Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Thoughts... Game Four - Canada vs. Germany

It is a good news/bad news situation for Team Canada - the good news, they defeated the team from Germany last night by an 8-2 score and the team's true identity is emerging. The bad news, their victory puts them up against Alex Ovechkin and the Russian squad this evening.

While it took three games for the “real” Team Canada to arrive, they have come into form at exactly the right time. It is not that the team was playing poorly during their first three games; they were accumulating plenty of shots in each game but failing to finish off their opponents. One of the interesting items in last night’s game was the fact that instead of making an extra pass, trying to set up the perfect play, the Canadian players were firing pucks off their sticks in a quicker fashion and creating havoc in front of the opposition net. In previous games, the slight delay was allowing the opposition to regain their positions, blocking the lanes from the point, forcing the Canadian forwards to make yet another pass. Last night’s game was a team effort in its truest sense.

Canada finally has three lines firing on all cylinders; the “Shark Attack” line of Dany Heatley, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau continued their fine play in the tournament. The San Jose trio has combined for six goals and five assists in four games. The fourth line of Mike Richards, Brenden Morrow and Jonathan Toews continued to display their remarkable ability to bang and crash the opposition, becoming a legitimate shutdown line that will play a key role if Canada hopes to advance. They have also begun to light up the opposition goaltenders. Together, the trio has two goals and seven assists.

The coaches have also discovered their top line for the tournament, with Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla joined by Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal. In his third Olympic Games, Iginla has demonstrated why he is on this team by scoring five goals in the tournament. Crosby has three goals and three assists and Staal’s three assists last night give him five points (one goal and four assists). The trio looked very comfortable together and their down-low cycling of the puck and precision passing will be a factor in tonight’s contest versus the Russians.

The only line not clicking at the moment is Ryan Getzlaf, Cory Perry and Rick Nash; however, they showed some signs of life in the third period last night. All three are tremendous NHL players, but for whatever reason, it has not gone their way in these games, leaving them to form a line together simply because everyone else has found their chemistry with other players. Patrice Bergeron was brought in as a face-off specialist and thirteenth forward and he saw limited ice time but that was expected to happen at some point during the Games, as Canada finds their line combinations and eventually shortens the bench. It is not a knock on Bergeron’s play, it is simply the fact he was brought in to play a certain role - and he is.

Roberto Luongo started for Team Canada in nets and was good when called upon; stopping 21 of 23 shots sent his way by the German team. The net minding duties in the tournament belong to Luongo now and his first real test comes tonight. In the tournament, Luongo has a .947 save percentage, second only to Sweden’s Henrik Lundqvist.

Looking Ahead:

It is a win and you stay in, lose and you go home situation again this evening against Russia. Most analysts expected these two powerhouse teams to meet during the tournament, but most, including myself, believed it would happen in the semi-finals or the Gold medal game. One of these countries will head home much earlier then expected and their fans will be disappointed.

One key for Team Canada this evening - stay out of the penalty box. Head to head, I believe the Canadians should win this game; however, if you allow the Russian power play unit of Ovechkin, Malkin, Kovalchuk, Gonchar and Markov on the ice too many times, Luongo, Brodeur or even St. Patrick Roy in his prime could do little to stop the offensive onslaught.

The Russian team is relying on several players from the KHL to fill in their roster and while these are talented players, the depth on the Russian squad is no match for Team Canada. Once again, look for the Morrow, Richards and Toews line to see plenty of action, especially if Canada has the lead late in the game or needs a wake-up call at any point. They may even see action in a checking role against Ovechkin, Semin and Malkin. The newly formed top line of Crosby, Staal and Iginla must continue their newfound chemistry and if Perry and Getzlaf are not getting the job done, it may finally be time to shorten the bench and roll with three lines.

The game tonight could be one for the history books, as one of the supposed “favourites” coming into the 2010 Olympic Games is going home empty handed...

Photo by tyfn on Flickr.

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