In the last post, we introduced and accounted for the penalty kill in our power play analysis. In this one, we’ll be doing the same, but for breakouts and zone entries. I’m going to go through BU’s most frequently used breakouts and then detail the neutral zone forechecks they faced while trying to get up ice. Once those definitions and examples are out of the way, I’ll get into the actual entry numbers. Not as much coding here until we get to entries where I’m just going to query my tracked data with SQL.
We’re going to be using some play diagrams in this post, so here is a key to what each movement/arrow means. If it’s hard to see exactly what each line is doing in the charts, clicking on them should make them bigger and easier to read. I already know how impressive my skating backwards line looks, don’t worry, you don’t have to tell me.
The biggest thing in examining breakouts is they don’t look exactly like this every time the power play regroups or breaks out of their own end. Sometimes they don’t want to come all the way back, so they just swing in the neutral zone or high dzone to try and collect themselves there, and sometimes they just don’t adhere to this exact formation. Maybe PlayerX came down the opposite side that he’s supposed to be on so by the time the defenseman is routing the puck, PlayerX isn’t quite in his textbook position. Maybe a forechecker was coming down to pressure and the PP had to move the puck faster than it had time to set things up. Whatever the case may be, keep that in mind while we talk about breakouts because even if I map out what they generally look like, that doesn’t mean it’s what happens each and every time.
PP1 will usually use one of two breakouts: Single Drop or Five Back. They’re similar in the defensive zone, but do differ once the players progress. You can probably guess where the difference is based on the name, but I’m going to show you both regardless! They did tend to heavily favor the Single Drop but utilized both at different points.
You’ll see why I said these two breakouts are similar, mostly because they both bring all five members back to the defensive zone before carrying on. For both breakouts, Charlie McAvoy (7, D) acted as the conduit, controlling the puck and distributing it.
In the Single Drop, McAvoy takes the puck out of the zone from the net area (usually behind, but sometimes not) and will carry it out with Jordan Greenway (18, F) on the left wing and Patrick Harper (21, F) on the right wing. Those two will stay pretty level with McAvoy, creating a line of three heading up ice. Clayton Keller (19, F) and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (23, F) act as the second level of power play, hanging back a little in the inside lanes to McAvoy’s flank on the left and right. McAvoy then has the option to drop back to either one of them or can proceed forward. I’ll show examples of both through some gifs. The goal of the drop pass is to force the PK back with the first wave of players and then, in dropping the puck back, they open up some space for a clean, controlled entry from the second wave.
Here’s a good example of the space the PP is trying to create for a controlled entry (we will talk more about this lower down). McAvoy takes the puck up the middle of the ice and drops it off for JFK, who then immediately passes it across the center lane for Keller to carry in. The entirety of BC’s penalty kill is already almost to the top of the circles by the time Keller brings it in. This kind of quick pass doesn’t happen every time, though, as we see in another example.
In this instance, we can see a dramatic drop pass from McAvoy with some puck carrying by Keller after, instead of just passing it off. Unlike BC above, Maine’s right side didn’t really bite on McAvoy’s drop and just held the blue line, refusing to give up that padding into the zone and forcing Keller to make a pass to Greenway to his left. Keller and Greenway do a good job here keeping that entry alive and actually getting a shot off from it in the process.
These gifs are good because they give you a good sense of how the drop pass can work and go awry. If a team gets the PK to move back, then they’ve accomplished their goal and should be able to enter the zone with relative ease before being pressured. However, if a PK is expecting it or recognizes it soon enough, they can stop themselves at the blue line and create a log jam, or find a way to make life more difficult for the PP.
PP1 typically went through with the drop pass while in this formation, but here are a couple instances where they had to readjust or had the luxury of readjusting.
This is one of the “had to readjust” breakouts where McAvoy starts heading toward the right side of the ice and has his path impeded by a penalty killer. In taking the time to go around the PK, Keller has reached the point where he’s not really a drop option and is instead just a free entry pass option. It works out fine since Maine’s other three penalty killers had been retreating into the zone and gave up that space for Keller to enter, but it does force that difference in play.
This last drop example is not a drop at all but is instead Charlie McAvoy realizing he is entirely capable of just taking the puck in himself and doing so. The breakout starts in a drop formation with Keller and JFK back behind, but McAvoy decides instead to just carry it around the first penalty killer and maintains possession for a controlled entry that results in a shot attempt as well.
