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Hockey Analytics

The Accordion Cycle

by Gus Katsaros
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The play is commonplace in today’s game, and in fact, a preferred strategy. The low-to-high play.


Get the puck to the point. Get the puck on goal.




And then a pass is generated.


Low-to-High Plays in the Offensive Zone

One of the advantages to running a low-to-high system is what it does to a collapsed defense. Basically, when faced with a team that brings all five players below the tops of the faceoff circles, passing the puck back to the point will force one or two forwards to come out and press the points, thereby creating space behind them for passing lanes to open up.


A shot on goal from the point isn’t as effective as if the shooter had a chance to move closer and fire. Ice in the scoring chance area would be ideal.


This is the basis for what I described as the Accordion Effect (which I will label as an ACCORDION CYCLE here on in).


Description is below:


One of the drawbacks of having forwards so low is what I refer to as “the accordion.” If I am an opposition coach, I would get the puck in deep (even as a dump in play), force the natural collapse of forwards and get the puck back to the point, forcing the defending forwards to turn around and get out there quick.

If there is a clear shot on goal, low-zone forwards converge to the net. If there isn’t a direct shot to the net, the puck can be sent back down low and have the process start again, collapsing the forwards and kind of playing them like an accordion. Not only does this tire out the defending team, it creates holes and passing lanes in the middle of the ice that can be used as additional space for the attacking team forwards to encroach looking for a better position for a shot on goal.


I’ve been trying to isolate the accordion cycle in passing project data. Not all teams create much zone time, but those that do utilize the entire zone, getting down low to begin/maintain the cycle then sending pucks back to the point to stretch out defending wingers, recognizing the release points and creating layers of open ice in the middle rather than the point, to take advantage of better shooting locations.


Primarily, teams would want to generate as many shots from the scoring chance home plate as possible.


Interestingly topical that Barry Trotz made this comment for the Washington Capitals.


Repeated emphasis on that "low-to-high" play is a little frustrating, but, in fairness, awareness of more current thinking is there. pic.twitter.com/qOOOQNQfVE

— Japers' Rink (@JapersRink) October 25, 2016


Weak wingers, or weak structure?


Can getting caught in the accordion cycle be a product of weak positioning of defending team’s wingers up high in the zone? I say yes – with the rationale described at the end of this post.




Getting into the Passing Project data, users have the ability to filter for events offering an opportunity to map out this cycling event. I’ll offer the disclaimer of sample size as of the latest release data dump, with the average being 30 games tracked.


The Project tracks three passes prior to a shooting event (shot on goal or shot attempt), with additional information about the zone the pass occurred in, as well as spatially on the ice, to the right, center or left.


In the offensive zone, trackers can state whether the pass began from the point, or the end line in addition to the options above. I’m including a sample here.























































For my purposes here, I wanted to isolate when a puck gets back to the point, but doesn’t get fired to the net, instead is passed from the point to somewhere else in the offensive zone, and luckily, the project tracks whether the shot came from a scoring chance area or outside.


The filters are as follows:

  • A2 Zone includes an ‘oel’ to indicate the pass originated from the end line.
  • A1 Zone in the offensive zone


League wide, the data from the project suggests at 5v5, according to these criteria, teams generated shots on goal about 39.44% of cycle attempts, scoring only on 3.5% of the shots with 56.6% coming from the scoring chance home plate area. That’s not a big number nor encouraging if you’re contemplating to use as a strategy.




SUCCESS RATE (Goals scored)


Scoring chance areas



By contrast, if a puck gets back to the point, a shot is fired, 29.78% of the time, with goals scored at 3.84% success rate, close to the 3.5% from an accordion cycle.


At the team level, usual suspects leading in the category. Corsi stalwarts, the Los Angeles Kings known to play a ‘heavy’ game – especially along the walls – and one of the league’s best puck retrieval teams deep in the zone off a dump in play. It’s no surprise to see the Kings here at the top of the league.


San Jose was the spotlight of research conducted by Passing Project founder, Ryan Stimson in his breakdown here. Another example of a team going deep into the offensive zone and using points as their release valve, but the Sharks also generated the most shots from the point at 5v5 from a pass from the goal line.


