Los Angeles Kings Zone Entries; Games 1 - 15

How the Kings are driving possession through brute force & defense.

This season I've taken part in the zone entry project and have been tracking entries for each Kings game this season. Garik from Lighthouse Hockey wrote up an excellent introduction to zone entries, part of which I'll excerpt below to explain the process:

Zone Entries are the name given to each entry made by each team into the offensive zone from the neutral zone. In effect, I'm going through each game and tracking each time the puck travels from the neutral zone to the offensive/defensive zone.

What do I mean by tracking? Well, what I mean is that I'm tracking who gets the puck over the blue line, how they do so (via dump, tip, carry-in, or pass), and whether it's even strength or not.

The whole point of this exercise is that it essentially gives us a method to measure which players are winning the battle of the neutral zone, which is incredibly important to the game of hockey, but basically unmeasurable by traditional statistics. Teams that win the neutral zone win more games because they get more time in the opponents' zone and manage to get more chances to score than their opponents.

How do we tell if a team is winning the neutral zone? Well, quite simply, the better neutral zone teams not only get the puck more often into the opponents' zone, but they also get it into the opponents' zone with POSSESSION. In other words, better teams will carry or pass the puck into the offensive zone more often than they dump the puck in. Getting the puck into the zone with possession results in more than double the amount of shots on goal than getting the puck in via dump-in (or tip-in), so it's a major factor in winning hockey games.

So in short we're looking for two things. 1) Are the Kings winning the neutral zone more than their opponents? 2) Are the Kings bringing the puck into the offensive zone with control (i.e. carrying/ passing it in) or are they resorting to dumping it in and hoping to retrieve it later?

Teams that win the neutral zone AND bring the puck in with control should win more.

OK, now let's dig in. First we'll look at individual stats and finish up with team stats. All of the stats below are from 5v5 situations only and have been normalized to per 60 minutes of ice time so we can accurately compare players to one another. Also, by shots we are talking about both shots on goal and shots that missed (i.e goalposts, shots high). As always, if you have any questions or a need for clarification please fire away in the comments.

Let's start with a look at the Kings regulars in the top 6:

(All tables are sortable.)

Zone Entries - Top 6 Forwards

Player Entries per 60 Shots per 60 from entries Shots per 60 from controlled entries % of entries with control
Brown, Dustin 23.5 11.9 7.1 48%
Williams, Justin 23.2 14.9 9.0 53%
Richards, Mike 22.0 11.2 9.0 54%
Kopitar, Anze 19.3 9.7 8.2 66%
Carter, Jeff 18.0 10.4 5.3 44%
  • Among the top 6, Dustin Brown has been the Kings best player in the neutral zone. He does dump the puck in more often than most of the top 6, but he still helps generate a lot of shots. The fact that the Kings are still able to get a decent amount of shots off when he dumps the puck in is a testament to how good his linemates (mainly Kopitar and Williams) have been at retrieving the puck on the forecheck.
  • Justin Williams has also been a very good player in the neutral zone. His entries are just about equal to Brown's yet he gains the zone with puck control more often. He also helps generate more shots than any other player on the team. Justin Williams is perpetually under the radar, yet one of the team's most valuable assets.
  • Anze Kopitar has struggled to gain the zone at the rate of his linemates. Still, when he does he gains it with force. He rarely defers to playing dump and chase and likes to lead the charge. When he has dumped it in, the play has been very ineffective which has hurt his shot generation numbers. This is strange since it seems that Brown and Williams would be adept at collecting pucks on the forecheck, but that hasn't been so thus far.
  • Mike Richards has been very active in the neutral zone. Early in the season he was struggling to gain the zone and gain it with control. He has been much better of late and his numbers for the season are strong. We'll keep an eye on how he progresses as he is at his most effective when he is gaining the zone aggressively, which also best utilizes Jeff Carter's talent.
  • Jeff Carter has been the weakest player among the top 6 at gaining the zone. He's only gained the zone with control of the puck 44% of the time. Even when he has gained the zone with control, the team has been able to generate very few shots. It's hard to say why this is happening, but my guess would be that his linemates have had trouble matching his speed. His linemates have been mainly Richards, Clifford and Penner. None of which are known for their blazing speed. As a result, Carter has either been dumping the puck in at a high rate and hoping his linemates will retrieve or has been well ahead of his teammates in the zone. Sutter has probably thought about all this and his latest move to put the speedier Trevor Lewis on the off wing of this line could be a stroke of genius.

