Sports-Nerd Alert: Statistical Analysis and Hockey Strategy

by Nathaniel Botwinick

There’s a really great paper that’s being presented at the MIT Sloan Sports Conference this year on “Using Zone Entry Data To Separate Offensive, Neutral, And Defensive Zone Performance” in hockey. After analyzing a season’s worth of in-game data, the authors discovered that there is an overlooked aspect to winning in hockey — carrying the puck across the blue line versus just dumping the puck in:

Neutral zone success involves more than getting extra zone entries; since carrying the puck across the blue line generates more than twice as many shots, scoring chances, and goals as dumping the puck in, gaining the zone with possession is a major driver of success.

Based on their data, teams should look into switching their tactical approaches. The authors also studied the rate at which certain players succeeded at bringing the puck up the ice without turning it over. They used the Flyers as one of their main teams for study, and if the numbers are right: I’m sorry Flyers fans, but why is Wayne Simmonds ever allowed to bring the puck up instead of Danny Briere?

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