View post on imgur.com



The New York Islanders appear near the top, with 0.55 cycles per game, but only generated two shots on goal. They may have used this sequence, but there aren’t a lot of shots getting through to the net. 43.3% of the shots came from within the scoring chance area. The number of failed attempts here could be telling.


Accordion cycles don’t appear in abundance in every game, at least cycles that generate a shot on goal according to the data. The passing project only tracks passes that ended in a shot attempt.


There could very well be many more accordion cycles if taking all data points into consideration, but the control measure is missing in which to gauge the success/fail rate without cycle breakdown data.


However, the absence of a robust occurrence of cycle events coupled with the absence of non-shot attempt data could have some correlation. Perhaps this strategy isn’t as ideal as most would believe. This point requires much more investigation using both data sets.

Tampa Bay generated a shot on goal 21.43% of the time they used an accordion cycle, while Buffalo (an odd team here) generated a shot on goal 61.6% of the time from the scoring chance area.


Still, one has to wonder whether this is a viable strategy long term. Can teams press enough to generate on average .309 accordion cycles per game to score a goal on 3% of the instances. When constructing the game plan, getting the puck back to the point seemed like the best option – although Ryan’s data-driven argument to have cycling pressure down low while only using the points sparingly rings solid.


The term ‘release valve’ for use on the points is ideal here. Where there’s no clear play to the net, and pressured, the puck can be returned to a more desirable area for an offensive zone reset or ending with a shot attempt. That should be the essence of the accordion cycle, introducing chaos into the offensive zone and disrupting the defending team’s ability to set up systematically.


Teams Getting Accordioned


Disrupting the defensive zone setup is key. Knowing which teams are generating the most accordion cycle events produces teams that felt the effect most.


The New Jersey Devils lead the group here, with a 0.542 cycles against /60, on 39 instances allowing a whopping 22 shots on goal, four from the scoring chance home plate area and allowing three goals. Ten goals were scored overall league wide among tracked games so 30% were from the Devils, and another 30% from the Dallas Stars.


Getting hemmed into the defensive zone puts undue strain on defending players. With the Dallas goaltending situation as it is, keeping teams from extended zone time is paramount to the Stars success.


Dallas defensive zone setups defer to the propensity to keep the middle of the ice clogged allowing more free flow outside the dots, a likely factor to see pucks coming from below the goal line to the point and then back to a shooting opportunity. Anaheim, Arizona, Buffalo and Ottawa – teams with defensive issues – all seem to be targets here. The bubble size represents the percentage of shots that came from the scoring chance area.


In contrast, St. Louis, Florida and Carolina seem to be able to absorb defensive zone pressure and alleviate it fairly quick.


A surprising find in this listing is Toronto with a sub-par, 30th placed roster in 2015-16 actually faring well in this metric. Personnel aside, the Leafs weren’t too bad in the defensive zone last season. Goaltending (which hasn’t been fixed early on in 2016-17 with Frederik Andersen struggling) toppled them to the bottom of the standings.


View post on imgur.com


Ultimately, the strong side winger in the defensive zone controls whether or not an accordion cycle is an option. Positioning properly higher in the zone and resisting any temptation to get pulled and involved in the play down low leaving the points uncovered would immediately take away this option. The risk involved in getting the puck back to the point would be substantially higher than a down low battle, especially if the puck left the zone and a quick break went the other way. The strong side winger should be involved at the top of the faceoff circle, not any lower. The Wek side winger will take up a position in the slot – protecting the area from enemy players.


View post on imgur.com


If defensive coverage is set, then there’s little need for the winger to be getting involved in the play, and is better serving the higher end of the zone to take away the offensive team’s release valve and make for a better chance of getting the puck back to start the transition.


With more data especially over a full season. we could understand cycling the puck in the zone more intimately. For now, using the points to generate scoring chances may not be the most efficient method.


Gus Katsaros
Gus Katsaros is the Pro Scouting Coordinator with McKeen’s Hockey, publishers of industry leading scouting and fantasy guide, the McKeen’s Annual Hockey Pool Yearbook. He also contributes to popular blog MapleLeafsHotStove.com ... he can be followed on Twitter @KatsHockey