World Junior 2015: Eichel a statistical nightmare for opponents as Finnish opposition falls flat

Megan Richardson
World Junior 2015: Eichel a statistical nightmare for opponents as Finnish opposition falls flat

Yesterday, I asked my Twitter followers to pick a game for me to look at from an analytics perspective. They chose Finland versus the USA, my first look at Jack Eichel in action--and what glorious action it was!

I looked each team's even strength shot attempts (missed, blocked, or shot on net), and who was on the ice for them. Think of it as a plus-minus, only instead of tracking goals scored for and against, it tracks shot attempts. (You probably know this as Corsi.) Say the U.S. attempts a shot that misses the net. Even though it missed, it's a positive sign that the players on the ice made good plays to get into the offensive zone. In the long run, those plays add up to more goals for than against, but goals are very fluky (just think about that wonky Finnish goal!). So shot attempts do a better job of showing us players who are likely to be good at scoring more goals than are scored on them. That's the short version of the puck possession story, I'll write more on this in the future. For now, let's look at some numbers.

Here are individual player results for puck possession. The column on the right looks at how well a player controlled possession relative to his teammates (when he was on the ice vs. when he was off). Basically, green is good and red is bad.

[More WJHC: Scores & Schedule | Standings | Stats | Teams]

Eichel's pairing with Tuch was the most dominant of all U.S. forwards. We can see that Anthony Louis, who was very nearly scratched, excelled during his time with the duo, likely due to 'the Eichel effect.' The top pairing of Butcher and Carlo also held its own. On the other hand, the second line had relatively poor possession. For Finland, the near-inverse was true: the top line was slaughtered at even strength, but the second and third lines picked up the slack.

This graph shows the pace of the game over time through even strength shot attempts by both teams (so not including power plays and penalty kills). Black lines represents the end of a period. The red line is the U.S. power play goal in the first period, and the blue line is the Finland goal that occurred at the very beginning of the game. After the early Finnish goal, the two teams traded chances until the power play goal by the U.S. In the second period, the US pulled away, but Finland narrowed the gap in the third until the U.S. once again gained momentum.

This chart shows how many shot attempts each U.S. player was on the ice for with each of his teammates. The dark green represents players that spent a lot of time together, while players who intersect at a white box spent little to no time together.

[SLIDESHOW: Best photos from day two at the World Junior Hockey Championship]

Eichel and Tuch spent most of their time together, but although De Leo started with that pair, he spent as much time with Hayden and Anthony Louis as he did with Eichel and Tuch. Who fills this role on the top line will be something to watch over the next few games. The U.S.'s second and third lines were kept together (note the dark green cluster), and defensive pairings were also fairly set, with one notable exception. Butcher played with Carlo, but also spent a fair amount of time with Anthony DeAngelo. Could this be an audition for DeAngelo to move up from the third pairing? We'll have to see in future games.

This chart shows head-to-head matchups between teams. The dark green areas show lines, pairings, and players that were deployed against each other often at even strength. The intersection of Butcher-Carlo and Lintuniemi-Honka, the top defensive pairing for either team, is dark green, so we know they saw a lot of one another. Hanifin and McCoshen, the second pairing, played mostly against the top forward line for Finland.

Here's the most interesting graph (in my opinion), showing head-to-head matchups between US and Finnish players. Think of this as: "When [U.S. player] faced [Finnish player], the US had [number] more or less shot attempts than the Finnish player while they were both on the ice." For example, when Jack Eichel and Mustonen were on the ice together, the U.S. had five more shot attempts than Finland did, a good indication that Eichel was playing in Mustonen's end a lot. In fact, Captain America's line posted dominant numbers against the Finnish top line.

Against Finland's top line, the first and fourth American lines were both effective in controlling possession. But moving to the right, we see that Finland's second and third lines have a lot of red in their matchups--they were actually fairly effective at controlling play against all the U.S. lines, with the exception of the third lines playing one another. Their forward depth is a strong spot for them. Remember how I said Butcher-Carlo and Lintuniemi-Honka saw a lot of each other? The boxes where they meet are all green, so the US controlled play when those pairings were on the ice. Especially given how much red we see in the rest of the Lintuniemi-Honka matchups, that's a formidable task.

My three stars of the game:

3) Finland's third line: Aho, Kalapudas, and Puljujarvi posted positive numbers against nearly everyone they faced, a bright spot for their team.

2) The Eichel line: Playing against the top lines and pairings on offer, Eichel and co. still managed to post fantastic numbers. Stay tuned over the next few games to see who fills out that top line, and if it can become even more dominant.

1) American special teams. I hope to do a separate post on just how deadly this was--a lot of their power play success has to do with Jack Eichel. Sneak peek: the Finns had 12 shot attempts for and 5 against over their 5 power plays, while the U.S. had 22 for and zero against.