Monday, July 30, 2018

sometimes sayings are just said, part two

They took our jobs

The most important part of dividing up responsibility for defensive breakdowns is knowing what each players job is in the system of play. If everyone does their job, from there you can weight each play individually based on which missed execution has the highest and lowest difficulty.

For example, if a 2-on-1 rush against occurs after one defenseman fails a routine pinch under little pressure, then the second defenceman gets the puck passed through him on a one-time play, then both defensemen missed execution but one is a much more understandable mistake than the other. Each player is doing his job (The defenceman has to pinch, a mistake on playing the puck does not make the decision a bad one), but it's much easier to play a flat puck coming straight toweard you then it is to tip an NHL-fast, cross-ice saucer pass.

You only get there if everyone does their job, though. And what is everyone's job?

Man-on-Man vs. Zone Defence

The two defensive schools in almost every sport are these two, with many variations branching out from each philosophy.

In zone defence, each player has a specific area on the ice that they patrol, at all times staying between the goal and the closest. The general idea is have inside position on general areas, and that no dangerous play can be passed into the slot if each zone is properly defended, as well as the path to skating inside having several layers of checking. Here's a diagram of the basic setup, along with two situations where the puck is in each corner. The defensemen can also simply function as D1 and D2 instead of by handedness, but if the puck is dumped in on an entry this is how they will typically sort out if the puck stays in the zone. The F1 is typically a centre off of a controlled play like a faceoff loss, but whichever forward skates back into the zone first takes those duties down low in a transitional, on-the-fly play because of how critical it is they get there on time.

Man on man defense is even simpler in concept, each player still starts in their general position in the first image or from where they've skated in from their neutral zone positions, but from there simply pairs up with an opposing player and retains a tight gap with them, with or without the puck.

The Oilers made a switch to play the man more aggressively between the 2016-17 season and the 2017-18 season, I'll show you what that looks like.

In this first video from 16-17, note the behaviours of the players I mark, specifically that they stay in front of the net instead of more aggressively attacking the opposing forwards that come near.

The trade-off here is that Klefbom in the second section would have to intercept the pass had it gone to towards Sheary, instead of being close enough to simply tie him up immediately as the puck takes flight towards them. But in return, if Sheary wins that battle the chance is potent and automatic, as the pass is less contested.

Then next, an example of the recent season's style, where I mark the man matchups, wherein players more aggressively close on the attacking forwards, and Ryan Strome comes down to defend the danger area:

As you can see, Draisaitl does some heavy lifting here and that'll be a common theme in this series. These are normal centre/F1 duties except requiring even more discipline and attention. Many of the forwards failed their audition in the system evolution from two years ago, but a lot of the blame ended up going to a defense corps that struggled with more than they can be fairly blamed for. I would not say the switch was a successful one, based on results, though I have time for the theory. The Oilers let in a lot more goals, and a lot more shots from dangerous areas in general as you'll see below.

Just like with the micro-plays in hockey, just because someone didn't execute doesn't mean it wasn't a good idea. You can blame Todd McLellan for attempting to implement a system ill-suited for his players, or for not teaching it well enough, you can blame the players for not understanding or for lack of discipline learning it. You can also blame the general manager for the personnel problems. It's all divided up among them though, and what's done's done.

What we do get in return for this miserable season for the good of this research is that again, Leon will have been lifting heavy in these video reviews. I have no doubt he's a more defensively educated player than he was in the season before, teaching himself over and over how to use his body to establish position and win battles. He had to be on guys all the time, that's a lot more total time spent boxing out and battling in the defensive zone than what would have occurred before, playing wing in a less demanding system.

This has been quite the prologue, but the show's starting soon. Next post will be the direct analysis from games in the December area of the schedule.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sometimes sayings are just said, part one (Intro)


Something bad happened to the Edmonton Oilers last year, and then it happened again and again. The team backflipped into the deep end, like someone reverse gif'd a phoenix rising, resulting in something once (briefly) magnificent dive-bombing in comically flamboyant fashion into the cold concrete and returning to sad inanimate ashes.