In the Five Back, McAvoy will come out from behind the net or head up from his spot along the goal line and will either pass to one of four swinging players or opt to take the puck up the ice himself. It’s a pretty simple basis for a breakout, and PP1 generally maintains these lanes, but they don’t always stay quite so set, with some guys occasionally switching lanes mostly due to the flow of play.
We see all five players come back like the Single Drop, but instead of proceeding to a drop formation, McAvoy passes off to JFK on the right in the outside lane, who then sends an exit pass to Harper. Harper doesn’t record a controlled entry here, but does recover the dump-in and helps the Terriers get possession back.
This is just a messy situation that I wanted to show as an example because it fits what I was saying earlier about breakouts not looking identical each time, even if they mange to get semi-set up. BU has two Lowell forecheckers deep in their zone and Harper does a good job in managing to fend them off by quickly cutting back with the puck. They continue on their trajectory out of the zone and give the Terriers some time to collect themselves and get reoriented. Harper gives the puck to McAvoy below him and JFK swings back to try and create some semblance of a breakout. It’s not a Single Drop breakout, but I’m not sure it’s organized enough to be called a Five Back one either. It’s definitely closer to a Five Back though. I also made the gif this long because I wanted to show just how good Lowell’s PK is and how fast they got to that puck and sent it out of the zone. We’ve seen BU recover a dump-in above and you’ll see some below when you continue reading, but not here.
PP2 runs a Four Man/Four Back/Center-Lane Option/Chicago Slash (according to Steve Spott), whatever you want to call it, breakout. Basically you have four guys back, one of whom is in charge of the puck (Chad Krys, 5, D), and then one (usually a forward, here Kieffer Bellows, 9, F) up at the blue line trying to draw defenders to him and clear entry lanes for the players coming up the ice. Something interesting to note here is that, in a Four Man/Four Back/Center-Lane breakout, the single swing side is often reserved for a defenseman instead of a forward, but BU has Dante Fabbro (17, D) on that double swing side and Patrick Curry (11, F) on the single side. For a Chicago Slash, the forward is on the single side and the second defenseman is on the double side, so that might be what BU was imitating here.
Anyway, what usually happens (more gifs!) is Krys hits either Fabbro up that right wing side, or will get it to Bobo Carpenter (14, F) towards the middle of the ice. I have a pass going to Curry as well because even though it’s not really a commonly used option, it is there. If Krys goes with Carpenter, Bobo takes it up the middle and can either pass it off to the wings or carry it in himself. In this example below, even though it failed and ended up being offside, you can clearly see what the Terriers were trying to do.
Carpenter’s pass ends up hitting Curry in the skate, and though Carpenter almost salvages the entry, Bellows as the stretch man has already entered the zone and doesn’t cut back out until it’s too late.
I’m loath to just call this a Center-Lane Option/Chicago Slash breakout because, as I said before, there are instances where Krys will go to Fabbro instead of Carpenter in the middle. In those cases (seen below), Fabbro will take the puck up the wing and can either dump it, pass it, or carry it in. Here, Fabbro dumps it past one of the penalty killers and then gets behind him to actually help regain possession for his team.
Here’s just another example of the above breakout where Krys goes to Fabbro. Dante takes the puck up the wing and does carry it in but dumps it shortly after while being pressured by the PK for Curry to snag in the far corner.
Fabbro will also sometimes go wide to Curry for an entry pass instead, but does tend to dump it this way.
PK neutral zone forechecks
We established in the previous post that while using these power play units—and in video I had access to—BU played six different opponents through seven games (Yale, Boston College, Maine, Merrimack, UMass Lowell, and UMass Amherst). Five of those teams (everyone but Yale) are part of Hockey East and all five of them used a 1-3 neutral zone forecheck. Only Yale differed in using a 1-1-2/Same-Side Press.
I based these forecheck maps on the ones in Hockey Plays and Strategies by Ryan Walter and Mike Johnston just so I could give a consistent view of what’s usually happening in these forechecks.
In a 1-1-2 forecheck, the first forward enters the power play team’s zone and tries to get the puck carrier to either take the puck over to one side or force them to pass it to one side. If F1 succeeds, the second forward also pressures that side of the ice where the puck is heading to try and get the puck carrier/pass receiver to make a quick decision or F2 will completely close in and forces the PP to do something they don’t want to (i.e., dump the puck in). Both defensemen are then available to retrieve loose pucks that have been thrown into the zone in a last-ditch effort.
Like I said, only Yale used this forecheck in the games I had access to, and there aren’t really any super clear looks at it in the video (camera angle, guys changing, etc.) so I don’t have a good gif for an example.
