Leafs struggling with puck possession at World Cup Exhibitions

The results of a pair of warmup games, for a tournament that usually doesn’t exist, in the beginning of September are probably the last things in the world that I’d use to make long-term blanket statements about a player. Certainly, that’s not what we’re here to do today.

But last night, I was curious as to how the Leafs’ representatives at the World Cup of Hockey were doing as far as puck possession. The results? Well, they aren’t so hot as of yet.

Player GP CF% CF60 CA60 CF%Rel CF60Rel CA60Rel
James Van Riemsdyk 1 50.00 56.25 56.25 10 13.56 0.67
Morgan Rielly 2 53.13 55.66 49.11 -0.9 -2.41 0.91
Roman Polak 2 44.44 50.12 62.65 -5.1 1.95 -10.16
Milan Michalek 2 43.75 46.55 59.85 -5.8 -1.61 -7.37
Auston Matthews 2 47.50 45.36 50.13 -7.9 -12.72 -0.11
Leo Komarov 2 37.04 30.25 51.43 -14.4 -3.32 -14.29
Nikita Zaitsev 2 39.58 38.51 58.8 -17.8 -13.97 -10.62

All numbers are calculated in Even Strength situations.

Van Riemsdyk is the leader as the only Leaf who is above relative water thus far, but it’s worth noting that a lot of that has to do with the situation he was placed in. The United States were down by multiple goals for much of the game, leading to some serious score effects. Just as important are his Offensive Zone Starts; JVR’s line started a whopping 83.3% of their shifts in an offense-friendly position. Also, he only has one game to work with here.

That trend is something that you can pick up on with when looking at the other players. Matthews, for example, nearly broke even from a relative perspective in his first game, where he played fewer minutes but was placed in a more all-encompassing role, but had an Offensive Zone Start percentage of just 14.3. Presumably, North America coach Todd McLellan looked to his line to be strong on the boards in the event of a faceoff loss, and effective in exiting with control in the event of a win. That trust in Matthews showed in situations like this:


Morgan Rielly also saw his draw privileges cut on Sunday night, which effectively cancelled out a strong showing in his first game of the tournament. He made the most of the ones he had, though, scoring the 4-the 4th goal of the contest.

Nikita Zaitsev’s numbers are probably the most initially concerning on the list. Many Leafs fans have high expectations for him this year (myself included, if not most of all), and those are definitely “should you even be here” relative numbers. However, his pairing has often been started against the Czech Republic’s top forwards, and in their rubber match, he was relegated to a role similar to Rielly’s (28.57 OZS%). The eyes have shown Zaitsev take some promising rushes and handle some tough situations, so one remains optimistic that these will even out in time.

Besides that group, you have Roman Polak with very Polak-esque possession numbers across the board, Milan Michalek being a step behind from a more talented forward group (a concern in Toronto this year), and Leo Komarov playing his usual bottom six plus powerplay role with the Suomi. 

Overall, it doesn’t look great, but we’re also talking about a group where nobody quite stands out in the “best in their position” conversations. This is a best-on-best tournament with a lot of superstars, so small victories like gaining trust of their temporary coaches and showing strong fitness levels ahead of camp seem to be higher priority. With that said, we’re going to continue tracking everybody’s progress and see if anything changes with the bigger samples. After all, we’re talking two warm-up games here.

  • Personally, I would be more interested in the mean regression per a larger body of work. This would be even better against comparable. I think that would really highlight consistency and potential

    and I know you address the sample size but this tournament as a whole is not a real good sample size to draw from.

    thanks for all the articles.

  • Stan Smith

    You broached the biggest failing of Corsi a couple of times in your article, and that is “player usage”. How a coach, or team, directs a player to play, where on the ice they begin play, who they play with, who they play against, and in what situation they play, has a drastic affect on their numbers. I personally think that Corsi ranks right up there with +/- in regards to importance of rating a player, and their performance.

    • That’s not really a “failing of Corsi”, though; that’s a failing of interpretation.

      I don’t think any analyst worth their salt is sorting a list of players by a given stat and automatically concluding that they’re good or bad. The best approach is always to look at a wide and comprehensive variety of data, to achieve a level of context and combine that with what we see in the game.

      The spreadsheets, the eye test, context and the like aren’t all mutually exclusive. There are many tools in the toolbox. The only thing I’d say is that the box is inverse of what the old schooler’s say; most of your tools are going to be data-based but a full understanding is what you’ll need to finish assembling your scene.

  • Stan Smith

    this is ridiculous, sky is falling trash once gain.

    when do the leafs start considering putting a cease & desist or restraining order on jeff? the agenda that he’s been showing against the team this summer is a clear attempt at making it harder for them to do their jobs.

    he’s making players look bad to crush their value, and creating false panic to make it so nobody wants to come here. probably cost them stamkos and vesey as soon as their agents saw the stuff being posted on here.

    now throwing a bunch of hard working players, including a teenager, under the bus for exhibition games? give me a break. i hope he never gets further than this blog, and that he’s shown the door here soon too.

  • Harte of a Lion

    It’s amazing how less than 60 seconds in 2 well played games can change a players possession numbers drastically…

    Has anyone has reviewed the video of the last NA game? Matthews was on the ice with McDavid, Eichel Gostisbehere and Parayko from the 1:55 mark thru to 0:34. Yes at 1:55 there was 26 seconds left in a power play BUT THATS A 1:21 SHIFT at the end of the game while the three youngest forwards and 2 least experienced defencemen on the team run around like headless chickens..
    Team NA got caught at the end of said power play giving up the zone far too easily. Team Europe skated across the NA blue line 3 strong, with Vanek having joined the rush as he stepped from the penalty box. They pulled the goalie as the puck went into the corner After a good save from Gibson from a shot from the face off circle. Parayko lost the puck in the corner at 1:17 after a fierce battle where Team Europe simply worked harder and outmanned team NA with the extra attacker.
    From 1:17 forward for the next 43 seconds, team Europe applied their most intense pressure of both games which included 4 + shots on goal and I believe another 2 or 3 attempts while Team NA (McDavid, Eichel Matthews, Gostisbehere and Parayko) scrambled madly trying to get into lanes and blocking shots and only Gibson kept Europe from closing the score to 1 goal.

    How could McLellan get caught with those 5 players with 2 minutes to go? I understand there was time left in the pp but give me a break. Is that the coach or the players on that bad/missed line change. The coach needs to be aware that the penalty is ending and Europe is about to pull their goalie.

    It doesn’t matter how much talent this team has, if they can’t tighten things up defensively, they might not win again. The Finns, Swedes, Russians, Czecs, Americans and Canadians won’t think they are cute. Team NA needs to show they can use that speed to play smothering d.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Disqus sux. Where did the old comments go? I spent some time breaking down the final 1:55 of the game showing that a missed/blown line change led to Matthews possession numbers tanking. I like MacLellan as a coach but how can he leave Matthews, McDavid, Eichel, Gostesbehere and Parayko on the ice for an 80 second shift? They should have changed after the power play. During the final barrage that Europe fired at The NA net, the players on the ice looked exhausted.
    There were approximately 7-8 shots/rebounds/chances at the net in the 40+ seconds after Europe pulled their goalie. Jeff, that’s why corsi isn’t always a true reflection of an entire game. Matthews played 2 games, 119 minutes of good hockey, 40 seconds of being hemmed in his end under a barrage of shots and his possession numbers reflect that.

    I’d like to see the possession stats for the entire NA team.