Thursday, May 08, 2008

Team Canada World Hockey Championships 2008 - Norway Is No Joke

For all those Canadians who were feeling smug about the Swedes getting beaten by Switzerland, here's your wakeup call: Those European teams that used to simply be punching bags for Canada and Russia are now legitimate hockey teams. Outside shots to win any game, but they are in every game.

Norway and Germany beat out Slovakia in Group C and Switzerland won it's division (hey, we knew they were good when they beat Canada's freaking best on best team in Turin 2006).

Make no mistake, Norway is no pushover. Still, it shouldn't have been that close.

Despite the fact this team is 4-0, right now, I think they've become a great example of a flawed philosophy. We all know who the top line is, Nash, Getzlaf and Heatley, and rightfully so, with so much talent on the team and so many duplicate player types, take a look at the icetime breakdown for forwards. The following list has the ice time for Canada vs. Norway in the first column, average TOI/G in the NHL regular season in the next column, and the difference between the two in the third.

Jason Spezza - 6:52 (20:40) - 13.8
Jason Chimera - 5:28 (17:29) - 12.01
Jamal Meyers - 5:07 (15:55) - 10.8
Eric Staal - 12:07 (21:38) - 9.52
Martin St. Louis - 16:09 (24:17) - 8.13
Jonathan Toews - 10:44 (18:40) - 7.93
Patrick Sharp - 11:01 (18:46 ) - 7.75
Shane Doan - 13:18 (20:45) - 7.45
Derek Roy - 14:46 (20:58 ) - 6.2
Rick Nash - 14:51 (20:29) - 5.63
Dany Heatley - 16:33 (21:44) - 5.18
Chris Kunitz - 11:56 (16:54 ) - 4.97
Ryan Getzlaf - 17:43 (19:38) - 1.92

In terms of TOI vs. Norway I can understand the justifications here. We get the 'scoring' line, plus the two ultra small but ultra versatile (to steal from Maguire) players in Roy and St. Louis getting the most ice time. For my money, by the way, no one is creating more chances offensively than Rick Nash.

This is the next group of 5, and besides Staal, I think this is the group that get's it done in the two way game. Despite this we haven't seen much actual offence from them, nor have we really seen their physical side.

Finally, we get the 'grinders' (and Spezza) who are supposed to play a physical and create energy.

Now let's reorder this list by pts scored.

Jason Chimera - 5:28 (17:29) - 12.01 - 0-0-0
Jason Spezza - 6:52 (20:40) - 13.8 - 0-1-0
Jamal Meyers - 5:07 (15:55) - 10.8 - 0-1-1
Patrick Sharp - 11:01 (18:46 ) - 7.75 - 1-0-1
Jonathan Toews - 10:44 (18:40) - 7.93 - 1-0-1
Eric Staal - 12:07 (21:38) - 9.52 - 0-2-2
Shane Doan - 13:18 (20:45) - 7.45 - 0-2-2
Martin St. Louis - 16:09 (24:17) - 8.13 - 2-1-3
Derek Roy - 14:46 (20:58 ) - 6.2 - 1-2-3
Chris Kunitz - 11:56 (16:54 ) - 4.97 - 1-3-4
Ryan Getzlaf - 17:43 (19:38) - 1.92 - 0-6-6
Rick Nash - 14:51 (20:29) - 5.63 - 3-4-7
Dany Heatley - 16:33 (21:44) - 5.18 - 6-4-10

Here is a line graph of ice time difference vs. production:

The pink line represents the difference in ice time between a players TOI/G avg in the regular season, while the blue line represents points scored. As is clear, the less time difference, the higher level of production. Of course, this could be due to the fact less ice time difference represents greater ice time total. So below is a graph comparing minutes per game in the tournament vs. production:

We can see there is still a correlation there, but to me, without doing any sort of actual statistical analysis, the ice time line is actually fairly stable or at least somewhat spotty, while the point scoring line trends upwards. Now don't get me wrong, there is a correlation, just to my eye, it doesn't seem as strong.

Now I've admitted that the energy line doesn't have the job of scoring, so judging their effectiveness by points alone is a bit unfair, but to my eye, especially with Spezza on that line, they are not grinding down teams, playing them physical or using their speed effectively. (A flaw on my methodology would be comparing time difference between regular ice time and this game in particular rather than tournament avg TOI/G, but I just don't want to redo it, and this game in particular was particularly disturbing to me).

To be fair to Team Canada, they outshot the Norweigians 53-16, and I think Norway maybe had 3 scoring chances the entire game (congrats to Hansen on a beautiful shorthanded breakaway in the second, an absolutely clutch goal by the Norweigian) and Pal Grotnes, the Norweigian goaltender played the game of his life...still...

The only good news is that I have seen Canada put in very similar lacklustre efforts in this tournament and still come out on top in the end.

A final note: The Canadians need to watch their sticks, high sticking penalties are absolutely killing them.

Canada said they had learned their lesson after barely taking the Americans. Did they?

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