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Friday Roundup - Changing Field Position

Tune in on any Fall Saturday or Sunday to catch a football game and you're bound to hear plenty about "field position." Teams are routinely praised for drives that start deep in their own end and pick up a few first downs and nothing more because they've now backed their opponents up to the point where, as the two teams trade three-and-outs, a slight miscue by the now-pressured squad puts the advantaged team within striking distance of scoring.


But you don't hear too much about field position in hockey, presumably because hockey isn't played on a field. And yet territorial advantage in hockey is incredibly important to winning hockey games. Want evidence? The top five teams in the League in terms of points percentage have taken 32.1% of their collective even strength face-offs in the offensive zone and 27.9% in the defensive zone, while the five worst teams in the League have taken just 28.9% of those draws in the opponent's end and 30.7% to the left or right of their own goalie. San Jose (the NHL's leader in points at the All-Star Break) has a 32.3/26.5 split, while the Isles (the world's League's worst team) has a 28.3/33.9 split, and all of those differentials are even more dramatic when you consider the even strength faceoffs in the neutral zone that result from goals

And while differences may not sound like much, but that's a couple of face-offs per game, and those faceoffs often lead to scoring chances for... or against.

By now, you're wondering how the Caps fair in this part of the game. Well, they've taken 32.3% of their even strength draws in the offensive zone and 28.9% in their own end. It's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg scenario, of course - more face-offs in the offensive zone lead to more scoring chances, which lead to more face-offs in the offensive zone - but it's a good indicator that a team is performing well at even strength. As The Falconer put it, "assuming they don't score, a good offensive shift often results in a) the opposition icing the puck; b) the goaltender freezes the puck; c) the opposition deflects the puck out. All three of these non-scoring outcomes results in a face-off in the offensive zone."


Taking things a step further, we can look at which individual players are helping and which are hurting this "field position" cause (and this is where it gets kinda cool). Again quoting The Falconer:

If we look at the LONG RUN of a full NHL season, the better players are going to have more shifts that finish in the offensive zone compared to the number that began back in their own defensive zone. Zone shift captures this basic intuition--players with positive numbers usually are better at shifting the puck out of the D Zone and into the O Zone over the course of a season.

The methodology here is pretty simple - look at how many times a player is on the ice for an even strength face-off and where those draws are, and look at how many times a player's shift ends with an upcoming even strength face-off and where those take place, and go from there. I've also added an offensive zone face-off for each plus a player has and added a defensive zone draw for each minus (less those cause by shorties in both cases), since ultimately successful (or unsuccessful) shifts should be accounted for.

Got it? Good.

Below, then, is a chart showing the relevant numbers for every Cap skater who has played at least 20 games, with the players ranked by zone shift per minute of even strength ice time (Sft/M). What else is on the chart? Other than Sft/M, you'll see players' five-on-five Corsi Ratings (another gauge of territorial advantage at even strength), five-on-five Quality of Competition, or QualComp, so you can see who's playing the tough minutes and who isn't, and finally five-on-five Goals For ON/60 minus Goals Against On/60 (+/-60), which is really the one that matters most. Without further ado...

Player Sft/M Corsi QualComp +/-60
Eric Fehr
.082 20.5 0.05 0.21
Sergei Fedorov
.072 30.4 -0.07 1.76
Tom Poti
.059 10.5 0.04 0.53
Brooks Laich
.044 8.2 0.03 -0.33
Boyd Gordon
.040 -7.0 -0.03 -0.15
Alex Semin
.037 20.8 -0.02 3.31
Alex Ovechkin
.032 19.9 -0.03 1.44
David Steckel
.027 0.1 -0.01 -0.28
Shaone Morrisonn
.020 9.9 -0.02 -0.46
Karl Alzner
.016 15.4 0.02 0.46
Nicklas Backstrom
.010 18.7 -0.04 1.15
Mike Green
.005 19.1 -0.02 1.57
Chris Clark
-.003 -5.3 -0.01 -0.76
Tyler Sloan
-.005 4.7 -0.02 0.99
Milan Jurcina
-.020 7.2 -0.01 0.00
Matt Bradley
-.022 2.6 -0.02 0.37
Michael Nylander
-.030 16.6 -0.03 0.36
Viktor Kozlov
-.032 16.5 -0.03 0.00
Jeff Schultz
-.034 -2.4 0.03 0.64
Donald Brashear
-.046 2.9 -0.08 -0.50
John Erskine
-.052 8.1 -0.09 0.51
Tomas Fleischmann
-.087 6.0 0.01 -0.30

Alrighty then. Some initial thoughts on the numbers:

  • First and foremost, I think it's pretty clear that (from an on-ice perspective, at least) Eric Fehr needs to be playing and Chris Clark needs to be sitting. Fehr is moving the puck out of his zone and towards the opponent's goal, and against the toughest competition anyone on the team is facing. His +/-60 is middling (perhaps the result of his reluctance to go into the high traffic areas where goals are found, among other reasons), but Clark's numbers just reek across the board, culminating in a team-worst +/-60.
  • Another thing to note here is that, despite his penalty the other night, Alex Semin is a monster at even strength. He's moving the puck, creating (and finishing) chances, and has a ridiculous 3.30 +/-60 (best in the League by a wide margin, in fact).
  • Someone please draw Tomas Fleischmann a map to the defensive zone so he can help his teammates get the puck out of it and up ice. His Sft/M is the team's worst, his +/-60 is bad, and he also has the team's worst +/- (alone on the second page... sad). And yet he gets penalty killing time, despite being terrible there too. He really needs to start pulling his weight, skinny as he is, at both ends.
  • Boyd Gordon is doing what someone in his role should be doing - getting the puck out of his zone.
  • Tom Poti is valuable. Very. Feds too.

There's plenty more to take away from this, but I shouldn't have all the fun, so I'll throw it out for you guys. What do you see in these numbers?