Finland can’t score

Every Spring few things happen here in Finland. Well, few things relating to the ice hockey world championships, that is. First it’s a general outcry over how we’re not getting anyone worthwhile on the team (we do). Then it’s the debate over goaltenders (like that matters when they’re all amazing). Then it’s complaining over how Team Finland can’t score. And then how Sweden always always always gets lucky. (I’m not even going to acknowledge the obvious puns in there.)

I’m not going to touch the Swedes (yeah, I went there, shame on me) but I did look into the whole “Finland can’t score” issue. Is it true? Or are we just biased, based on our preference of seeing Finland score more goals?

Looking at the past five tournaments (2010-2014) the average number of goals scored by a team per game is 2,73 goals. The range is from 2,46 (2010 tournament) to 2.94 (2012). The team specific averages, of course, vary quite a bit. Canada of 2012 holds the record with 4,75 goals per game in the tournament. (Disclaimer: for all the following the official score was used. So if a team won 2-1 on shootouts, it’s as if they scored 2 goals and the opponent one.)

Looking at how Finland performs, then, I compared their performance to the whole tournament (all 16 teams) and also to “TOP 7”. The “TOP 7” does not mean the top 7 teams of the tournament, but the “Big 7” if you wish, the teams that are expected to come out on top (Canada, USA, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and Slovakia).

And it doesn’t look too good. Finland has scored 2,74 goals per game during the five tournaments. The range, however, is from 1,86 goals per game (2010) to 3,56 goals (2011). The overall average of the TOP 7 teams is 3.29 goals per game. In fact, the average was over 3 goals in all five years.

Of course, goals scored doesn’t mean anything, unless you consider how much everyone else is scoring. Obviously the number of goals Finland allows matters, when it comes to winning games. Over the five years, that’s 2,14 goals allowed per game. So at least we’re scoring more than allowing!

Because everything is relative, I also compared Finland’s scoring to that of other teams, and calculated Finland’s ranking compared to the rest of the tournament (other 15 teams) and to the other TOP 7 teams. In three tournaments Finland ranked on the lower half of the list when looking at the goals scored per game average (13th, 9th and 9th in 2010, 2012 and 2014 respectively). In 2011, the year we won, mind you!, Finland ranked 3rd. And in 2013 our 2,90 goals per game average got us on 5th place.

But surely there are some flukes, right? Norway scoring with every second shot against Italy or something? Well, yes, Norway did have a scoring percentage of 15,84 in the 2012 tournament. But mostly Finland’s getting beaten by the TOP 7 teams. 4 out of 5 times we’re on the bottom half of TOP 7 in terms of goals scored per game average. The only year we were not was 2011 again, when we were 3rd, both overall and in TOP 7 ranking. In 2010 we ranked last (7th), as well as in 2012. 2013 was a good year, only 4th, whereas a year ago we were 6th again.

So yes, it would seem that Finland cannot score. At least relative to other teams, and more specifically to the other “big” teams.

Of course one can look at the issue of scoring from the point of view of efficiency. Is it that Finland cannot score, or that they don’t try that much? That is, are they shooting as much as everybody else?

So I looked at the shooting percentage, and also the number of shots taken. For simplicity (read: I was getting hungry) I only looked at the TOP 7 teams. Mind you, there seems to be no relationship between how much you shoot and how well you shoot. Teams with high number of shots have both high and low shooting percentages, as do teams with low numbers in shots taken.

It it truly heartening to read. Compared to the TOP 7 teams, Finland’s shooting percentage is below average on every single year except 2011 (I think we can all agree that was an exceptional year) and even then we merely managed 2nd! In both 2010 and 2012 we were worst of the TOP 7, and in 2014 we were 5th. 2013 and a scoring efficiency of 9,54 ranked Finland 4th. Compared to the whole tournament, Finland ranked in the lower half 3 times out of 5, and the highest was 4th (you guessed it! In 2011!)

But Finland isn’t helping its cause. On average, over the last five tournaments, Finland has shot at goal 32,14 times per game. And every year except 2010 Finland has shot below TOP 7 average of shots per game. The ranking, should you be interested, are 2nd for 2010, and then 3rd, 5th, 5th and 7th chronologically from 2011 to 2014. (The average for 2011 was 35,99 shots, boosted by Canada’s impressive 44,86 shots per game, and Finland managed 35,78 so that was at least very close to the average.)

So I guess the public outcry is right. Finland can’t score. Good thing we have amazing goalies!

p.s. In case you were wondering about the 2015 tournament, Finland has so far scored 3,17 goals per game (19 goals in 6 games). That gives us the rank of 5th both overall and within the TOP 7 teams. The overall average is 2,17 goals per game and the TOP 7 average 4,05 goals per game. That does not include today’s games.

Edited: May 14th, added the years for the second to last paragraph that were missing after the word “chronologically”. Sorry about that bit of confusion.

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