One of the advanced statistics that I adamantly push as worthwhile and important is zone starts.  To me, how a player is used is an essential bit of information to have.  Does the coach trust him in the defensive zone?  Is the coach relying on him to play hard defensive minutes or prime offensive minutes?  Zone starts help to shine a light on what’s going on in the minds of coaches, and provides us with valuable context.

After the jump, the league’s most and least used players in the defensive zone at even-strength (courtesy of Behind the Net).

Offensive Specialists

 

Rank Player Team Off. Zn Neu. Zn Def. Zn Off%
1 Ben Lovejoy PIT 19 8 2 90.5
2 Matt Niskanen PIT 18 9 3 85.7
3 Milan Lucic BOS 16 15 3 84.2
4 George Parros ANA 12 4 3 80.0
5 Ian White SJ 12 6 3 80.0
6 Erik Christensen NYR 19 9 5 79.2
7 Mark Letestu PIT 29 19 8 78.4
8 Alexei Kovalev PIT 25 20 7 78.1
9 Ville Leino PHI 19 14 6 76.0
10 Dany Heatley SJ 22 21 7 75.9

 

It’s an interesting list, lead by the Penguins pairing of Ben Lovejoy and Matt Niskanen.  The Penguins have had a pretty good offensive zone advantage over the Lightning so far in their first round series, and so nobody’s had to do the heavy lifting.  That said, Bylsma’s done the sensible thing, asking the quartet of Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek to take every defensive zone draw while the third pairing has basically just been asked to hold the line.  Given that the third pairing has been doing the poorest of the six defensemen in terms of shots for/shots against, if I were Bylsma I’d really hope I don’t need to rely on them at any point going forward.

Sticking with the Penguins, Bylsma’s employed a similar strategy up front (although Jordan Staal has been asked to take a lot of own-zone draws) but the players have done a better job with it.  Over an average 60 minutes from Alexei Kovalev, the Penguins outshoot the Lightning 42 to 19.  Letestu’s numbers are similar.

In Boston, Claude Julien has consistently employed his best offensive players – the trio of Lucic, Horton and Krejci – in the offensive zone.  Lucic, who has had the advantage of the best zone start number, has yet to record a point.  Interestingly, Lucic’s shot number is lousy but his Corsi number is great – over 60 average minutes of Lucic, the Bruins outshoot Montreal by just a 34 to 31 ratio.  The reason is blocked shots – the Canadiens block an average of 29 shots over that same span.

DefensiveSpecialists

 

Rank Player Team Off. Zn Neu. Zn Def. Zn Off%
1 Boyd Gordon WSH 2 14 24 7.7
2 Adam Hall TB 2 17 19 9.5
3 Dana Tyrell TB 2 7 15 11.8
4 Victor Oreskovich VAN 2 10 14 12.5
5 Maxim Lapierre VAN 3 13 18 14.3
6 Tanner Glass VAN 3 10 14 17.6
7 Scott Nichol SJ 3 5 13 18.8
8 Matt Bradley WSH 2 15 7 22.2
9 Dominic Moore TB 8 24 25 24.2
10 Chris Drury NYR 10 5 30 25.0

 

It’s difficult to find words to express just how good Boyd Gordon has been.  Starting virtually every shift in his own end, the Capitals are averaging just 12.1 shots against every 60 minutes.  That’s insanely good.  He, Bradley and Hendricks are simply doing a phenomenal job of ensuring that those defensive zone draws don’t turn into chances against.  There are a lot of reasons that Washington has run up an impressive lead versus New York, but this is a big one.

Over in Tampa Bay, just four forwards (Purcell, Lecavalier, Downie and Stamkos) have had the advantage of a positive zone start.  Some of the ones stuck in their own end have handled it better than others: Hall and Tyrell have struggled (though Lord knows they’re blocking shots), but Dominc Moore and Sean Bergenheim (who narrowly missed this list) have excelled.  The Lightning have actually outshot Pittsburgh with Moore on the ice.

In Vancouver, the fourth line has been outshot (albeit not by outlandish amounts) and have blocked their share of shots.