Last time, I used detailed event data to to illustrate one way in which the Tampa Bay Lightning break down their opponents through their passing. Today, we’re going to look at another trait of a playoff-bound team and how it drove them to success: the transition game of the Calgary Flames. How are we going to do this? By using similar event data, collected by myself, several volunteers, & Corey Sznajder. Let’s get to it.
Over parts of the last four seasons (our data is incomplete due to the time required to collect it), we’ve collected 6400 minutes of 5v5 player on the Calgary Flames, or about 112 games. During this four-year period Calgary has led the league in numerous metrics I’ve come up with to measure how effective a team’s transition game is. Some early research on this idea is here if you’d like to dig into it some more, but basically the gist is this: passing after entering the offensive zone on a controlled entry significantly increases the odds of the scoring (shooting percentage essentially doubles from no pass to a single pass, and then doubles again from one pass to two). The more the offensive team can force decisions onto the defending team, the greater the chance of a scoring opportunity.
The Flames both lead the league in Corey’s 2019 data as well as cumulatively over the last four seasons in terms of how many shot assists (passes leading to a shot) are created after entering the zone per 60 minutes of play. In fact, the Flames 2019 rate stat of 9.4 Shot Assist Entries per 60 minutes is equal to those posted by the 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins, 2017 Washington Capitals, and 2018 Vegas Golden Knights, teams who either won a cup, were unlucky not to get there, and were a finalist. Of course, the Flames haven’t seen the same amount of postseason success, so transition isn’t everything, but it’s no surprise that teams that can create off the rush are more likely than not to find themselves with a potent offense. The game situation is a high-leverage opportunity for scoring and needs to be exploited.