Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympic Thoughts... Game Two - Canada vs. Switzerland

It took a shootout to decide a winner in Canada's second game of the Olympic tournament last night but Team Canada finally prevailed by a 3-2 score over the 1996 New Jersey Devils - check that, it was Team Switzerland. Despite out-shooting the Swiss team by a 47-23 margin, Anaheim Ducks net minder Jonas Hiller and the rest of the Swiss team did their best impression of Martin Brodeur and the Devils, and it almost worked. Canada fired 18 shots at the Swiss net in the third period but failed to score, sending the game to overtime and eventually to the shootout.

If the Swiss team had prevailed, the headlines would be focused on Hiller today but make no mistake, it was a total team effort from the Swiss. Playing against a Canadian Team that is still searching for its identity, the Swiss erased a 2-0 deficit with two goals in the second period by Ivo Ruthemann and Patrick Von Gunten. Team Canada relied on their “Shark Attack” line of Heatley, Marleau and Thornton for their two goals.

With several turning points in the game, two important factors for Team Canada was the emergence in the third period of Philadelphia Flyers Captain Mike Richards and Dallas Stars Captain Brenden Morrow. Both players began laying some heavy hits in the Swiss zone, forcing Marc Streit and his fellow defencemen to pay a steeper price for their space on the ice. Anyone wondering why Richards and Morrow were included on the team got their answer last night; on a team loaded with stars, these two are the gritty sandpaper there to rub out the opposition. The same can be said of Patrice Bergeron; brought in because of his face-off prowess, Bergeron won several key face-offs in the Canadian zone.

Another “TSN Turning Point” last night was the high stick to the face of Sidney Crosby during a face-off in the Swiss Zone that went uncalled by the referees. After regaining his composure during the shift, Crosby took a pass and broke in on Hiller, clearly driven by awesome talent and anger. He almost scored the go-ahead goal on the play but once again, Hiller was the difference.

During the shootout, the fate of Canada rested on Crosby and Martin Brodeur and both players answered the call. Brodeur, with ice in his veins, was spectacular in the shootout. Perhaps realizing that letting a goal in would lead to a national disaster, he shut the door on the Swiss shooters. For Crosby, heading to center ice for a second time in the shootout, his eyes and the expression on his face clearly illustrated, “This is my team and by the way, I am pissed off about the stick in the face.” Did anyone expect anything less then the winning goal when Crosby scooped up the puck at center ice and drove to the net?

Perhaps this battle with the Swiss was exactly what Team Canada needed early in this tournament - a hockey game. Much like the 2002 Games, which saw Canada lose their first game and barely win their second, some adversity will solidify Canada into a real team. Say what you will about the Canadian team, full credit must go to the Swiss for playing a full sixty-five minutes. They have yet to enter the top-six group of Canada, the United States, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic, but they are certainly on their way. Last night’s game will bring the Swiss even closer to becoming one of the elite hockey nations in the not too distant future. Do not count them out in this tournament; they may yet create an upset in the medal rounds. They could grow into a very dangerous team by 2014.

Moving Forward:

Looking ahead to game three against the United States on Sunday evening, Team Canada must change their game slightly to prepare for an even tougher test against the young Americans and the upcoming medal rounds. Once again, Team Canada needed a reminder from their coaches that this is not the NHL’s all-star game. Too many extra passes, light checking and a lack of grit and sandpaper, which is the true Canadian game.

Look for Head Coach Mike Babcock to begin to shorten his bench in the upcoming games. While the International rules allow for extra players on the bench and Babcock has rotated all his players, sharing the ice-time as evenly as possible, the time has come to give certain players the ice-time that they need to be effective. Crosby made a definitive statement last night and while there are numerous candidates for team leader, the Pittsburgh Penguins Captain is ready to carry this team on his shoulders; it is time to put the weight on his shoulders, he is clearly ready for the challenge.

The question on everyone’s mind for the next two days will be who will start game three? In my opinion, the job still belongs to Martin Brodeur. While there is some debate about the first goal he allowed, give the Swiss forward Ivo Ruthemann some credit, two millimetres to the right and the puck is off the post and out. The second goal came off the skate of Patrick Marleau, deflecting into the net, leaving Brodeur no chance on the play.

While Luongo recorded the shutout in his game versus Norway, he was never truly tested. Brodeur on the other hand, was tested by a determined Swiss team and his play demonstrated his status as a goaltending legend. Much like Patrick Roy in the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, Brodeur knows when he cannot allow another goal and he shuts the door on the opposition. He has found his game and along with Crosby, he should be given the chance to put this team on his shoulders and carry the weight of the world or at least the weight of Canada’s expectations.

Questions about Jarome Iginla’s health after a shoulder to the head against the Swiss - according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, everyone is healthy at this point of the tournament.

Game three versus the United States is Sunday, February 21st at 7:30 in the Eastern Time zone.

Photo by tyfn on Flickr.

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