Here’s one of McAvoy just walking around the forwards though.
F1 doesn’t really influence which side of the ice McAvoy is taking the puck to and McAvoy also cuts back toward the middle after looking like he was gonna go up that right side. After that, F1 tries to close that gap and catch back up with him, but McAvoy protects the puck and, by then, F2 is too far to the right to really make a difference in his path toward the attacking zone. It’s only when McAvoy hits the blue line and has three guys closing in that he has to pass the puck off but is blocked by F2, who’s in a good (maybe fortuitous?) place for the backhand to bounce off of him and into the corner.
For the 1-3, the first forward will swing into the zone and, depending if the puck is loose or possession is questionable, might go in deep to aggressively pressure the power play. However, if the power play clearly has the puck with control, F1 will instead exit the zone while still playing the puck closely as it comes out of the zone and try to get the play over to one side. Meanwhile, the other forward and both defensemen skate backwards to clog up the neutral zone by keeping lanes occupied and holding down the blue line. Like we saw before, this should make it harder for teams to enter with control as there isn’t a lot of empty space for them or the puck to go, so they wind up dumping the puck in and giving up possession.
McAvoy comes out from behind the net and starts up ice with one forward in deep trying to keep up with him. As he exits the zone, that forward continues to pressure, but McAvoy has little trouble getting away from him and passes the puck off to Greenway on his left. Instead of continuing through the blue line where Maine’s three remaining penalty killers are waiting, he passes back to Keller and delays the entry so BU has space to enter with control.
This is from the same game, but it’s a look at the forecheck succeeding in what it sets out to do. Some of the reason behind this is because BU doesn’t really do a full reset for their breakout, thanks in part to F1 pressuring down low so Jake Oettinger in net has to get that puck out of there quickly. Maine also gets a little boost from one of their guys changing here so they get four back a bit faster than if F1 had stayed on the ice. The Terriers not being able to get set in their lanes sees Greenway, JFK, and McAvoy all clumped on that left side of the ice with two Maine PKers standing up at the blue line and forcing Greenway to dump the puck in order to continue. The Black Bears get to it first and clear the zone with ease.
Let’s look at an earlier example of a PP1 breakout but this time from the perspective of the forecheck.
F1 and F2 are both hanging out in the zone at the start of this gif, but F2 starts to back off when the puck gets moved while F1 is pressuring McAvoy to pass off to his right. JFK takes the puck out of the zone and dishes to Harper, who’s facing two penalty killers at the line and has no real other choice except to dump it in. The forecheck has accomplished what it wanted to, but Harper does get behind them and gets possession back for his team.
Here’s actually another kind of Five Back example, but JFK is in charge of the puck instead of McAvoy. F1 comes into the zone but doesn’t spend a whole lot of energy trying to influence play. He doesn’t come in very deep, and it looks like he’s trying to read where the play is going. JFK passes up to Greenway on the left wing, but the UMass PK maintains a good gap with him so he must dump the puck past him to enter the zone. A scrum ensues in the corner for the puck and BU does not gain control or set up before the Minutemen clear things out.
One more example, and another one from before, is PP1 facing Lowell’s 1-3 forecheck.
Lowell is very aggressive in all aspects of their penalty kill, so their forecheck is no exception. They use a 1-3 but will send two forwards deep if there isn’t clear possession. Now we’re looking at this example from the other side of the puck. Lowell has managed to pressure the Terriers in their own zone enough that they’re playing along their right side and, though they keep possession, F1 lingers on the other side of the ice to keep play off to the right. F2 gets back in line with the defensemen (he did go off on a change so it’s someone else in his role), and one of the D gets over to that right side of the blue line to pressure aggressively. He steps up and gets BU to dump the puck despite the Terriers making a controlled pass through the neutral zone and just over the blue line. With nowhere to go, though, they had to give up control and take their chances with retrieval, which they fail at here.
Let’s start off this section by running through some definitions. As I went through video and tracked, I looked at the following things:
- Opponent: who BU is playing
- Unit: PP1 or PP2
- Period and time: for my own use, self-explanatory
- Enterer: the player who entered the zone (for faceoff entries, Enterer = 0 because play started in the attacking zone), I don’t know if that’s a real word but I needed a column name.