Zone Entries - Bottom 6 Forwards

Player Entries per 60 Shots per 60 from entries Shots per 60 from controlled entries % of entries with control
Lewis, Trevor 27.6 11.9 6.9 43%
Penner, Dustin 21.7 14.5 11.2 64%
Fraser, Colin 20.7 9.6 5.5 47%
Nolan, Jordan 20.4 7.0 4.0 32%
King, Dwight 18.8 5.4 3.1 39%
Clifford, Kyle 18.3 7.7 4.9 44%
Stoll, Jarret 17.9 7.5 4.5 60%
Gagne, Simon 16.4 8.2 5.3 53%
  • Speaking of Trevor Lewis, no other player on the Kings has gained the zone more often than he has-- and it's not even close. He doesn't gain the zone very often by leading the rush. He usually does it either by dumping the puck in (as he probably lacks some confidence in his puck handling abilities) or by forcing turnovers on the forecheck. While tracking entries, it has been truly remarkable to observe how often Lewis has been able to create chaos for opposing defensemen trying to handle the puck. He is very adept at forcing turnovers. Unfortunately, he hasn't been paired with linemates who can help take advantage of this. Stoll is usually hanging back, playing a more defensively responsible game and gets shots off a lower rate than almost any forward on the Kings. Now that Lewis is playing with Richards and Carter, look out.
  • Dustin Penner has been in the doghouse this season mainly because of some boneheaded penalties, a perceived lack of effort in the defensive end, as well as the perception that he has shied away from "paying the price" and getting to the front of the net. That being said, an element of Penner's game where he has excelled has been his neutral zone play. Penner gains the zone primarily by aggressively carrying the puck in on the rush. His efforts in gaining the zone have helped the team generate more shots than any other player on the team. His prowess in this regard makes keeping him out of the line a big mistake-- even in spite of his perceived flaws.
  • On the other hand, scratching Simon Gagne is more forgivable. No other forward has been more tentative in gaining the zone. When he does gain it, though, he is more often than not bringing it in with possession and helping generate shots.
  • Jarret Stoll has also been shaky in the neutral zone and has struggled to win the offensive end. Yet, when he is being active gaining the zone, he has done so aggressively. He's 3rd among forwards in controlled entries. Still, this has not led to very many shots which could be attributed to him not being matched with very many skilled players.
  • Jordan Nolan dumps the puck in more than any other forward. He also attempts fewer shots than any other forward. Right now, he isn't contributing very much to the team in the offensive zone.
  • A similar story for Dwight King, who has been playing a very conservative game. He's been even less effective than Nolan in the neutral zone but is slightly more aggressive in how he gains the zone. Still that hasn't translated to very much offense as he generates fewer shots than any other forward on the roster.
  • In spite of the perception that Kyle Clifford has been having a great season, his zone entry numbers leave a little to be desired. He's been less effective in the neutral zone than both Nolan and King. Yet, he is much more aggressive with regard to how he plays the puck. That being said, he hasn't been aggressive enough in carrying the play and also needs to gain the zone a bit more.
  • Colin Fraser's numbers are pleasantly surprising. Among the bottom 6, he helps generate the third most shots. He's also been adept at gaining the zone and doing so with possession more than the rest of the bottom 6. I was a little miffed when he got the call over Gagne recently, but the differences in their zone entry numbers makes the move justifiable.

