International Ice Hockey Federation

Goalscoring like binary code

Goalscoring like binary code

0- and 1-goal games way up in Sochi

Published 21.02.2014 10:03 GMT+4 | Author Andrew Podnieks
Goalscoring like binary code
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Finland's Aleksander Barkov #16 and Jarkko Immonem #26 looks on as the puck gets through Austria's Bernhard Starkbaum #29 during men's preliminary round action at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/HHOF-IIHF Images)
When organizers in Sochi were in the planning stages of designing the hockey rinks, they had a decision to make.

They could go with the North American standard, which proved so successful in 2010 in Vancouver, or stick with the European standard which has always been used at the Olympics outside North America.

They opted for the wider rinks, of course, but figures show a consistent pattern emerging. The bigger ice produces less hitting and a lot more skating, but it also produces far fewer scoring chances and goals.

Indeed, the IIHF is in the process of gathering data from the 2008 World Championship and last three Olympics in particular because Turin in 2006 was played on big ice, followed by NHL ice in Vancouver and big ice here in Sochi (2008 was NHL ice). The facts are quite startling.

Consider this. The men’s tournament in Sochi has played 26 games to date. Of that number, 18 have had a score in which the losing team has either been shut out or scored only one goal, an incredible 69 per cent of games.

In Vancouver, that number was 43 per cent. In Turin and Salt Lake (another big ice event, even though it was played in the United States), it was 53 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively. In other words, the smaller ice had the fewest games in which the losing team managed one or zero goals (i.e., low-scoring or less  competitive games).

There were eleven shutouts in Turin, only seven in Vancouver, and eight so far in Sochi. The result is that Sochi games have averaged 4.96 goals per game, way down from 6.00 in Vancouver and below even Turin (5.42).

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When you think of the superstars in Sochi, who do you think of? Alexander Ovechkin: one goal. Yevgeni Malkin: one goal. Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane: zero goals. Daniel Sedin: one goal.

The IIHF study comparing 2006 and 2014 Olympics to the 2008 World Championship (Quebec City and Halifax, NHL ice) and 2010 Vancouver shows that scoring chances are 3.7 times more frequent on the smaller ice.

What’s the difference? Many factors.

The most obvious is the simple fact that the European surface is 15’ wider, but there’s a much more important and more subtle reason as well. The IIHF standard is to divide the rink into three zones of equal length: the area from the end red line to the blue line; between the blue lines; from the blue line to the end red line at the other end.

The NHL is less symmetrical. Its end red line, for instance, is only 11’ from the end boards while the IIHF is 13’. The NHL believes the area behind the goal line is not particularly conducive to creating offence, and numbers suggest it’s right.

Even more significant, the NHL blue line is 64’ to the end red line but the IIHF blue line is only 58’ to that line.

What does this translate to? Quite simply, the offensive zones in the NHL are narrower and longer. The total square footage is 5,440. In the IIHF, the area is wider and shorter, totalling 5,800 sq. ft.

In one respect, the NHL chooses to provide more ice in the areas in front of the goal while the IIHF chooses to have much more ice to the sides and corners of the goal. In IIHF play, a player can beat a man in the corner and still have a long way to go to the net. Or, from the defensive perspective, a defenceman can be beat in the corner and a teammate still has plenty of time to come over and help him out. More skating, fewer scoring chances.

Furthermore, on the bigger ice there is far less hitting, but physical play is an important element in creating chances. It makes for fewer injuries, perhaps, but with less hitting the chances to create odd-man situations all over the ice decline.

As well, the days of a European style of play and North American style are all but gone. Europeans no longer play “east-west” hockey compared to the “north-south” game of North America. The extra width is, really, wasted space now.

As everyone knows, the European ice requires a lot more skating. More skating requires more energy. More energy requires more players. NHL teams are allowed to dress 18 skaters, for instance, but in the Olympics and World Championships teams can dress 20. Coaches have to use four lines, so the Ovechkins and Crosbys of the world play less. If the stars play less, they score less.

Traditionally it has been an appealing part of hockey to have two distinct games played on two different sheets of ice, but perhaps the time has come to move more regularly (or permanently?) to the smaller ice for top competitions.

More scoring chances mean more goals, and more goals mean more fans leaping from their seats cheering on their favourite players. Shutouts are not often thrilling. Lead changes and pucks in the net are.


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