Narratives have been formed long ago, impressions impressed as early as October and when it comes to diagnosing the many reasons for failure I don't think two Oilers fans will agree on absolutely everything. This is especially so when it comes to discussing remedies for the ongoing issues, what to leave alone and what requires attention. Who's to blame for this and that, who needs to bulk up, who's got to get leaner.

There are however a few threads of the narrative that many minds are made up about in a common way. Like the group of defencemen underperforming wholly sans Darnell, betting on organic improvement from internal right-wing options, the first half of that last sentence except applied to literally everything, new hires behind the bench getting more out of the special teams.

About this phenomena, and how I want to respond to it, I said this in's comment cubby:

"I’m trying to tackle specific narratives through video analysis and this means getting (non-scoring play) film from last season of situations where presumably the narrative arose. Right now this means going through and clipping those situations, and then next I’ll do the video editing and then eventually the actual analysis.

This is for the purpose of putting memory-tricks half of the eye test under scrutiny. There are more than a few commonly accepted viewpoints on what the 2017-18 Oilers were that are based on months-old recollections of what happened during a fast-moving, complex game.

The two failings of the eye tests are the natural faults of memory and the natural human biases: I’m looking to rectify the faults of memory with the recordings and in turn I hope my biases in my own analysis are then criticized by the readers and we can inch closer to the truth."

(I failed to mention there will be numbers, too.)


Let's talk about Leon Draisaitl. When people do that, that common thread is that he has to turn into a second line centre who can win his part of the war. That means rectifying ugly numbers such as this:

That third row is a weakness of many teams, not all of bottom six ice time is spent against opposing bottom sixes, and the league is not in a state where many players simultaneously have the skill to check top lines to a standstill while lacking the skill to score enough to play in the top six themselves.

But the second one, the second centre has to win.

When presented with on-ice counts and rates like these, one could mention that there's five humans and a goaltender involved and they'd have a point. In scenario Oilers, though, the same boys will be back in town this fall for the most part, so Leon's going to have returning dance partners and it's important that the results turn right around or close.

The non-ninety-seven Oilers are still better with Draisaitl on the ice than when he isn't. That's not nothing, considering competition and the fact that the forwards often deployed with Leon aren't much better than the ones playing below him. Rather, most nights it seemed a couple names were plucked out of a hat from the lines below and put on the second line, and I'm not sure if that's the long straw or vice-versa.

(Sorry Todd.)

Let's find out where it hurts the most, by comparing extra pieces of context against the other non-McDavid minutes:

Shots numbers are benign, the scoring goals rate is in a pretty good neighbourhood but the giving up goals rate is straight down yikes boulevard.

The goal battle has some depth and details. Although as shown Leon edged out the bottom two lines in terms of percentage, Leon on was a high event loss running almost a goal against per hour in the red. Thing is, his minutes allowed a lower rate of shots against, it's just that 'tenders saved 88.27% with Draisaitl on and 92.87% with Draisaitl off. Skilled lines tend to shoot higher and that's what was shooting against him, but when I say higher I'm not talking four and a half percent.

Not a lot (read: nothing) has been proven about guys carrying around their save percentage with them, but what happened happened and we ought to find out how.

Even intuitively, pinning the quality of shots given up on a forward in hockey seems a bit of a reach. Quantity makes sense, especially as a centre because if you're doing your job in terms of supporting the puck and distributing it properly you're going to help facilitate the suppression of shots against your team just by having the puck more often. But quality, how often is it not a defenceman who's clearing the crease in a high danger situation, or tying up the  would-be goalscorers stick?

Actually pretty often if you're playing an own-zone system closer to Man-to-Man style than Zone.

So this is the slice of the narrative we're going to investigate: Is Leon Draisaitl poor defensively?

And if it so, what's it made of? Lack of effort or attention, or something much less fixable?

We're going to find out, or get slightly upset trying.