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Shot Plots: A Study in Quality of Possession (Part Two)

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The study on shot plots continues with some analysis of recent Anaheim games, including some games where Anaheim was particularly good, and others where they were not so much. Strap in, this one is going to be pretty lengthy as well, but has lots of pretty pictures.

War On Ice

Welcome back. In part one, I outlined the main premise of this study and laid the foundations for my research. Continuing on now to part two, I'm going to begin exploring some recent games and applying these various methods of research to demonstrate how the defense of the "danger area" DANGER ZONE and "high-danger area" are both extremely vital to the Ducks success.

First, I want to start off with the last game I can remember where I genuinely felt the Ducks played absolutely excellent hockey to the best of their potential (or well... they did for about 45 mintues).

3/20/15 - Anaheim Ducks 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 (OT)

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

26

49

37

26

16

14

9

LA

31

52

36

19

7

7

3

You'll notice one common theme across almost all of these games: Anaheim is downright ruthless in its effort to try to shoot from the high-percentage areas of the ice, and perhaps almost frustratingly so, as teams who are tighter defensively will refuse to allow these shot attempts at all, and it will appear as though rush after rush will come up empty for Anaheim, and they will simply turn the puck over without even so much as getting an attempt even in the direction of the opposition goal. But when they can crack this danger area, they are downright lethal (see their shooting-percentage hextally chart in Part One for proof).

In terms of defensive play, however, this was an excellent performance from Anaheim. The vast majority of Los Angeles' shots on goal came from poor-percentage areas, most of which coming from the left point. Anaheim did a killer job blocking shots, and did not break from the tight box surrounding the high-danger area. In fact, the Kings only got seven unblocked shot-attempts from anywhere inside the danger area, and only three from the high-danger area, scoring on one. I'm not excusing that goal, as it came in the midst of a horrid stretch where Anaheim went full-turtle, trying to simply defend the Kings to death. To nobody's surprise that didn't work because the Ducks are hot garbage when they try to do that, and the silver and black got a point on the night as a result of it.

Plain and simple, this goal came because Emerson Etem lost his man and walked into a space where he was essentially defending nobody. This gave Justin Williams enough time to receive the pass, read a book, drink tea, take a short nap, and then deke around John Gibson to score. It's a mistake of poor defensive awareness, but unlike some of the other goals we'll see, this one is pretty much centered on one player, and a young one at that. Hopefully he'll take it to heart and learn.

But as you can see the vast majority of LA's shot attempts came from well outside the danger areas of the ice, and Anaheim did an excellent job blocking the vast majority of the Kings shots, a downside of the "quantity over quality" approach to the game, as the Ducks were able to force the Kings to settle for lower-percentage shots, and then block away almost everything from a higher-percentage area.

3/20/15 - Anaheim Ducks 3, Colorado Avalanche 2 (OT)

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

40

68

54

31

10

8

5

COL

24

38

31

21

16

8

8

If you go to the dictionary and look up the definition of "train wreck" it'll show you the Colorado's possession in this game. That being said, they also did a pretty good job exploiting Anaheim's weakness, particularly in the high-danger region where they had eight shot attempts, all unblocked, and only one of which missed the net. Good defensive night in terms of the pure number of shot attempts allowed, but a poor defensive night in terms of allowing quality shots from the highest-danger areas of the ice. Unlike the previous opponent, the Avs are a "quality over quantity" team.

Colorado's second goal against came shorthanded on a breakaway from a poor turnover in the offensive zone by Sami Vatanen, which we'll blame on rust (this was his first game back from his injury). Their first goal, however, was both a smooth veteran move from Jarome Iginla, and a lapse in team defensive coverage.

I've circled two players here: Simon Despres and Matt Beleskey. Despres isn't so much at fault here as he has shifted over as the far-side defenseman to try to cover the front of the net and low-slot. He is not directly covering anybody, however, and while there really isn't anywhere else for him to be that would be better (as moving to pressure Matt Duchene would leave the front of the net wide-open), he's not really in a particularly good spot to make a play on anybody in particular. But since moving anywhere else provides a potentially-worse consequence he's hardly to blame here.

