World Junior 2015: Finland's Power Play Woes Provide an Opportunity for Canada

Buzzing The Net

In two games, Finland has had eleven power play opportunities (including over a minute of 5-on-3) and scored on none of them. They've hardly generated scoring chances at all like we'd normally expect from a power play. When two Finns collided during a simple power play breakout against the U.S., Gord Miller remarked that the team looked more collected in 5-on-5 play. The numbers bear that out: against the U.S., Finland had 12 shot attempts in 10 minutes of power play time, averaging a meager 1.2 shot attempts per minute. That would put them dead last in the NHL this year, behind even Buffalo. I watched all the Finnish power plays thus far to try to discover why a team that's pretty good at even strength implodes with the man advantage.

Initially, I thought the Finns might be failing entirely at getting the puck into the offensive zone. They seem to spend a lot of time regrouping at their own end. However, I found that they do manage to get the puck into the zone in a sustainable way. 73% of the time, they carry the puck in uncontested and without turning it over at the line. But most of their entries are cleared almost immediately.

64% of Finland's possessions are cleared within 10 seconds.
64% of Finland's possessions are cleared within 10 seconds.
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This graph shows the number of seconds the Finns hold the puck in the offensive zone before the possession ends. 50% of their entries are cleared within 5 seconds, and 64% within 10 seconds. When you think about wanting a power play to generate chances, you think about holding the offensive zone, and the Finns just aren't doing that.

Faceoffs are key on the power play. Keep possession, and you're already set up in the zone. Lose it, and you may have to chase the puck down behind your net and start all over again. I thought that perhaps the Finns were losing an abnormal number of faceoffs (in the short term, they can be subject to luck). But I found that they've been winning their faceoffs--10 of 17 so far. So that's not a contributor to their lack of offense.

I also tried to approach it from the other side: what if it's not just keeping possession in the offensive zone that's a problem, but also limiting the time you spend regrouping in your own zone? So I looked at what kinds of clears were happening--was the other team throwing the puck down the ice and going for a change? Starting a shorthanded rush? Forcing turnovers?

Turnovers and shorthanded rushes are an effective way of taking time off the clock, if the situation permits.
Turnovers and shorthanded rushes are an effective way of taking time off the clock, if the situation permits.

The graph above shows how often Finland's opponents tended to clear the zone in one of four ways: by throwing the puck away and changing, by forcing a faceoff outside the zone (i.e. an offsides call), by starting a shorthanded rush, or by causing turnovers on the forecheck. The blue bar shows how often that kind of clear occurs, and the orange conveys how much non-zone time that method killed off.

Throwing the puck away is the most common way to clear the zone, but it tends to avoid the second of what I consider twin objectives of the penalty kill: limiting scoring chances and wasting time. We can see that shorthanded rushes against the Finns have been slightly more effective. Most of all, forcing turnovers has made the Finns regroup and wasted a lot of time, even generating shot attempts for the shorthanded team; its has the greatest bang for their buck.

Minimizing turnovers in their own end of the ice will be key for the Finns heading into tonight's game against Canada. It's also important to limit other player mistakes, which are a major reason why the Finns have been hampered. When I looked at why opponents were able to clear the zone, I found that 16% of clears were due to player error. The puck rolls off a player's stick, some fans on a shot attempt, etc. It's also crucial to pass cleanly and crisply--13% of clears came from intercepted passes, some at the point that led to dangerous shorthanded chances. If Canada can capitalize on these sorts of errors, it will be in great position to knock off the defending champs, bolstered by strong 5-on-5 play.

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