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A look at how the Bruins are creating offense from transition play

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The usual suspects top the list, but one efficient transition player might surprise you.

Boston Bruins v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Data is 5v5 through the end of October, so the Nashville game is not included. All data is either self-tracked or from Corsica.

In 2011, Eric Tulsky began studying zone entries and their impact on the game for our SBN friends at Broad Street Hockey. Today, Tulsky is Vice President of Management and Strategy for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tulsky’s work has had a large influence on the game. Every NHL coach focuses on their transition game, and it shows. As Corey Sznajder pointed out during his presentation at the RIT Sports Analytics Conference in August, teams are controlling a higher percentage of entries than they were five years ago. Over the course of the 2013-14 season, the league average carry-in rate was 45.8%; last season, the league average carry-in rate increased to 48.5%.

And it’s not just a coincidence. Remember when the Maple Leafs whiteboard was exposed on Twitter after a game last spring? Zone entries and Corsi events were something they were tracking during the game.

Recently, the New Jersey Devils have been at the forefront of applying zone entry stats to their coaching philosophies. Taylor Hall, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, declared to Corey Masisak of The Athletic:

“Dumping the puck is fine if you put it in the right spots and have guys ready to forecheck, but obviously you want to carry it in as much as possible. Up and down our lineup, we want to be a team that really forces possession entries and tries to create offense that way.”

I highly recommend reading Corey’s coverage at The Athletic, and you can read the full article, including John Hynes’ comments here.

How the Bruins Create Offense from Transition

Much of the coverage of zone entries to date has revolved around controlling entries. However, that is only part of the equation. Whether or not you control the entry, how much value does it have if you don’t create any offense from it? Today, we will look specifically at shots from transition plays.

Using passing data I’ve collected from the first twelve games, we can see how the Bruins perform here. For the sake of this article, a transition play is a shot with one of the last three passes coming from the defensive or neutral zone. This will serve as a good approximation. In reality, there are some shots that follow a zone entry and did not involve a pass, so these numbers will be slightly deflated.

Let’s start off by analyzing “full-slate” transition plays, or transition plays with three or more passes. Generally, these plays are slower developing as they normally include multiple completed passes prior to entering the zone. However, this is probably what Bruce Cassidy would like to see more of. He has previously stated his distaste for stretch passes and how he prefers to keep possession throughout the transition from the defensive zone to the offensive zone.

The Bruins have created 19 shots off of full-slate transitions in their first 12 games. So although these may be the ideal plays Bruce Cassidy is looking for, the Bruins only produce them at a rate of about 2 per hour. But these rare events can bring some dangerous chances.

9 out of the 19 full-slate transition shots have been from the home plate area. Furthermore, 4 of the 19 resulted from a royal road pass, which is a pass that crosses center ice inside of the home plate area, like the one above.

Moving onto partial transitions, the Bruins have had 38 shots from transition plays with only two passes. Although the Bruins have managed to produce 4 goals from these plays, it seems as though they are creating slightly less dangerous chances. Only 7 of the 38 shots came from the home plate area, and only 2 royal road passes (both leading to goals).

As for transition plays with only one pass, the Bruins have created 53 of those. Transition plays with only one pass leading to the shot are the fastest. They typically feature a stretch pass from the defensive zone (rare for the Bruins) or come from takeaways in the neutral zone. The Bruins have scored 2 goals off of these quick transition plays and produced 7 shots from the home plate area.

Goals generally come from these 5 things: rebounds, deflections, turnovers from offensive zone forechecking, dangerous pre-shot movement, and transition. For the Bruins, 6 of their first 23 goals (26%) came from transition plays. That isn’t counting goals from transition that weren’t proceeded by a pass. Numbers will bounce around during the year, but with 21% of shots and 26% of goals having come from transition plays, they are undoubtedly important.

Who is Helping the Bruins Create Offense from Transition

Primary shot contributions, which are shots and shot assists, are a strong indicator of who is creating offense. If you reduce primary shot contributions to those from transition plays, you should have a pretty good idea of who is creating offense for the Bruins from transition.

Unsurprisingly, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Jake DeBrusk are all in the top five, as they produce shots frequently from everywhere. However, Joakim Nordstrom has produced quite well from transition for the Bruins. Although his primary shot contributions per hour fall in the middle of the pack for the Bruins, 40.5% of his primary shot contributions have come from transition. Now that Ryan Donato is with the Providence Bruins, that leads the Boston Bruins, with the next highest being David Pastrnak at 35.5%.

Primary shot contributions from transition misses a lot of context. The defensemen come to the bottom of the list, when in reality, they are probably the most important part of transitioning the puck up ice. If we look at who starts the transition, that could also be valuable.

Even though John Moore has the skill set to be an efficient puck mover, most of the data suggested he wasn’t over the last couple of seasons. However, at least at the moment, the Bruins seem to be utilizing Moore a lot better as he has been terrific at starting transition plays this season.

Summary

  • The Bruins make sacrifices in their transition play in order to create higher quality chances.
  • About a quarter of their offense comes from transition plays, and we expect to see that continue moving forward.
  • Joakim Nordstrom has been the surprise player for the Bruins so far, effectively creating offense from his transition play.
  • Moore, Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara, and Matt Grzelcyk have mainly been starting transition plays, while the forwards from the top two lines are generally finishing them.