Matt Beleskey on the other hand is late getting to the play. He drifts slowly in off the side boards, and by the time he looks over and notices Iginla drifting into a soft-spot on the ice, it's far too late. Credit where credit is due, the pass from Duchene was absolute fire, but Beleskey was far too late in reacting to covering the soft spot on the ice here.

Aside from that, good lord just look at that shot plot. So this is what happens when the team doesn't ice Clayton Stoner for a game...

************

And now we start to take a look at a couple games where Anaheim was not particularly good at their danger area defense.

3/22/15 - Anaheim Ducks 2, New York Rangers 7

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

38

72

59

31

23

17

12

NYR

29

54

41

30

21

12

8

Playing against the team he called "the fastest team we have played all season," Bruce Boudreau decided to not only ice his slowest defenseman, Clayton Stoner, but give him top-pairing minutes (he played 19:29 in the contest), and scratched possession-monster Simon Despres in order to do so. The resulting Fowler-Wisniewski pairing was hot rubbish, getting burned for three goals against at even strength.

And this was yet another example of just how dangerous speed is against the Anaheim Ducks. The result: six goals against from inside the danger areas of the ice, three from less than five feet away from the goal crease. And then a boat load more shot attempts from those areas as well. Not good. Despite drastically out-possessing the Rangers, it was the Blueshirts that ran the Ducks' show by generating much better scoring chances, and capitalizing at an alarming rate.

I'm going to do the goals against in order.

1.) A speedy puck-moving Rangers offense got a shot through Frederik Andersen and had a rebound trickle behind him. Fowler didn't have Chris Kreider completely contained and Kreider tapped the puck over the line to open the New York scoring. One Freddy really should have had under control, but a goal created by puck recoveries and New York's willingness to charge straight to the front of the net (and Anaheim's ensuing inability to clear them out).

2.) The power play goal was a blast from the point through a screen of multiple bodies. Not much can really be done there.

3.) This was an exploitation of the Anaheim defense leaving a gaping soft-spot on the blue line and utilizing it to generate a scoring chance. While the goal was ultimately a deflection into the net off Sami Vatanen's skate, the Rangers flew over the Anaheim blue line like there wasn't even a defense there.

Here's how this worked. Anaheim turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Stoner, the left-side defenseman is on the right-half of the rink, while Vatanen is way down low off the screen to the left. Stoner's momentum is carrying him further out of position, and thus leaving the entire giant blue box wide open as a soft spot with which the Rangers can carry the puck into the Anaheim zone at about sixty to seventy thousand miles per hour. Stoner has to scramble to recover, but it isn't enough as Hagelin loops around and ultimately gets the fluky deflection off Vatanen and into the net.

4.) Good on New York to turn a puck quickly up the ice and feed the puck into a seam between the Anaheim forwards and defense, but ultimately this goal came from just inside the left circle—barely inside the danger area. I'd say about 50% of this one was on John Gibson, 30% to J.T. Miller for the ridiculous shot, and the last 20% going to the circled player, Tomas Fleischmann, who Miller flat out burned through the neutral zone, allowing him to streak into the soft spot in the Ducks defensive zone. You can even see him trying to hook Miller in flat-footed desperation.

Nothing the defensemen could do on this play; it's Meat-man's responsibility to stay on the right side of his coverage assignment on the counter-attack.

5.) I'm just going to call this a "Yawney System Special." Beauchemin doesn't look up before passing the puck, overshoots Getzlaf, and puts it right onto the stick for Derek Steppan on the edge of the high-danger area. A shot the Ducks never should have even given up pretty much sealed their fate. And this is why encouraging your team to pass the puck to the middle of the ice while under pressure in the defensive zone is an absolutely horrid idea. The Ducks had a good amount of support around Beauchemin as well, if you want to add any more insult to injury.

6.) Plain and simple, Jesper Fast got the jump on James Wisniewski, beat him both to the puck behind the net and then again all the way around the net to get the shot through. Gibby should have had this one, but speed once again kills and allows an opponent to attack the Anaheim net more or less unencumbered.

