Instead of dazzling the world with their offensive acumen, most of the conversation regarding several high profile players in the Olympic men's tournament has centered around how many goals they haven't scored.
Six former Hart Trophy winners suited up in this tournament. Between Sidney Crosby, Jaromir Jagr Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry and Martin St. Louis, a whopping four goals have been scored, two of which came off the blade of a 42-year-old Jagr.
The conventional wisdom has been larger rinks which are used in most international tournaments lead to larger offensive totals. The numbers in this tournament have not reflected that notion whatsoever.
Through 26 games in this tournament, there has been and average of 4.96 goals per game. That's down by more than a goal compared to the 2010 Olympic tournament in Vancouver which was played on a North American-sized rink. That tournament saw an average of 6.00 goals per game in 30 contests.
For comparison's sake, the 2006 tournament in Torino which was placed on international ice produced an average of 5.42 goals per game in 38 contests.
While the "bigger ice" is in fact wider - 100 feet across as opposed to the 85 feet you'll find on this continent - it's important to note the differences in how its configured. Most notably, blue lines are closer to the end boards. On an IIHF rink, there is 71 feet from the blue line to the end boards. On an NHL rink, there is 75 feet.
Additionally, the nets are further out from the end boards on an international rink. On an IIHF rink, the nets sit 13 feet from the end boards. In the NHL, the distances is 11 feet. The "bigger ice" has less space in the attacking zones.
The Web site ISport has a good comparison of the rink dimensions:
As happened in yesterday's 2-1 win by Canada against Latvia, teams with lesser skill such as Latvia have an easier time of packing defensive players around the net while yielding the perimeter to skilled teams such as Canada. The result was an overwhelming advantage in shots for Canada - 57-16 - but only three goals total.
Penguins left winger James Neal (above) has played in two IIHF World Championships, each played in Europe on larger ice surfaces. Earlier today, he explained the differences:
What's the biggest difference when it comes to offense on international ice?
"It’s tougher to get into scoring areas. You find yourself further out than you usually are. You’re taking shots from distances you’re not usually in. It’s tougher to get to the net because teams can collapse so much easier. You see it every game. They pack it in around the net. It just goes to show you that when you think you can create more scoring chances when you get bigger ice, it doesn’t. It takes away."
Does it change shooting angles?
"Yeah, it does. It changes everything. You have so much more time with the puck when you’re coming out of corners and stuff like that. But it’s not like you’re making that quick move and you’re making your first shot to the net. You still have a couple of feet to go. It changes everything. It’s definitely a different game."
Does it take time to get used to playing on international ice?
"Yeah, of course. Just like anything, you get used to something new. I haven’t watched much of the [Olympics] but from playing in World Championships and World [Junior Championships], it takes time. It’s definitely a tough adjustment."
It is just a matter of teams having an easier time packing bodies around their own net with the blue line closer to net and the end boards?
"That’s really all it is. You pack it in and you can’t get to the net. Just a lot of perimeter play as opposed to getting the puck to the net and going to work there in front and stuff. The puck has to travel a lot further to get to the net than on a [North American] rink."
Has the conventional wisdom of larger ice leading to more offense been debunked?
"I think that’s gone away. Maybe they won the argument three or four years ago when they said that but I think that’s gone away from what they’ve seen on Olympic-sized ice. That’s not true and it’s not going to create more chances. It will take away. I think you’re going to start hearing that more and more. I think you see it watching the Olympics here in Russia."
What has been the biggest obstacle for you in your experiences playing on international ice?
"I think more or less getting to the scoring areas … I don’t want to say are easier to get into in the North America game, but you find yourself in shooting range. You’re able to get off shots better that are looking to go in. When you’re on the Olympic-sized ice, you’re out of range a lot. You’re looking for those opportunities. That’s the biggest thing. It’s the perimeter play that is hard to lead to scoring chances. On the North American ice, it’s kind of a bang-bang play in the net. On the Olympic ice, it’s a little different way."
How much of it is the fact that most European teams play on an international rink?
"Yeah, that too. I think the competition is so tough nowadays. Whether it’s on the North American or Olympic ice, it’s going to be tough no matter what. All teams are great at adjusting and you’re seeing that more and more in tournaments."
You prefer North American rinks?
"Yeah, of course. I think the majority [of NHLers] would say North American over Olympic-sized ice."
(Photo: Petr David Josek/Associated Press)