Zone Entries - Defensemen

Player Entries per 60 Shots per 60 from entries Shots per 60 from controlled entries % of entries with control
Martinez, Alec 12.5 3.8 1.9 35%
Doughty, Drew 11.2 3.9 3.1 61%
Drewiske, Davis 8.2 2.4 0.8 14%
Ellerby, Keaton 6.3 2.8 0.7 22%
Voynov, Slava 6.3 2.1 1.2 15%
Muzzin, Jake 6.1 1.3 0.4 7%
Scuderi, Rob 3.2 1.8 0.2 7%
  • Drew Doughty is invaluable at helping drive possession. He probably carries the play into the offensive end as much or more than any other defenseman in the NHL. The impact of this is reflected in how creates more shots than any other defenseman on the roster.
  • Another important player in helping to drive play is Alec Martinez. He actually has gained the zone more regularly than Doughty and although he doesn't handle the puck in as much-- he is still more aggressive at leading the rush than the rest of the defensive corps. Also, he helps generate almost as many shots as Doughty.
  • Slava Voynov's numbers are a little disappointing. It seems as though he's been a bit more tentative in leading the rush than one would have thought. He also doesn't gain the zone very often and does so at a rate lower than Davis Drewiske. He has been very good at getting the puck out of the defensive end, but he is playing very conservatively in the neutral zone.
  • It's very surprising that Davis Drewiske's zone entry numbers are better than Voynov's. Drewiske is having an underrated season. His possession numbers are stronger than expected and we can now see that he hasn't just been a passenger out there. He has gained the zone third most among defensemen.
  • In a very small sample, Keaton Ellerby has been decent at leading the rush. He has the third most controlled entries among defensemen and has helped generate the third most shots.
  • Jake Muzzin leads the NHL in possession numbers, but his zone entry stats show that his teammates deserve most of the credit for this rather than his own contributions. He has only lead the rush once this season. He infrequently gains the zone and helps generate the fewest shots on the roster.
  • Rob Scuderi, unsurprisingly, contributes the least to gaining the offensive end. His 3.2 entries per 60 is the fewest on the team. He also has only lead the rush once this season.

Zone Entries - Team Stats

Team Entries per 60 Shots per 60 from entries Shots per 60 from controlled entries % of entries with control
Kings 77.5 35.6 22.2 46%
Opponents 64.7 27.9 17.8 51%
  • The Kings have gained the zone 54% of the time and are generating a shot almost half the time they do so. They've been lagging behind in bringing the play in with possession. They've only been able to do that 46% of the time (48% in a close game). League average is probably somewhere close to 50%.
  • As Garik wrote above, better teams usually carry or pass the puck in more often than not--but the Kings don't and they lead the league in possession. How? Their league leading possession numbers are largely being driven by their play in the neutral zone and their ability to create turnovers on the forecheck. They are overwhelming opponents not in the way they gain the zone, but just in the sheer quantity of times they do so.
  • It also tells us that team defense is largely responsible for generating these extremely positive possession numbers. They've allowed opponents to gain the zone with control of the puck 51% of the time but are only allowing 0.54 shots every time this happens. That is a low number and credit for that has to go to the defense (starting with Drew Doughty). In addition, the defense has allowed the opposition fewer attempts at the net than any other team in the NHL.
  • Currently they are on a pace to have the lowest shot attempts allowed since that stat's inception. So their impressive defensive numbers may not be sustainable. In that case, they'll need to improve on the amount of attempts they take per game.
  • The way they can improve on that is in how they are gaining the zone--starting with the bottom 6 and their defensemen. There is little reason for them to rely on dumping the puck in as much as they have. Fortunately, it looks as though the coaching staff may have already identified that deficiency.
  • In close game situations, over the first 7 games of the season the Kings gained the zone by controlling the puck an incredibly low 39% of the time. Over the last 8 games, they have done so at a rate of 55%. It looks as if the ship is being righted, but we'll keep a close eye on this going forward./