7.) WHAT THE EVER-LOVING HELL WAS CLAYTON STONER DOING ON THIS PLAY!? Sami Vatanen chases a puck down and dumps it behind the net to relieve pressure, like the Ducks so often do in this situation, but rather than providing an outlet, his defensive oaf of a partner heads to the low circle, where he is in virtually no-better shape to receive a pass and make a play to clear the puck than he would be behind the net.

As a result, the Vatanen puts a bow on the puck and serves it on a silver platter to Mats Zuccarello, who feeds a simple pass right back through the slot. And then, to top off the play, Kyle Palmieri puts a slightly-less-than-half-hearted effort (and that's being nice) at stopping Derek Brassard, and allows him to just tap it into an empty net.

Put this one away and move on. Things can only get better, right?

3/24/15 - Anaheim Ducks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 5

SOG

SAF (CF)

USAF (FF)

DA-SAF

DA-USAF

HDA-SAF

HDA-USAF

ANA

40

73

61

40

32

15

11

CBJ

27

34

29

21

18

12

11

Wrong.

The Ducks followed it up by dropping yet another stinker against the Blue Jackets, though in their defense they did do a much better job in pure possession statistics in this game.

What they didn't do a better job of was protecting the high-danger area of the ice. Four of the five Columbus goals in this game came from this small region, while yes one was a complete load of crap thanks to a contradiction in the NHL's rulebook and the other was an empty-netter. But the kicker is this: over 50% of Columbus' shot attempts on the evening came from inside the danger area and were not blocked. And of those unblocked attempts, only two missed the net. That's putting a ton of  pressure on your goaltender to make saves on shots that are extremely difficult to stop.

As for the other two, one came on the power play when Clayton Stoner (yes, again) failed to transition to pick up Scott Hartnell as he moved through the low slot for a tap-in. The other was a bewildering lack of defensive awareness by anybody wearing a white sweater.

First off, Simon Depres, standing in front of the net, is defending... what exactly? Well I'll tell you what he isn't doing: covering for Tomas Fleischmann, who has left his point to battle for the puck down low. This leaves Foligno all alone to streak in from the point to the giant gaping hole in the middle of the slot that all five Ducks have completely lost track of. And then, to top it all off, Rickard Rakell isn't even looking at the pass that went right behind him and in fact sets an inadvertent pick on teammate Jiri Sekac, who couldn't get over to perhaps make a miracle shot-block on the play. I wish I could say this is the first time this season in which the Ducks have lost track of the middle of the slot, but it sadly isn't even remotely close to that, and the fact that it's still happening at this point of the season is worrysome.

I have a gripe with the only goal that didn't come from the Ducks high-danger area as well. Once again, the Anaheim defenseman (this time Francois Beauchemin) left a gaping soft-spot along the far-side of the blueline by overcommitting to the opposite side of the ice, and then allowed a cross-ice pass to it, which then forces his partner (Hampus Lindholm) to have to skate all the way across the defensive zone at a physically impossible pace to have any chance at stopping him.

The biggest flaw I can see to this game is simply that the Blue Jackets got everything through to the net, and chose their shots carefully, holding on until they inevitably exploited the Ducks to generate a shot from a better area of the ice. The Ducks only managed to block five shots this game, only one of which came in the high-danger area. Some might call it being "opportunistic," and to a certain extent having a shooting-percentage of 18.5% is a bit on the high side, but likewise when you're getting so many chances from such high-quality areas of the ice, you can understand why teams are suddenly making the goaltending's save-percentage look so bad.

************

Rest easy, comrades. This ends part two. Yeah, I know this one was a little lengthy but I feel like these four games in particular demonstrated both some of the best and some of the worst the Ducks have had to offer this entire season.  So thus, I felt they needed to be covered with some level of detail. I do have analysis of every remaining game between now and then as well, but rest assured each one is far less detailed as the Ducks appear to have settled into a reasonable rhythm defensively in the games since. Thus each game's analysis isn't nearly as verbose.

These games as well as my conclusions will come in the final installment of this series, part three, coming tomorrow.