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Micro stats: The value of loose puck recoveries

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While everyone talks about possession's effect on the game, we rarely delve too deep into what creates possession. Micro stats are perhaps the best way to break down the game at a deeper level.

Al Bello

Loose-puck recoveries remain the number one way for a team to gain control of the puck. Teams that recover more loose-pucks than their opponents out-chance the opposition, while players who produce more offensive-zone LPR's are regularly among their team's top offensive-players. LPR's (particularly in the offensive zone) are among the key factors in maintaining puck-possession and creating offense.

Loose-puck recoveries occur when a player gains control of a puck that was (at the time of his acquiring control) not in the possession of any other player on the ice. Loose-pucks can be the product of a broken play, a blocked shot or pass, a successful stick or body-check, a dump-in, dump-out, or rebound.

There are two main ways for a player to find the puck on his stick; he can either be the recipient of a pass from a teammate, or he can acquire possession by way of a loose-puck recovery. During the almost 1000 games I've tracked, an impressive 59.4% of individual player even-strength possessions begin by way of a loose-puck recovery, while only 40.6% begin as the result of a pass from a teammate.
In the offensive-zone, 56.8% of possession come off of LPR's, in the neutral-zone 58.4% of possessions are the result of an LPR, while 61.7% of defensive-zone possessions originate with a defensive-zone loose-puck recovery.

If we compare how teams perform in regards to loose-puck recoveries, we see a direct correlation with success and LPR's. Teams who out-chance the opposition at even-strength average 8 more offensive-zone loose-puck recoveries per-60 than those teams that are out-chanced. In the neutral-zone, teams that out-chance the opposition average 3 more n-zone LPR's per-60, while defensive-zone LPR's actually drop by 4 (per-60) when teams out-chance the opposition at even-strength. Not surprising, since teams that out-chance the opposition spend less time in their own end; thereby reducing the necessity to recover loose-pucks in the defensive-zone.

Offensive-zone loose-puck recoveries in particular correlate well with players who create scoring-chances. Of the teams I've tracked more than 500 even-strength minutes, the list of leaders in offensive-zone loose-puck recoveries is identical to the list of leaders in scoring-chances. Those players helping to produce at least 12.3 scoring-chances per-60, and recovering a minimum of 37.6 offensive-zone loose-pucks per-60 include; Mats Zuccarello, Max Pacioretty, Phil Kessel, Nazem Kadri, James Van Riemsdyk, Taylor Hall, and Tyler Seguin.

Dump-in attempts still outnumber controlled offensive-zone entries; despite evidence showing that controlled entries produce substantially more scoring-chances than dump-ins. Until teams rely less on dump-ins, the offensive-zone loose-puck recovery will remain the wheel-turning piston of offensive-production in the NHL.