It may be early in the Olympic women’s ice hockey, but Canada is looking incredibly dangerous so far across their opening two games.
Along with the USA, they were the pre-tournament favourites. The next closest favourite was Finland, who have been outscored by a total 16-3 by both Canada (11-1) and the USA (5-2) across their opening two games.
Canada have had 11 different goal scorers. Sarah Fillier and Laura Stacey both lead the team with four goals each. Sarah Nurse and Brianne Jenner both have three goals apiece. Natalie Spooner and Blayre Turnbull are next on the list with two goals each. Erin Ambrose, Ashton Bell, Rebecca Johnston, Jamie Lee Rattray, and Claire Thompson round out the scoring with one goal each.
They have also been dangerous from all over the attacking zone, scoring 23 goals across their opening two games from a whopping 118 shots on goal (converting on 19.49 per cent of shots), and not restricting themselves to just one area of the zone to do it in.
Breaking down this scoring map, 11 goals have come from in and around the blue paint (two of the 11 were Power Play goals), five have come from close to the right face-off dot, two have come from the edge of the right circle, two have come from in and around the edge of the left circle, and two have come from the top of the slot.
Of the 23 goals, 14 of them have come from the right half of the attacking zone. This shows that Canada are identifying weaknesses on that right side as they set up in the attacking zone, and trusting their players with a right handed shot, such as Fillier, Stacey, and Jenner to get the job done.
Nurse is the only player with 3 or more goals to have a left handed shot.
But it is not just the offence. Canada have also been very good in defence. They’ve only given up two goals on just 44 shots on goal (95.45 save percentage) and have been very good at clearing the defensive zone after giving up these shots.
Ann-Renee Desbiens has played both of Canada’s games so far in net, and only given up two goals from those 44 shots. One was a 5-on-3 against Switzerland, the other was a magnificent shot from the point that snuck inside the top left corner against Finland.
Does Canada have any weaknesses?
Despite this high-powered offence and rock-solid defence, their one weakness so far is that they are ill-disciplined and taking too many penalties. Across their opening two games, Canada have committed 14 minor penalties.
Like their 5v5 defence, Canada’s penalty kill has been solid, only giving up the one goal. That was a 5v3 goal when they had two players in the penalty box. They are yet to give up a 5v4 goal on the penalty kill.
If Canada continue to average seven minor penalties a game, there are teams later in the tournament who will be able to exploit this, and score on one or more of those opportunities.
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Who are the biggest threats to the Canadians?
There are three teams that pose a threat to Canada’s quest for a gold medal.
Winning the gold medal game in 2018 against Canada, the USA are looking to defend their Olympic gold from four years ago. Their most recent final against each other at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship saw Canada walk away victorious.
Across their opening two games, the USA have scored 10 goals from 114 shots (converting at 8.77 per cent, 10.72 per cent less than Canada), and saved 22 out of 24 shots (91.67 save percentage, 3.78 per cent less than Canada), including a clean sheet against the ROC.
They have given up 20 less shots than Canada has overall for the same goals against, which shows that their defence is doing a lot of work to not allow their opponents so far to get away a shot.
The biggest game of the group stages will be when these two face each other, as this game will likely determine who advances to the finals as the top seeded team, giving them what should be the easiest path to the final.
Japan has been performing well in Group B across their opening two games, scoring nine goals from 82 shots (converting at 10.98 per cent).
Their defence has performed similarly to Canada and the USA, giving up only three goals on 47 shots so far (93.62 save percentage), and clearing the puck away successfully when in danger.
At the 2018 Olympics, Japan lost the 5th place game to Switzerland 1-0.
At the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship, Japan was knocked out in the quarter finals against the USA.
While they are likely to struggle against Canada should they match-up against them, with how well they have been performing, they could very well carry that momentum from their early performances and take full advantage of it.
Despite losing 11-1 to Canada in their group stage match, Finland has tasted success against the Canadians before.
At the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championships, Canada was upset by Finland in the semi-finals, winning 4-1. This made the 11-1 score line incredibly surprising.
Should the two sides meet again in this tournament, Finland will be out for revenge, and one would expect a much closer contest the second time around.
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