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Dustin Penner Drove The Bus Uphill

Frequent visitor Jon Kerber wrote something in the comments of the scoring chances article that I've read a few times this summer:

One particular example would be Penner. Given his generous offensive zone start ratio, I’d be curious to see his differential scoring chance production between offensive and defensive zones.

I don't mean to call Jon out on this, but he's the most recent example of associating Dustin Penner with an inordinate amount of offensive zone starts in the 2009-2010 season.  I'm not sure where this idea came from -- that Penner's success this season was somehow due to his soft starting positions, or that Penner got the easy work compared to his comrades, but it's worth digging a bit deeper to understand Zonestart on the Oilers last season.

Those who are unfamiliar with the Zonestart stat should start with Vic Ferrari's seminal work on the topic.  Put simply, Zonestart (ZS) is the net difference in on-ice defensive zone faceoffs taken and offensive zone faceoffs taken.  Zonefinish (ZF) is the net difference in on-ice offensive zone whistles and defensive zone whistles.  Offensive zone percentage (OPCT) is the percentage of offensive zone faceoffs (once offensive and defensive zone faceoffs are added together).  Zoneshift (ZSH) is the difference between Zonefinish and Zonestart. 

These numbers are important because they allow us to look at the difficulty of starting position by player, and draw out relative values by comparing them to teammates.  Zoneshift gives us a look at which players are moving the puck the right way or keeping the puck in the offensive end, depending on Zonestart.  Our kind and benevolent statistical overlord, Gabriel Desjardins, makes tracking all of these very easy with a specific Zonestart section on his excellent site,

Now that I've cleared up the definitions around Zonestart, here are the Oilers' Zonestarts for the 2009-2010 season, beginning with the forwards:

Ales Hemsky 95 73 0.435
Ethan Moreau 296 245 0.453
Shawn Horcoff 369 306 0.453
Dustin Penner 343 288 0.456
Fernando Pisani 162 140 0.464
Zachery Stortini 205 179 0.466
Ryan Potulny 234 208 0.471
Ryan Jones 114 103 0.475
Mike Comrie 122 111 0.476
Robert Nilsson 213 197 0.480
Gilbert Brule 229 215 0.484
Sam Gagner 235 224 0.488
Andrew Cogliano 260 251 0.491
Patrick O'Sullivan 260 259 0.499
Jean-Francois Jacques 131 139 0.515


Dustin Penner took 45.6% of his end-zone faceoffs in the offensive zone, fourth on this list and third overall amongst full-season forwards.  Penner was not afforded any special protections by Pat Quinn in 2009-2010, and in fact, he had some of the toughest duties on the team.  Penner also drove the play in the right direction on a consistent basis.  This is a significant change from his previous role under Craig MacTavish, who put Penner out for more offensive draws.  Even then, Penner managed to keep the play in his own end and drive the play in a positive direction. That Penner can play either role is a credit to his all-around game, something MacTavish didn't believe existed, and something that Pat Quinn used accidentally, I think.

Edmonton's Rasputin, Jean-Francois Jacques, had the highest OPCT on the team, yet struggled in every category, both by the traditional stats and the "new math".

Now a look at the defense:

Name 09/10 DZ OZ OPCT
Taylor Chorney 197 127 0.392
Aaron Johnson 151 128 0.459
Jason Strudwick 298 254 0.460
Ladislav Smid 227 200 0.468
Ryan Whitney 396 377 0.488
Tom Gilbert 404 397 0.496
Sheldon Souray 182 199 0.522


The insanity of Pat Quinn's Rawhide Line Matching is evident here.  The Oilers' three worst defensemen end up with the most difficult starting positions, and the rookie, Taylor Chorney, who struggled to keep his head above water had the fifth-worst OPCT in the entire league.