Canada got off to a bit of a rocky start on their quest for World Junior gold today, falling at the hands of the Finns, who scored two powerplay goals while Canada went 0 for 6 on their opportunities. And, there’s a very good reason for that: the Finns made better use of the ice dimensions than Canada did.
It may not be that black and white, but I saw a clear difference in how the two sides went about running their powerplays. Both Finnish goals came from guys dragging the puck to the dangerous part of the ice – the middle – then making a play from there.
On the Finn’s first goal, Joel Armia brings the puck to the middle, goes un-fronted (brutal), and dishes to Granlund at the side of the net who finishes. Subban has to honour Armia, which makes it hard for him to get over in time on the one-timer. On the second, Järveläinen drags the puck to that same area and fires. Tyler Wotherspoon inexplicably lets him do that…but that’s not what we’re here to discuss.
What the Finnish team was doing was something I learned playing on Olympic ice in college, and I mentioned it earlier today: they were making sure they weren’t content to just “have” the puck on the outside paint.
In hockey, you so rarely get to just “have” the puck. It’s on-your-stick-then-off all game. You probably physically handle the puck all of 20 seconds in a game. So when you’re on huge ice and a penalty killing unit leaves you be when you have it out wide, it’s an amazing feeling. You have no pressure, and time to stick-handle and get your head up. The problem is, you’re so far from anything remotely threatening, it’s a complete waste of time. You still have to go through multiple skaters and a tender to accomplish your goal.
Canada, it seemed, was content to pass the puck around the outside, and fire from way out.
The d-men need to tighten the zone, the forwards need to tighten the zone, and they need to make a conscious effort to penetrate whenever possible. You get lulled into the false sense of security that comes with possession, and become your opponents best penalty killer in the process.
Really, it applies to all areas of the game when you’re on Olympic ice. As a defender it makes more sense to stay passive and keep yourself between your opponent and the net than it does to pressure too much. It makes for a far more boring game (whoever tells you big ice allows for more creativity is wrong – it creates passive play), but hey, you’re not out there to entertain, you’re there to win.
The Finns were playing on ice they’re familiar with. It was 200 x 93 as opposed to NHL rinks, which are 200 x 85. When the World Juniors kicks off in Ufa, Russia on Boxing Day, the ice will be 200 x 100. Being aware of that, and making a conscious effort to bring the puck out of the safe zones and into trouble will be a big key if Canada hopes to put up more than two goals a game.