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Behind The Numbers

Five key stats for Team Europe vs. Team Sweden

Numbers show benefits of zone-specific line deployment, defenseman usage

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

There's usually at least one surprise in a best-on-best tournament. In the World Cup of Hockey 2016, it's Team Europe, which includes players from eight nations.

Team Europe went 2-1-0 in the preliminary round to finish second to Team Canada and ahead of fourth-place Team USA in Group A. Its reward for that achievement is a tough semifinal game against nearly flawless Team Sweden.

Although the game might ultimately boil down to a goaltending duel between Jaroslav Halak and Henrik Lundqvist, there are a few key stats that could make the difference, and at least one defense pair that will carry a little extra weight.

Here are five key numbers that can shed some light on which team will advance to the best-of-3 final:

 

Tilting the Ice

Team Sweden is employing zone-specific deployment of its forwards. In a strategy similar to the one used by the Nashville Predators last NHL season, the top scoring line is used almost exclusively in the offensive zone. Other lines are used defensively.

At even strength in pretournament and preliminary-round play, Team Sweden center Henrik Sedin took 40 faceoffs in the offensive zone and three in the defensive zone, a zone-start percentage of .909. Linemates Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson have zone-start percentages of .889 and .844. This is a strategy familiar to the Sedins; they were often deployed that way with the Vancouver Canucks when Alain Vigneault was coach.

To give the line that edge, seven Team Sweden forwards have zone-start percentages below .300. One of them also is familiar with this kind of assignment: Marcus Kruger's .188 zone-start percentage with the Chicago Blackhawks last season was fourth-lowest among NHL forwards.

 

Sweden's Top Line

One of the most effective lines in this tournament has been Nicklas Backstrom, Filip Forsberg and Patric Hornqvist of Team Sweden. For Team Europe to win Sunday, this is the line that must be shut down.

Unlike the Sedin line, this Team Sweden line has been deployed equally in both zones and against top opponents in all game, score and manpower situations, and has its best shot-based metrics.

In more traditional terms, it has combined for seven goals and nine assists in six games, and Team Sweden has outscored its opponents 7-2 at even strength when it has been on the ice.

 

Situational Defense

Team Sweden has a deep, well-balanced group of defensemen. But Team Europe isn't without its assets, including the top pair of Andrej Sekera and Zdeno Chara.

Along with Roman Josi, Sekera and Chara have been Team Europe's top options at even strength and killing penalties. They've been deployed primarily in the defensive zone and against the opposition's top scorers.

In Team Europe's six games, Sekera has lined up for 24 faceoffs in the offensive zone and 45 in the defensive zone; his .348 offensive zone-start percentage is the lowest on the team. In contrast, Josi's zone start percentage is .593, second to Christian Ehrhoff (.639). Despite this difficult assignment, Team Europe has outscored its opponents 9-4 at even strength when Sekera has been on the ice.

 

Goaltending Duel

Lundqvist of Team Sweden, widely acclaimed as one of the game's elite goalies, returned from illness to shut out Team Finland, and then allowed four goals in an overtime loss to Team North America.

The highly underrated Halak of Team Europe has been outstanding. He is the only goalie to play six pretournament and preliminary-round games, and his .927 save percentage in them is better than Lundqvist's .901.

Comparing their NHL statistics during the eight seasons when each has been an NHL regular, Lundqvist betters Halak in goals-against average (2.29 to 2.36), save percentage (.922 to .917), even-strength save percentage (.930 to .925), shutouts (42-36), and quality starts (61.5 percent to 57.8 percent).

Based on those NHL numbers, it would appear Team Sweden has an edge; however, it's a small one that may be erased by Halak's performance in this tournament.

 

Team Europe's Edge

If there is one area where Team Europe has a clear advantage, it's the fourth line of Leon Draisaitl, Nino Niederreiter and Tobias Rieder.

The biggest breakout player on the tournament's most effective depth line is Draisaitl, its center. Through six games, he is tied with Johnny Gaudreau of Team North America with five goals, scoring them on nine shots and with an average of less than 9:00 per game at even strength. Two of the five goals were a game-winner; Draisaitl, Gaudreau and Nathan MacKinnon of Team North America are the only players with more than one.

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