- Result: what kind of entry it was: faceoff, carry-in, entry pass, dump-in, failed entry
- Control: whether BU entered the zone with control or not (Y for carry-ins and entry passes, N for dump-ins and failed entries)
- Possession: whether BU had/gained possession while/after entering the zone (this is mostly used for dump-ins and faceoff entries to see if BU got the puck back)
- Setup: whether BU got set up comfortably in PP formation in the zone after entry or if it got a shot off on the rush after the entry
- Goal: whether BU scored a goal on that entry
- EBE: stands for entry-breakoutentry and is just an indicator to filter through events that were just entries (faceoffs, neutral zone regroups, etc., marked as E) vs. events that included a breakout and an entry (i.e. it starts in the dzone and BU has to exit, marked as BE)
- NZFC: neutral zone forecheck being run by opposition
- DZPK: dzone PK formation being run by opposition
I’m mostly just going to use tables to show totals and then add some commentary to round things out, but I’ll try to make it as easy to read as possible.
The table columns should be fairly clear, but this is a breakdown of each player’s entry tendencies. Let’s look at Clayton Keller because he does a lot and I’ve talked about McAvoy a bunch already. Keller was responsible for 14 of BU’s zone entries. He carried the puck in nine times, passed it in three times, and dumped it in once. He never recorded a failed entry (an entry stopped at the blue line/an offside entry), and if you combine his controlled entries (carries and passes), they tally 12. That leaves one uncontrolled entry and one (not in this table) that was a dump and change. Keller and Greenway each have one fewer entry categorized than their total because they each dumped it in and changed once, but I didn’t include those here.
You’ll notice, like in a couple other charts and tables, that Bellows is missing. That’s because he was not once responsible for a zone entry. Being the stretch man for his unit’s breakout likely is the cause of this, since his role was more to open up the blue line for someone else to enter.
Using more context, we see that McAvoy, Keller, and JFK led the way in terms of raw entry numbers, which makes sense when we think about their unit. First of all, PP1 obviously gets more ice time than PP2, so it makes sense that PP1 players have the most entries. Second, we know that PP1’s breakout of choice is a Single Drop, which runs through McAvoy, Keller, and JFK. They’re the ones moving the puck at or around the blue line, and with McAvoy as the lead breakout man, it’s not so surprising that he’s orchestrated most of the unit’s entries.
Fabbro and Carpenter head PP2’s entry totals, which you probably could have guessed after reading the breakout section. Krys has a similar role to McAvoy to start, but he typically passes the puck off before leaving the dzone while McAvoy doesn’t pass until he’s at the center line. Because of this, Krys isn’t as responsible for getting the puck in the zone as much as he is getting it out of his own zone. Instead, he usually tasks Fabbro or Carpenter with the job.
By entry type and unit
Here’s just a general overview of how many times BU used each entry separated by unit, and then the total for both units is on the right. The Terriers carried the puck in and passed it in 24 times each and then dumped it in 17 times for 65 successful entries. When we combine the carries and passes, we can see that BU entered the zone with control 48 times, meaning 73.85% of their successful entries were controlled ones. The first three groupings only include successful entries, as failed ones are listed afterward. So where PP2 had nine successful carry-ins, if we include the failed ones, they had 13 total attempted carry-ins. And I want to distinguish here that when I say successful, I just mean they were able to get over the blue line. If we want to look at the truly valuable entries, we can break this down further.
Quick explainer on the table. This is for both units, and individual unit analyses are in tables below. We’re breaking down whether each entry type resulted in possession and if the entry led to BU setting up in the attacking zone. Y means yes, and N means no. For the controlled entries, they obviously had possession through the blue line so all of those will be Y in terms of possession. What we’re really looking at are dump-ins and faceoff entries because they don’t necessarily come with possession. For those, we’re looking at whether BU gained possession after them. Faceoffs especially, the Terriers don’t have to have won the faceoff for possession to be marked Y, they just have to have possessed the puck at some point during the ensuing zone time (i.e., if the PK wins the faceoff but turns the puck over and BU gets it back).
On the whole, BU regained possession after a dump-in ~70.59% of the time and got set up in formation after a dump-in at that clip as well. The Terriers got possession following a faceoff 75% of the time and got set up after a faceoff 66.67% of the time. That’s what these particular percentages mean here. We’re looking at those specific entry types and how often they got possession/got set up for just that entry. For example, let’s look at carry-ins.
BU carried the puck into the zone 24 times successfully (we’re only looking at successful entries here because failed entries aren’t going to result in possession or setting up in the zone). Of those 24 times, 24 of them resulted in possession because BU, well, had control and possession while entering. However, if we look at how often a carry-in gets set up afterward, the value is 18. This means that in 24 carry-ins, BU set up 18 out of 24 times, or 75% of the time. They failed to set up six times out of 24 times, which is 25% of the time.
