Monday, February 22, 2010

Olympic Thoughts... Game Three - Canada vs. the United States


Busy day ahead, so here are some quick thoughts on the Canada - USA game from last night...

The question on every Canadian hockey fan's mind today, "Is it time to panic"... The answer is no - not yet at least. Despite Canada's 5-3 loss on Sunday evening to Team USA, the road to Olympic Gold for Team Canada is still accessible, it just got a lot longer.

With the loss, Canada fails to automatically advance to the qualifying rounds and must make their way through Team Germany on Tuesday to have the chance to take on the dreaded Russian squad on Wednesday, led by Alex Ovechkin, Andrei Markov and Evgeni Malkin (to name a few). The gauntlet has been thrown down to Team Canada - win and you stay in, lose and the tournament is over. While a date with Germany was not the preferred route, the tournament has mirrored the 2002 Games in a way; Canada finished the preliminary rounds in Salt Lake with a 1-1-1 record and went on to win the Gold.

So, what happened last night? First, to borrow a line again from Steven Colbert, “A tip of my hat” to the American team and especially Buffalo Sabres net minder Ryan Miller. Going in to the tournament, everyone was aware that the calibre of goaltending on all the teams was top-notch, with Miller being the front-runner. A hot goalie can kill a team’s medal hopes in an instant during these tournaments. Last night did not kill Canada’s medal hopes, but Miller certainly inflicted some major damage.

Despite out shooting Team USA by a 45-23 margin, it was Miller’s night to shine in Vancouver; time after time, he made spectacular saves. Knowing they needed a similar effort from their goaltender, Team Canada left Martin Brodeur to fend for himself on a few of the goals against... and Brodeur did not help his own cause on a few occasions as well.

Once again, Team Canada had plenty of flash, but little finish in the game; the second time in a row this has occurred. It is difficult to say why this is happening, but Canada has yet to play a true Canadian game. They have yet to take out their opposition’s defencemen with bone-crunching body checks. A few have been thrown but they have yet to make the other team pay a steep price for space on the ice. Did anyone have Brian Rafalski in their hockey pool? He finished the night with two goals and an assist and besides Miller, Rafalski was the difference last night.

Moving Forward:

Brenden Morrow has been the most physical Team Canada forward and yet he had played the least amount of any Canadian players heading into the game against the USA. With the exception of the “Shark Attack” line, the Canadian forwards have been inconsistent. Perhaps it is time to create a solid line of grinders with Morrow, Mike Richards and Jarome Iginla. It is time to shutdown the opposition’s best forwards, something that the Crosby line could not accomplish last night. If Ovechkin is given as much time and space that the Americans had last night, the results will be worse then 5-3.

In nets, the easy decision is to start Luongo on Tuesday, but is it the right one? I have been a strong supporter of Brodeur being the go-to guy in this tournament, but perhaps it is time to pass the torch to Luongo. Brodeur appeared shaky at times versus Switzerland but his performance in the shootout appeared to illustrate that he was ready to carry the load. At times last night, he was out of position, over-playing the puck behind the net when all he needed to do was settle the puck down for a defenceman to carry it up ice. He can win the game single-handedly with a strong performance in net, but he was not going to win the game by scoring; what was he thinking when he batted the puck out of the air, right to an American defenceman? I will always wonder about that play...

Everyone is entitled to a bad game now and again, but in these tournaments, one more bad game and it is all over. As much as I hate to say it, not that Luongo is not a great goalie, but it is time to put Brodeur into the backup role and see what Luongo can do in front of his home fans in the arena formerly known as GM Place. Brodeur has answered the call from team Canada on numerous occasions, now it is time for him to let someone else take on the challenge.

The next test for Team Canada, Tuesday’s game against Team Germany... The winner moves on, the loser goes home. If Canada was looking for a dramatic trip to the Gold medal game, they’ve got it now...

Photo by tyfn on Flickr.

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