Photo: RIA Novosti
I think Team Russia is fascinating. Scoring just eleven goals in their first four games, the much-ballyhooed offense of the home team hasn’t really shown up yet– especially from their NHL stars. After a brilliant start with back-to-back goals by Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin in game one, Russia broke up its top line, sending Alex Semin to the dreaded checking assignments of the bottom six. The team’s power play, meanwhile, has converted just two of its 13 chances despite having a handful of the best offensive players in the world.
To most observers, Russia has been a disappointment. They’re still very much alive, playing Finland at 7:30 am on Wednesday, but what they’ve shown us so far isn’t what we were promised. Of course, four games is a measly sample– particularly when measuring rare events like goals and power plays. While there aren’t a lot of data available, let’s take a big old grain of salt and play with them anyway.
I don’t really have an agenda in sharing this stuff. I looked it up because I was curious; I thought you might be too.
Again: these data kind of suck. We can’t isolate shots by game situation (power play vs even strength), and we don’t have a record of missed or blocked shots. There’s still a lot we can mine here, but we should be careful not to draw strong conclusions.
Russia got a lot of its players from its pro league, the KHL. So far those players have contributed five of the team’s eleven goals. It might make the league boosters happy to see the team get so much scoring out of its hometown crew, but it turns out that’s only because their NHL players are real unlucky.
The NHL players are generating more than 70% of Team Russia’s total shots, but just 54.5% of its goals.
They’re snakebit, getting hardly over 5% shooting compared to the fortuitous 13.2% enjoyed by the guys from the K.
That means while it may look like most of the offense is coming from Radulov and Kovalchuk, it’s only because their shots are the only ones getting through. They’re shooting 22.2 and 28.6% percent respectively (The Red Wings’ Datsyuk has a 22.2% as well). While Ovechkin and Malkin are leading in shots with 21 and 16 apiece, they’re just not scoring… yet. If we see more shots– that is, if Russia makes it another round or two– I’m pretty confident we’ll see the NHLers to do better and the KHLers do worse.
Individually, Alex Ovechkin is having trouble hitting the back of the net. He’s right on his NHL pace as far as shot volume is concerned, but of his 21 shots, just one– the first– was a goal. That one-for-21 clip means he’s shooting 4.8%, well below his career average of 12.3%. But that’s not crazy given the tiny sample size. Even this season, Ovi’s been this cold before.
From December 29th until January 9th, Ovechkin was shooting at or below his Olympic shooting percentage. After January 9th, he bounded up to his career average. No sweat, no panic, no Hot Stove.
And his ice time doesn’t seem to be off compared to what we see in the NHL either. It’s possible he’s getting one shift or less per game (around 30 seconds less compared to the NHL), but with only four games to draw from, it’s hard to say. That’s a bit surprising if we consider that the Russian national team is supposedly deeper than the Caps and therefore more egalitarian in sharing ice time. Maybe that assumption isn’t true after all.
Unfortunately, we don’t have data that break down how Ovi’s time on ice is being spent. A little extra power play time here or there might tell us a lot about how Coach Bill is deploying him. If we could isolate Ovechkin’s power play shot production– which appears low to me– we might know more. Unfortunately, I’m left with only adjectives– stupid, unpropitious, malodorous adjectives. I think that Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Radulov are getting the lion’s share of power play shots, whereas Ovi is mostly left watching on his side of the ice– possibly as a side effect of the power play quarterback on the far side, Pavel Datsyuk, being a right-handed shot like Radulov, who has been the high man on the unit.
Finally, I’ve seen some commentary saying that Russia isn’t getting enough offensive contribution from its defense. Again, we have only shots to draw from, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
About a quarter of Russia’s shots are coming from its defense, which is right in line with the other teams in the tournament.
In case you’re wondering, Canada is right in there too with a 73/27 split. Maybe we’d get different results if we had all shot attempts to use, but we’re working with what we’ve got here (all the while acknowledging that our data are weak).
So what did we learn? I don’t know. To me, Ovi is still Ovi. Maybe we’ll hear from the press that the “pressure is getting to him” or that “his work ethic is lacking” or something, but that would sound unduly presumptuous and insubstantial to me. I think there’s valid criticism about the formulation of Russia’s power play, but lots of teams go through 2-for-15 slumps without getting pegged as a systems failure. Nonetheless, I’d wish Dats and company would involve Ovi more.
There’s no guarantee that Russia beats Finland on Thursday. But if they do, I don’t see any reason to think we won’t see some classic Ovi stuff in the semifinals or medal rounds. That should be good news for the fans– and bad news for his opponents.