per entry

-S = Average shots per entry

Suc.% Control% # Pass InForm% Time into Form Time to 1st SA Time in Zone SA SC S
Ofaceoff 86.1% 5.83 s 11.57 13.92 .743 .29 .337
Canuck Center – Lane 87.% 56.1% 1.23 64.7% 6.13 9.55 11.53 .431 .121 .207
Dallas Cut 82.2% 58.9% .91 65.6% 9.78 12.07 13.78 .711 .309 .342
Drop Pass 86.7% 74.8% 1.53 65.3% 9.05 11.77 14.92 .898 .367 .454
Five Back 87.5% 50% 1.19 71.4%* 11.13 13.57 14.57 .476 .143 .167
Regroup 83.9% 56.8% 1.08 75% 8.72 10.85 12.98 .81 .36 .48
Transition Turnover 87.7% 68.4% .98 89.7* 10.28 10.4 17.42 1.12 .54 .5
Postseason Average 85.9% 64% 1.17 74.5% 7.87 11.47 13.97 .76 .305 .37

Simple vs. Complex Breakouts in Entering the Zone

I was a little surprised to see that the relatively more complicated plays had a higher success percentage than the simpler breakouts. While Regroups and the Dallas Cut only had success percentages of 83.9% and 82.2% respectively, the Canuck-Center Lane, Drop Pass, and Five Back formation all outperformed the two. If anything, I thought the breakouts that had more complicated passing options would have a lower success percentage than a simple regroup or Dallas Cut.

With the Dallas Cut, the defender takes the puck up the ice and usually only has to dish the puck to the side, where in the Canuck-Center Lane the defender passes the puck to a forward that has to go through the middle of the ice and in the Drop Pass the player drops the puck to a player behind him who then has several more options. And besides anecdotally stating that the Dallas Cut and Regroup formations are simpler, the passing data before the entry supports this hypothesis, as both formations have less average passes before entering the zone than the Canuck-Center Lane, Drop Pass, and Five Back formations. The Drop Pass averages 1.53 passes before entry, the Canuck-Center Lane averages 1.23 passes, and the Five Back averages 1.19 passes while the Dallas Cut only averages .91 passes before entry and the Regroup only averages 1.08 passes.

But getting back to my main point, I originally thought simplicity in a power play breakout would be the best option, as the more complicated the play, the more chances for a player to make a mistake. But with the simpler plays, it’s possible that that makes it easier to for the defenders to stop the breakout, causing the lower success percentages at entering the zone. This does come with the caveat though that all this data is from playoff teams, and playoff teams are more likely to have the more talented players on their power play than non-playoff teams. So with more talented players available, the playoff caliber teams might be have a better chance at successfully executing the more complicated plays.

Either way, I initially expected the Dallas Cut to have the highest success percentage but it turns out that the opposite was true; it had the lowest success percentage out of all breakout options. If you have enough talent on your power play, which most teams (even non-playoff teams) do, then for entering the zone, it might be best to make the breakout complex enough to throw off defenders. Simplicity is still good and a balance between the two is important (too complex of a breakout can still lead to errors), but the more complex, structured breakouts of the Drop Pass and Canuck-Center Lane outperformed the simpler Dallas Cut.

Regrouping in the Neutral Zone

Arik Parnass has done a lot of work at looking into regroups on the power play (specifically his piece here is very insightful) and I encourage you to take a look if you haven’t already. I set up my project differently from Arik’s so one aspect I’m able to look at is the overall percentage of successful entries when regrouping in the neutral zone. From my (limited) data, I found regroups to actually be one of the lowest performing formations available, with teams only successfully entering the zone 83.9% of the time. Even though the percentage of entries that were controlled was around the same as all the other formations, the Regroup’s success percentage was the second-lowest out of all breakout formations (only ahead of the Dallas Cut).

However, when not factoring in success percentage, once a team enters the offensive zone the Regroup formation arguably performs the best. On average per entry, the Regroup had the second-highest shot attempts, second-highest scoring chances, and highest shots on net numbers out of the five breakout formations (excluding offensive zone faceoffs and transition turnovers where it’s easier to get shots off). The Regroup formation also performed very well with players getting into formation in the offensive zone, as it posted some of the best InForm% and Time into Form numbers out of all the breakout formations (once again excluding the offensive zone faceoffs and transition turnovers). I was pretty surprised to see Regroups have the highest InForm% out of any of the five breakouts and have the second lowest average time to get into form (you want to get into form as quickly as possible). In his examination of regroups, Arik Parnass worried that teams entering the offensive zone by regrouping in the neutral zone would have difficulty getting into form.

I don’t have enough data yet to confirm it, but my belief is that neutral zone regroups can mean teams taking longer to get into formation once in the zone, which could swing the equation back in the other direction. – Arik Parnass

However, we see the opposite from this year’s playoffs, as teams usually had an easier time achieving formation after regrouping in the neutral zone. And while I didn’t specifically track how long each breakout took, Arik found that regroups take a significantly less amount of time to perform. In his study, Arik found that the average neutral zone regroup try took only 5.27 seconds, compared to the 14.25 seconds a regular, structured entry took. As with most of my thoughts with my data, it’ll take a lot more games and a larger sample size to adequately confirm my thoughts but as of now (similar to Arik’s conclusion), quickly regrouping on the power play seems like a solid strategy when given the chance.

As was Arik, I’m not completely sold on regrouping in the neutral zone as the most effective strategy (I’m much more in favor of a crisp, well-defined plan when moving through the neutral zone such as with the Washington Capitals). However, it’s interesting to see how well they performed and I’m excited to see if further data continues to confirm this.

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