Speed, strategy, stars #KarjalaCup #FocusOnRussia

What did we learn from Russian U20 team performance at the 2020 Karjala Cup?

This article uses data-based approach to find out what was behind the dominant Russia U20 team victory at the Karjala Cup. I tracked all three games (6:2 vs Finland, 2:1 so. vs Sweden, 3:0 vs Czechia) with a focus on detailed data such as shot attempts, dangerous possessions, transitions, attack types or passing plays. I present to you four key findings.

1. Speed killed

Russian team outscored opponents 10 – 3 despite just a slight advantage they had in expected goals (xG): 6.9 – 6.7 in these games and 4.7 – 4.2 at even strength. If we break down the even strength values to different types of attack we see that Russians outplayed their opponents on quick attacks.

Modern hockey is highlighted by frequent possession changes and attempts to catch opponent in vulnerable defensive position. Russia made most out of it in their games. Quick attacks contributed to the total expected goal value by significant 54%. There was no opponent who was able to outchance Russia from quick attacks. Czechs tried, Sweden dominated on turnover attacks but that was not surprising. Read more.

2. Build up play strategy

There was one apparent difference between how Russians and opponents approached their attacks. Control seemed to be a focus of the Russian team. You could see defenders stopping behind their net very often waiting for linemates to get into their positions. You could see forwards transitioning the puck up the ice and circle back when no favourable option to enter the offensive zone was there. Russians passed the puck on their own half very often. That led to both turnovers and controlled attacks. From the picture above it is clear that opponents outchanced Russia from offensive zone turnovers (difference of 0.5 goal per 60 minutes). At the same time Russia was able to execute quick build up plays starting from behind their net where they usually tried to hit linemates in the middle of the ice with wingers coming along boards at full speed. Following stats show all you need to know:

Stat at even strengthRussiaOpponents
Stretch passes2311
Odd man rush situations72
Share of controlled offensive zone entries54%38%

All of these quick attacks at even strengh contributed to positive differential of 0.7 goal per 60 minutes and so considering the lesser impact of turnover attacks the strategy can be labeled as effective.

3. Askarov and shooting luck

As presented earlier 10 – 3 were goals scored and 6.9 – 6.7 were goals expected to be scored. Askarov saved 3.7 goals above the actual 3. That is a huge number even though we work with a tiny data sample here. On the other hand Russian players were able to score on 10 occasions outscoring their expected output by 3.1 goals. It is not possible to say if this can be explained by shooting talent or pure luck (we can discuss Chinakhov´s goal against the Czech team). Anyway outside of odd man rush goals (1 – 0 for Russia) and clear path goals (4 – 1 for Russia) there were another goals (5 – 2) scored from less dangerous situations. So yeah, if we play the tournament again now, Russia could still come out on top but to expect dominance again would be too ambitious.

4. Versatility at forward position

If digging into the data more there were four standout players performance-wise at the tournament and each of them deserves a praise.

What is very interesting is that all are wingers and all played on different lines.
Yegor Chinakhov drove play on the first line recording great results in expected goal control with so little left for opponents offensively. He was great on offensive zone entries and was a threat on a power-play.

Vasily Podkolzin showcased his two-way impact as he controlled shot attempts when on the ice. He was great on special teams both on a power-play and penalty kill. On top of this his passing was standing out and he regularly found linemates from under the pressure.

Rodion Amirov was a third line standout who was given the most ice time among forwards. He was involved in finishing plays very often, prevented opponents from attacking, was important on special teams and entered the offensive zone with a control at a high rate.

Maxim Groshev was a standout player nobody seemed to talk about. He played two games on the first line and one game on the second line. He was involved heavily in finish, supported defence on zone exits effectively and often. He drove great on ice results both offensively and defensively and showcased some creative passing as well.

There you have dominant players on all first three forward lines. Each of them brings a little bit of something different. This versatility at forward position makes Russia very tough team to match up against. Add in Askarov and defenders comfortable controlling the puck and building plays up slowly from the backend and there you have the 2020 Karjala Cup winner.

Thanks for reading!

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