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Despite 3-1 scoreline, Team Canada held decisive scoring chances edge over Norway

Canada's John Tavares had a strong first day of competition (AP:Mark Humphrey)

The main difference between hockey and curling is that it would be a dream start for Canada in their game against Norway they were able to blank the first, score two in the second and hold Norway to just one in the third.

This being a sport different from curling, there was some nervous rustling in barstools and couch cushions nationwide. While Canadians got to watch other medal favourites Finland and the United States roll over their lower-level opponents in their opening games, Canada beat Norway, decidedly not a medal favourite, by a much more modest scoreline, 3-1.

But as always, the score in a single game is always somewhat deceiving. The Canadians held a large edge in play, with almost the entire game played inside the Norwegian end of the ice. The only time the camera operator had to move the centre ice camera was between periods, and the only man in the rink with less work to do than the camera operator was Canadian goaltender Carey Price, who faced just 10 shots through the first two periods and 19 total.

Still, if there's a worry for Canadian hockey fans, it should be the team's lack of finish, though they certainly weren't hurting for scoring chances. By my count, the Canadians out-chanced Norway 21-2 at even strength during the game, and 23-4 overall with both teams earning a couple of chances during their brief time with the man advantage.

For those newer to hockey analytics, a scoring chance was defined years ago over at Edmonton Oilers blog Copper and Blue 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."

Follow the link and you'd get a diagram of the area on the ice that qualifies as the "home plate area". Anecdotally, I'd suggest that every 3-of-4 goals at the NHL-level qualify as scoring chances, and usually about 1-of-5 scoring chances wind up in the back of the net. Game-to-game though, you'll get some greater discrepancies. Canada scored just two goals on its 23 chances (Shea Weber's opener, a shot from the point, does not qualify under the Copper and Blue definition) while earlier Thursday afternoon, Finland recorded six goals on the team's 27 scoring chances. Sometimes you run into a hot goaltender and sometimes the pucks just don't bounce your way.

Here's how the chances broke down by period:

1st 3 1 1 1 0 0 4 2
2nd 12 1 0 0 0 0 12 1
3rd 6 0 1 1 0 0 7 1
Total 21 2 2 2 0 0 23 4

Funny, early in the game CBC colour commentator Glenn Healy suggested that Canada had "lots of speed on the forecheck and the backcheck" but didn't make the logical leap that Canada is just a better, faster team than Norway. While the team debuted tentatively, giving up the first chance of the game, and not recording their first until the 8:33 mark of the first period, Canada controlled the second frame, and didn't allow a chance at even strength past the 4:19 mark of the second period, meaning that the final 35:41 of the game was played without Norway generating anything of note at 5-on-5. The goal they scored, a deflection off the body of Patrick Thoresen which somehow managed to squeak under Price's arm, also doesn't qualify as a chance under the Copper and Blue definition (sometimes, shot volume matters than shot quality. It's a cliché, but "getting pucks on net" really does lead to good bounces and good results in the long run).

Throughout the tournament, I'll record which players are on the ice for each scoring chance for and against Canada. This chart essentially acts as expanded plus/minus:

Chances For Chances Vs. Chances +/-
14 - Chris Kunitz 5 2 3
77 - Jeff Carter 5 2 3
87 - Sidney Crosby 5 2 3
10 - Patrick Sharp 5 0 5
16 - Jonathan Toews 5 0 5
61 - Rick Nash 3 0 3
12 - Patrick Marleau 7 0 7
15 - Ryan Getzlaf 6 0 6
24 - Corey Perry 8 0 8
20 - John Tavares 4 0 4
22 - Jamie Benn 4 0 4
37 - Patrice Bergeron 4 0 4
26 - Martin St. Louis 2 0 2
2 - Duncan Keith 5 0 5
6 - Shea Weber 6 0 6
8 - Drew Doughty 7 2 5
44 - Marc-Edouard Vlasic 4 0 4
19 - Jay Bouwmeester 8 0 8
27 - Alex Pietrangelo 8 0 8
5 - Dan Hamhuis 4 2 2

Some thoughts:

  • Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester play a lot of minutes together in St. Louis, one of the best puck-possession teams in the National Hockey League. They were probably Canada's best pairing against Norway, each with a +8 differential.
  • Norway had an even strength chance early in the first and early in the second, and the same five Canadian players were on the ice for both: Dan Hamhuis, Drew Doughty, Chris Kunitz, Jeff Carter and Sidney Crosby.
  • If there was one thing to point a finger and worry about, it's the lack of offence from that top line of Crosby with Kunitz and Carter. Offence wasn't really necessary late in this game, but you'd hope to see that team top more than five scoring chances against even the quality opponents.
  • Ideally, you'd like to see them put up numbers like that third (second?) line of Patrick Marleau, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who really buzzed the Norwegian net all game. Marleau was credited with a team-high four scoring chances coming off his stick. He also led the team with five shots on goal, while linemates Getzlaf and Perry earned three and two, respectively.
  • Crosby was at his most dangerous on the powerplay, where he combined with John Tavares on two scoring chances. Tavares was plenty effective in his 11:31 of ice-time—despite taking just two shots on net, he was credited with creating a team-high three scoring chances and is certainly the player in the lineup to move up the depth chart should coach Mike Babcock be looking for more offence.
  • Every Canadian forward was credited with at least one shot recorded as a scoring chance. Regrettably, the IIHF box score doesn't credit Jonathan Toews with a shot, even though he took one during a sequence in the second period after Drew Doughty hit a post and Patrick Sharp somehow missed a wide-open net from the goal mouth. Toews took control of the rebound but was stopped by Norway goaltender Lars Haugen.

As noted in the definition, missed shots can also be scoring chances. Here was the breakdown by team:

Goals Saves Missed Total
Canada 2 16 5 23
Norway 0 3 1 4

So, really, not a lot of work for Price, and a good game from Haugen, though Canada helped him out by missing the net a few times.

Overall, a good start for Canada, and other than giving Tavares a few more minutes and getting that first line going, there isn't much more that Canada could have done to break this one open like Finland or the United States did. They thoroughly dominated this game, as one might expect them to do.

Yahoo! Sports Authors