clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Winter Olympics 2014: Does Mike Babcock deserve criticism for Canada's goal scoring woes?

New, comments

Team Canada is 4-0 heading into the semifinals in men's hockey, but the lack of goal scoring has become a major worry. Should it be?

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

SB Nation 2014 Winter Olympic Coverage

Much has been made of the struggles Team Canada has had putting the puck in the net. In their four games in the Olympics, they've scored just 13 goals, and six of those came in one game against Austria, possibly the weakest team in the tournament.

How can a team that boasts players like Sidney Crosby, John Tavares (until the second period against Latvia), Martin St. Louis, Jeff Carter, Jamie Benn, Jonathan Toews, and more, score so little?

It's not a problem with shot production. Canada has produced an average of 42 shots on net per game in the Olympics, which is far more than any other team in the tournament. What that means is that they're scoring on a lower percentage of their shots than you'd expect, just 7.7 percent.

Heading into the semifinals, Canada's 7.7 shooting percentage is the lowest of the remaining teams, and by a large amount.

Country Goals Shots Shooting percentage
Canada 13 168 7.7%
USA 20 120 16.7%
Finland 18 128 14.1%
Sweden 15 124 12.1%

These other teams are certainly not boasting more talented rosters than Team Canada is, so what exactly is going on? It's a combination of factors.

One is that teams tailor their game plan to Canada as a hockey power. Teams clog the middle of the ice, taking away shots from prime scoring areas and allowing shots from the perimeter. In order to combat that, Canada has activated their defense, using more shots from the point than a normal hockey system would, which has benefitted defensemen Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, the team's scoring leaders.

The thing about using defensemen as your prime scoring options, though, is that they shoot from way further out than forwards typically do, and because of that they generally have a lower shooting percentage. But the scoring from the defense is working, so Mike Babcock and his coaching staff should get credit for that.

The other major factor contributing to Canada's lack of goal scoring is simple luck. It's unsatisfying as an explanation, but random variance in the form of puck luck happens over short periods of time -- like, say, an Olympic tournament. Over the four previous NHL seasons (including this one) the four highest percentage shooters (who are also Olympians) at even strength  are Sidney Crosby (15.81%), Jonathan Toews (14.36%), Chris Kunitz (14.03%), and Martin St. Louis (13.40%).

Those four players have combined for a whopping zero goals through four games on 24 shots. At their average even strength shooting percentages, you would expect at least 3 goals out of this group through four games.

So should Canadians worry?

Part of Canada's scoring struggles are self inflicted. There are obvious components of the roster that haven't been working. Chemistry picks like Chris Kunitz and Jay Bouwmeester both look lost out there, yet the coaching staff seems unwilling to replace them with undeniably superior players they have available.

It's impossible to defend the logic of leaving the reigning Norris Trophy winner on the sidelines in favor of a player you ice for three minutes per game in Dan Hamhuis. Same goes for the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner. If most of Canada's offense is going to come from their defense, then it would make a whole lot of sense for Canada to ice the best offensive defenseman they have available in P.K. Subban, and playing on his off side only allows him to unleash his one-timer better.

But do these decisions take Canada from favorite to underdog? No.

But do these decisions take Canada from favorite to underdog? No.

When all is said and done in their careers, P.K. Subban may end up being the best defenseman Team Canada took to this tournament, but the depth the team has at the position is so great that they're still the best team in the tournament without him, just like they're still the best team in the tournament without Steven Stamkos. And John Tavares too.

Canada has a reputation in these tournaments for overthinking everything, which has a lot to do with the absurd pressure placed on them to win. Gold or nothing.

The problem Canada has is that they never make it easy on themselves, yet even without the best roster available, their possession numbers are the best in the tournament. Team Canada has taken 69.4 percent of the shots in their games -- 13.3 percentage points better than the next-best team remaining in the tournament.

They're allowing just 18.5 shots per game while putting up, as previously mentioned, 42 shots of their own. Even if they maintain their current 7.7% shooting percentage, that gives them an average of 3.234 goals per game.

Let's say for the sake of argument that Canada is even less lucky than average, but maintains their possession dominance, and scores at a pace of 3 goals per game. They would need to suffer a save percentage of .784 to lose in regulation.

So far in the tournament, Carey Price leads all goaltenders with a .940 save percentage.

From where I'm standing, Canada looks very strong. In fact, they looks stronger than they did in 2010, and stronger than they did in 2002. The United States represents a true test, but Finland has played just as well as they have, and against stronger opponents.

For all the criticism Mike Babcock has received, Canada continues to play like a well oiled machine, and in the face of adversity, no one on the team has panicked. That seems like pretty good coaching to me.