Mon Dec 30 02:35am EST
Canada's loss to the Czech Republic Saturday afternoon at the World Junior championship raised some questions, but it may be safe to say that it wasn't exactly a clean win for the Czechs—they got lucky. While the shot count was relatively even, and the Canadians held just a slim puck-possession advantage, the fact is that Canada dominated in regard to shots close to the net, holding a large scoring chance advantage in the first period and carrying it through to the end of the game.
Officially, Canada lost 5-4 in a shootout and the shots were even at 29-29 (in actuality, it was 29-28 for Canada since the IIHF credits a shot to the winning team in the shootout). Both teams had a very similar amount of time on the man-advantage: Team Canada had 5:48 with the powerplay and the Czechs had 5:58. Unofficially, @MacSapintosh of Twitter calculated that the Canadians had just 53% of the game's overall shot attempts — or Corsi — which is a measure of puck possession, and at the NHL level, an indicator of future success.
That said, upon a re-watch of the game, it was clear that Canada's offensive guns were firing on all cylinders. Marek Langhamer, the Czech goaltender who plays with the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League, stopped 20 of 24 Grade-A chances for Canada. That doesn't include two goal posts hit by Sam Reinhart, one in the first period and one in the third period. Overall, I counted Team Canada as collecting 30 scoring chances to the Czech Republic's 15. For reference, the definition of a scoring chance can be found at Copper and Blue:
A scoring chance is defined as a clear play directed toward the opposing net from a dangerous scoring area - loosely defined as the top of the circle in and inside the faceoff dots (nicknamed the Home Plate), though sometimes slightly more generous than that depending on the amount of immediately-preceding puck movement or screens in front of the net. Blocked shots are generally not included but missed shots are. A player is awarded a scoring chance anytime he is on the ice and someone from either team has a chance to score. He is awarded a "chance for" if someone on his team has a chance to score and a "chance against" if the opposing team has a chance to score.
While the instinct when looking at the shot clock, or the Corsi statistic, is to think that the quality of shots, not quantity, matters more. This can be true for individual games, but ultimately, there isn't any evidence to suggest more than a handful of players at the NHL level can drive a higher amount of scoring chances that expected based on offensive zone time. It's a counter-intuitive concept, but a few junior hockey teams are starting to latch on to ideas that originally developed in the hockey blogosphere. It can be pretty dangerous to base future decision-making based on analysis of scoring chances without account for small sample size, but in a situation where we're looking to figure out why Canada lost a game to the Czech Republic at a tournament where Canada is supposed to be a dominant team year after year, this can provide a small amount of context.
Here's how the scoring chances broke down by period against the Czechs:
|Per.||EV CAN||EV CZE||PP CAN||PP CZE||SH CAN||SH CZE||Tot
In case your memory has drowned out what happened, the game was tied 1-1 after the first despite a dominant performance by Canada. Not only did they out-chance the Czechs 11-4, but they out-shot them 13-5 (a missed shot can count as a scoring chance. Think about a puck hitting the goal post). The game evened out a little in the second period, but the Canadians regained the advantage in the third.
Just to break chances down by type:
The first goal for the Czechs, which was credited to David Kampf, didn't count as a scoring chance as it was a weak pass swept across the goal mouth that happened to hit Canadian defenceman Aaron Ekblad and bounce in. It wasn't a clear attempt at goal and therefore doesn't count as a scoring chance under the Copper and Blue definition.
I don't want to pin the blame on Jake Paterson for the Canadian loss. About one out of every four chances on net will go in, on average, and it certainly isn't his fault that the Canadians had such a tough time converting at the other end. Langhammer was strong at stopping shots in tight. In the second period, Canadian defenceman Chris Bigras broke in and had two shots from ten feet away and shot high on both, but Langhammer stayed tall. In the first, he made two exceptional stops on Derrick Pouliot, and another on Charles Hudon, with the lower parts of his body. It's rare to see a goalie tested that much and allow just four goals.
I also broke down every indivudal Canadian player's on-ice scoring chance numbers, for and against. Think of this as an expanded version of +/-:
|Player||Chances For||Chances Against||Chances +/-|
|27 - Jonathan Drouin||7||2||5|
|14 - Taylor Leier||4||1||3|
|28 - Anthony Mantha||8||1||7|
|11 - Bo Horvat||4||6||-2|
|17 - Connor McDavid||4||6||-2|
|23 - Sam Reinhart||4||7||-3|
|19 - Nic Petan||7||1||6|
|16 - Kerby Rychel||6||1||5|
|26 - Curtis Lazar||5||1||4|
|21 - Scott Laughton||0||1||-1|
|22 - Frederick Gauthier||0||1||-1|
|25 - Josh Anderson||0||1||-1|
|10 - Charles Hudon||5||2||3|
|5 - Aaron Ekblad||6||4||2|
|15 - Derrick Pouliot||8||2||6|
|2 - Adam Pelech||5||2||3|
|24 - Mat Dumba||4||6||-2|
|3 - Chris Bigras||7||4||3|
|7 - Josh Morrissey||7||4||3|
Note that Bo Horvat and Sam Reinhart didn't allow a scoring chance against them after Connor McDavid was benched following his second penalty. That line did some good things offensively against Germany, but were outmatched against the Czechs, losing the scoring chances battle.
Other than that, however, whichever line Jonathan Drouin was centering, whether it was Hudon, Anthony Mantha, or Taylor Leier, was dominant. Ditto the third line made up primarily of Nic Petan, Kerby Rychel and Curtis Lazar. Canada had 7 even strength chances with Petan on the ice and the Czechs had just 1, and 7 with Drouin on the ice to 2 against.
The defence was a little more even. Derrick Pouliot made some plays offensively no matter who his partner was. Mathew Dumba was coughing and hacking during his first intermission interview and obviously struggling physically. He was the only Canadian defenceman to finish with a minus against the Czechs, and partner Adam Pelech made the most of his time away from Dumba during the game.
Overall, I think this is just an unlucky bump in the road, rather than any indication Canada didn't bring its best forward roster. Buzzing the Net's Neate Sager already made the point about observers' "judgement on teenaged hockey players whom they wouldn't pay $20 to watch in a Canadian Hockey League game" and other than a couple of the depth forwards, it's hard to complain about Brent Sutter's selection of the final forward roster. The reality is that the team did some fine things against the Czechs, and sometimes you run into a hot goalie. The round robin format also doesn't really penalize losses, so there's no reason to fret. Should Canada defeat Slovakia, as is likely, they'll have a top-two seed in the group and avoid a quarterfinal match against Russia or Sweden.
Langhamer is eighth among starters in the WHL in save percentage. It's not as if he's known for routinely winning games in this fashion. If he were, the Czechs would be a tournament favourite. He had a very strong game and deserves kudos. Other than perhaps limiting McDavid's minutes, giving Leier a shot with Horvat and cycling Hudon up into a regular shift, there isn't much Canada will have to change for the remainder of the round robin.