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Behind The Numbers

Team Czech Republic must utilize strengths

Faceoff success, physical play will be crucial to World Cup success

by Rob Vollman / Correspondent

For a small country, the Czech Republic has a large talent pool from which to draw, ranking third in the total number of registered hockey players, according to the IIHF survey of players.

However, Team Czech Republic is in the same group in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 as the two countries with the greatest number of hockey players at all levels, Canada and the United States, who have seven and five times as many, respectively.

Since two teams from each group advance to the semifinals, Team Czech Republic will need to upset Team Canada or Team USA, or both during the round-robin portion of the tournament, which will be held at Air Canada Centre in Toronto from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1. That's why its roster was crafted to include players who can provide an edge in every possible corner, whether it's on the power play, in the faceoff circle or along the boards.

Quick on the draw

Team Czech Republic can gain an advantage by having Vladimir Sobotka take most of the key faceoffs during the tournament.

In 2013-14, his most recent NHL season, Sobotka played for the St. Louis Blues and led the League with a faceoff winning percentage of 61.9 percent (minimum 400 faceoffs). Since then, Sobotka has been competing in the Kontinental Hockey League, where he won 1,081 of 1,908 faceoffs (56.7 percent).

Sobotka won 1,632 of 2,899 faceoffs during seven NHL seasons for a winning percentage of 56.3 percent that would rank him third among active players behind Jonathan Toews (Chicago Blackhawks, 57.1) and Patrice Bergeron (Boston Bruins, 56.8). Toews and Bergeron will play for Team Canada.

Power-play potency

With the man-advantage, Jakub Voracek (Philadelphia Flyers) will be Team Czech Republic's primary weapon.

Video: PHI@PIT: Voracek goes top shelf for PPG

Voracek has 56 power-play points during the past two seasons, tying him with defenseman Erik Karlsson (Ottawa Senators) for sixth in the NHL. That's almost double the next-highest player on Team Czech Republic, Tomas Plekanec (Montreal Canadiens), who has 29. Even when going back three or four seasons, Voracek remains in the League's top 10 in power-play scoring.

Voracek also has great shot-based metrics in all man-power situations, and his 142 assists in 237 games during the past three seasons work out to 0.60 assists per game, tied for 10th in the League with David Krejci (Boston Bruins), who will miss the tournament for Team Czech Republic because he's recovering from April 25 surgery on his left hip.

Mrazek's metrics

Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Dominik Hasek led the Czech Republic to a gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics with one of the most dominating performances in history. Though it would be nearly impossible for anyone to reproduce that performance at the World Cup, Petr Mrazek (Detroit Red Wings) does have the potential to exceed expectations and negate the perceived weakness in Team Czech Republic's lineup.

Statistically, Mrazek's NHL performance during the past two seasons projects to the same level of solid goaltending as the other seven teams in the World Cup. His 61.3 quality start percentage, .927 even-strength save percentage, .854 save percentage on shots taken in the home plate area and .920 overall save percentage each is close to the average of the other No. 1 goalies in the World Cup.

Defense first

Team Czech Republic will rely heavily on Voracek and the rest of its forwards for scoring. The defense was built primarily to attempt to shut down the highly skilled opponents it will face.

As a group, its defensemen have a combined 336 points in 1,639 NHL games. The most points by a defenseman on the Team Czech Republic roster in a single NHL season is 28 by Zbynek Michalek with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2006-07.

Rattling the boards

Expect the Team Czech Republic defense, led by Roman Polak (Toronto Maple Leafs), to make opposing forwards pay a physical price when breaking into its zone.

Video: NJD@TOR: Polak lays out Josefson along the boards

Polak was third in the NHL last season with 303 hits, behind Matt Martin (New York Islanders; now with Toronto), who had 365, and fellow Czech defenseman Radko Gudas, who had 304. Polak was credited with 220 hits in 53 games with Toronto and 82 in 24 games with the San Jose Sharks.

Team Czech Republic will be without Gudas' physicality for the World Cup; he was removed from the roster Saturday because of a wrist injury sustained during training.

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