If we want to get more specific, here are similar tables but for each power play unit. It probably doesn’t do us a whole lot of good to dissect and compare each unit’s tendencies given how small the sample is, and the percentages don’t differ too, too much. Just take everything in context and remember the difference in breakouts!
Something we can look at though is how often each unit used a certain entry type. Again, PP2 had fewer entries than PP1 so we can’t really make any definitive, absolute statements about the two power plays, but we can use what we know to understand why each one operated the way it did.
I’m excluding faceoff entries while calculating %total because, while we want to keep track of them, teams don’t make the same kind of conscious decision for a faceoff entry that they do for others. They’re not really influenced by the PK in the same way, and if they are shooting for a faceoff, they’ve already entered the zone a different way anyway so!
Like I said before, there are three types of entries I was looking at: carry-ins, entry passes, and dump-ins. I recorded each time each unit attempted a certain entry and whether they succeeded in completing it or not. The top three rows in each of the tables below show how many times each entry type was attempted and what percentage of each unit’s total entries that ended up being. PP1 had 53 entries that were not faceoff entries and PP2 had 26, so the %total for each unit is the count of each entry type divided by the total number of entries each unit attempted.
PP1 was split evenly on which controlled entry it preferred, while PP2 seemed to lean toward carrying the puck into the zone. PP1 also dumps the puck in a fair amount, though two of those were dump and changes so you could argue for them to be excluded, but it wouldn’t take the percentage down all that much (15/53 = 28.30% vs. 13/51 = 25.49%).
If you look below the top three rows, you can see how often each entry failed. The %total is still divided by 53 and 26 here so what those rows are telling us isn’t how often a carry-in failed, but rather what percentage of each unit’s total entries was a failed carry-in. PP1 tried to carry the puck in 19 times and succeeded all by four times. This means that 7.55% of all of PP1’s entries were failed carry-ins, NOT that 7.55% of PP1’s attempted carry-ins failed. If we wanted to look at that, it would look something like this:
And again, a successful entry just means it gets past the blue line and isn’t stopped by the penalty kill there. If you want to see whether BU got possession, look back up at those tables above.
Entries vs forechecks
Lastly, I wanted to take a look at how each entry did against the two different forechecks. Like above, the first three rows for each forecheck include failed entries and are just counting for total attempts. Also like above, faceoff entries are excluded while calculating percentage, and the entries after the big three are the percentage of total entries that ended up being a failed carry-in, a failed entry pass, etc.
It’s not super telling to looking at the 1-1-2 because it was only over the course of one game, but we do see that BU was able to enter the zone with control more often than not and didn’t actually dump the puck in outside of one dump and change.
For all the entries against the 1-3 forecheck, there isn’t a ton of spread across entry attempts. The Terriers tried carry-ins most often, then entry passes, then dump-ins. I’m happy to see that dump-ins are not BU’s entry of choice on the power play, but they did go to them when needed.
If we want to see another further breakdown of how each unit fared against each forecheck, we can look below. Some of these numbers should look familiar since only PP1 faced a 1-1-2 forecheck and PP2 only faced 1-3 forechecks. The biggest difference is how PP1 did against the 1-3, which isn’t really all that different from how they operate as a whole. They’re still split on their controlled entries, but seem to go to the dump-in a little more often in comparison with their cumulative totals.
This table is still looking at the frequency with which each unit tried a particular entry against each forecheck. The percentages are similar to the above charts that look like these ones.
And if you want to see how many times an entry succeeded or failed vs. a certain forecheck, these tables should tell you.
In case it’s not clear what this table means, look at PP1 1-3 carry-ins. Of 16 total carry-in attempts, BU succeeded in entering the zone in 13 of them (13/16 = 81.25%) and failed three times (3/16 = 18.75%). That means that, when trying to carry the puck into the zone against a 1-3 forecheck, PP1 is successful 81.25% of the time and fails 18.75% of the time. It doesn’t look like an entry failed significantly against a forecheck. Percentage-wise, carry-ins had more trouble against the 1-3 than an entry pass did, but we don’t want to put too much weight into that since the actual sample size numbers are quite small.
Thank you for reading if you got this far! Or even if you didn’t! This is going to be my last post about this project (for now) since I have to turn my attention to putting all of this into slides now for my RITSAC presentation, but I will be back!