Originally written on Shutdown Line  |  Last updated 11/5/14
Throughout the year and the off-season, I've discussed the importance of neutral zone play and Carolina's performance in regards to it. Anyone who has been keeping up on this subject should know that the general idea behind neutral zone play is that teams who enter the offensive zone with possession of the puck are more likely to create offense, control the territorial battle and ultimately win more games. This speaks heavily in favor of players who can take advantage of gaps in the defense and carry the puck across the opposition's blue-line over ones who simply "get the puck deep" and let their team's forecheck do the work. Dumping the puck has been compared to a punt in football and it makes sense in some ways. You have one team surrendering possession of the puck/ball in favor of making a more conservative play. It may not be the worst thing in the world to do and there are a lot of times where it is unavoidable, but it's still a play that doesn't lead to much offense and ultimately gives possession back to the other team. Tracking neutral zone performance is still a new study but as it continues to grow, there is going to be a lot more value placed on players who are capable of carrying the puck into the offensive zone regularly because it is what leads to more offense. Are there times when dump and chase play works, though? The general consensus is that gaining the blue-line with possession is the way to go, but accomplishing this isn't always that easy. Some teams play better defensively than others and force other team's to dump the puck in more than they would like. Other teams defend their blue-line better than others and force turnovers whenever the opposition tries to enter their zone, leading to turnovers and odd-man breaks the other way. Dumping the puck in is also an easier option for defensive defensemen or players with lesser skillsets, since they aren't the most useful with the puck and are better off deferring to their linemates.  This must have been Carolina's mindest because they resorted to dump and chase play for a good chunk of the latter part of the year. The Canes have a lot of skilled puck-handlers and strong neutral zone players like Alexander Semin & Jeff Skinner, but their bottom-six and defense corps resorted to dumping the puck in frequently and a lot of it seemed to be related to a coaching strategy or their own instincts. Going by just my observations, there were a lot of Hurricanes players, defensemen mostly, who immediately slammed the puck into the offensive zone once they gained the red-line without even trying to carry it in or look for another option. I'm sure other teams have a similar strategy, but it seemed like dump-and-chase was a huge part of Carolina's game late in the season and overall, it didn't lead to great results.  How much worse off were the Hurricanes when they dumped the puck in compared to gaining the zone with possession, though? You'd be surprised. As it was previously stated, teams are more likely to create offense off controlled entries than they are off ones that are uncontrolled. This was true for the Hurricanes this year. Dump-and-chase play might be unavoidable at times, but the Hurricanes were not creating many shot attempts off zone entries that weren't either done by carry-in or by passing the puck over the blue line. When you compare how many shots the Hurricanes were creating with each entry, it's pretty clear to see that they had an advantage anytime they were able to gain the line with possession as opposed to dumping the puck in. There were only three games where the Hurricanes were able to create a considerable amount of offense off uncontrolled entries, which shows how "effective" dump-and-chase play really is. As a team, the Hurricanes were better when they were gaining the blue-line with possession and this is true at an individual level, as well going by how many shots they created off each player's zone entries.   Shots per entry Shots per controlled entry Shots per uncontrolled entry Control% Skinner 0.60 0.79 0.38 54.4% Semin 0.58 0.63 0.44 75.1% J. Staal 0.58 0.67 0.36 71.0% Dwyer 0.57 0.81 0.32 50.5% Gleason 0.55 0.74 0.50 21.8% E. Staal 0.54 0.64 0.25 73.0% Bowman 0.54 0.78 0.25 54.4% Sanguinetti 0.53 0.96 0.35 28.7% Pitkanen 0.53 0.79 0.34 41.3% Jokinen 0.50 0.58 0.40 55.2% Dalpe 0.48 0.65 0.23 60.6% Tlusty 0.47 0.64 0.29 53.0% LaRose 0.46 0.73 0.27 42.1% Nash 0.46 0.80 0.21 41.8% Ruutu 0.44 0.63 0.17 58.9% Faulk 0.42 0.76 0.32 23.0% Brent 0.39 0.67 0.31 22.2% Wallace 0.35 0.89 0.16 25.3% Corvo 0.33 0.64 0.24 23.4% Westgarth 0.33 0.44 0.29 20.9% McBain 0.30 0.62 0.19 26.3% Harrison 0.27 0.36 0.25 14.7% The players with the highest shots per entry rates were mostly the ones who had possession of the puck on more than half of their zone entries. A major exception is Tim Gleason, who dumped the puck in over 75% off his entries and the Canes were able to create a considerable amount of offense off them despite that. Gleason was usually paired with one of Carolina's top two lines, so this could be why the team was able to create a lot of offense off his entries. The Canes also created quite a lot of shots off the times Gleason carried the puck into the zone, so that probably boosted his numbers on top of that.  Speaking of which, even though the Hurricanes created a fair amount of offense off the times Gleason dumped the puck in, they created about 1.5 more unblocked shot attempts off his controlled zone entries. The same can be said for every regular Hurricanes skater, as there was not one player who had a higher shot per uncontrolled entry rate above .50. In other words, the Hurricanes were better off whenever they gained the zone with possession rather than simply getting the puck deep. Dump-and-chase play is a safe and conservative strategy but for the Hurricanes, it did not lead to a lot of results in terms of offensive production. Would it be effective if they had different players? Possibly, but it clearly was not the way to go with the current personnel. Hopefully it isn't as big of a focal point as it was this season.  
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