Friday, February 19, 2010

Reactions to Canada's Second Hockey Game

Canada can make all the excuses they want, but the bottom line is they should have been able to beat the Swiss, without going all the way to a shootout. This is not fatal for Canada - as long as they beat the Americans on Sunday, they will still win their pool, and get a buy into the quarter finals. But losing that one point will most likely mean they are ranked lower. What that means is a tougher quarter final matchup, and if they win that a tougher semi-final matchup. I think it is unlikely that the at least one of the Russia or Sweden will not win all three of their games - in regulation - meaning that at best, Canada will be ranked second or third. Of course, this assumes that they beat the Americans, which is by no means a given. If they lose to the Americans, they can still move on - but it most likely means that they will have to play another game to get to the quarter finals.

The first period of last night's game was a repeat of the first period against Norway - except this time, Canada scored a goal. They were trying to be too pretty with the puck, and the Swiss are a hard working team, and intercepted a lot of passes, and blocked a lot of shots. The goal Canada did score was a beauty though, and shows what Canada needs to do. Great forechecking by Jonathan Toews freed up the puck, a smart pass by Patrick Marleau gave Heatley an easy goal, after a nice move. In short, Canada outworked the Swiss, and were rewarded for it. This didn't happen as often as it should have in period 1.

Canada started period two with a bang, with Patrick Marleau's power play goal less than a minute in. Again, smart playing here - a shot from the point through traffic (provided by Heatley), a rebound that Marleau roofed. This line is on fire for Canada. Unfortunately, this was the only power play goal Canada got - the Swiss killed penalaties very effectively all night long.

But a strange thing happened after Canada got the second goal. It seemed to energize the Swiss, who went on the attack, and dictated the play for the rest of the period. Canada sat back and let the Swiss do it as well. True, Drew Doughty screwed up on Switzerland's first goal - neither being able to hold the line, nor get back into the play (he was manhandled though), but Brodeur should have had that one. It was a nice shot, but Brodeur saw it all the way. The second Swiss goal, with just a few seconds left in the period was a fluke - bad luck for Canada, but those will happen.

Strangely enough, the best period Canada played was the third - and it was the only one where they didn't get a goal. They took the play to the Swiss for almost the entire period, and it was only the play of goalie Jonas Hiller that sent the game to overtime. Canada was finally moving the puck better, and getting more quality chances. Much the same could be said about the overtime, where Canada dictated the play, but could not get the puck by Hiller.

The shootout was where Canada was finally able to put the Swiss away, but even that took effort. Crosby tried to get too fancy on his first attempt, and it failed miserably. Toews had the right idea with his attempt, and was just beat by a superior save. I don't know what the hell Getzlaf was trying to do. On his second chance, Crosby made no mistake. Canada was lucky that Brodeur played well in the shootout, or else it wouldn't have even got there.

I have no idea why the Canadians were not able to beat the Swiss in regulation. Yes, the Swiss have improved greatly over the years. They are currently ranked 7th in the world, which puts them just behind the big six powerhouses. Yes, Hiller is a world class goalie, who was the only reason why the Swiss got to overtime in the first place. Yes, they play a boring trap style of hockey that frustrated Canada all night long, and they worked harder than any team I have seen in this tournament.

But the bottom line is that most of the Swiss team is made up of players in the AHL, the Swiss league or the Swedish elite league. Meaning, that most of their plays are not good enough to make the NHL. And considering that Canada's team is made up of NHL all stars, they should have won. You can put it all on a hot goaltender if you want to, but does Canada really expect that Nabokov, Voukon, Lundqvist, Kipprusoff or Miller are not going to be as good as Hiller? Canada needs to find a way to generate more offense, something they didn't have to worry about against Norway.

Things to Watch For

After Switzerland's first goal, Drew Doughty was benched for the rest of the second period. He's a young kid, at 20, and he's going to make mistakes out there. They put him back out quite a bit in the third, but it will be interesting to see how much ice time he gets in the bigger games.

Both Jarome Iginla and Brent Seabrook didn't play very much, if at all, in the third period. Are they hurt? I haven't heard much about it today, so I doubt it, but watch for them in the game against the Americans.

In Iginla's absence, Jonathan Toews moved up to the line with Crosby and Nash in the third period - and he fit right in. The didn't score, but they definitely generated more chances than they had up until that point. It will interesting to see if Iginla moves back to play with Crosby, or if they will keep him with Mike Richards and Brendan Morrow, to get a more physical line out there.

What this does the Canada's goaltending situation is unclear. I doubt much. Yes, Brodeur should have had that first goal, but he cannot be blamed for the second one - that was nothing more than a fluke. And for the rest of the game, Brodeur played strong - and made better saves than Luongo had to in his shut out. If I were the coaching staff of Canada, I would go with whatever goalie I was planning on anyway against America.

I hope that this is just a bump in the road for Canada. It should serve as a wake-up call that they are not going to just roll through this tournament. Bring on the Americans!


I did not know when I wrote this that the Slovaks had upset Russia in a shootout last night. This is great news for Canada, and sets up a scenario where they can still finish 1 after the Round Robin. Let's just assume that the Czechs are able to beat Lativa today, and that the Swedes and Finns were also beat their teams as they should. This would set up the following scenario for this weekend's marquee matchups.

Pool A - Canada (5 points) vs. USA (6 points)
Pool B - (Russian 4 points) vs. Czech Repulic (6 points)
Pool C- Sweden (6 points) vs. Finaldn (6 points)

In the following scenario, Canada could still finish first. If they beat the USA in regulation, they'll have 8 points and win their pool. If Russian beats the Czechs in regulation, they'll win their pool with 7 points. If Sweden or Finland wins in Overtime or a Shoot-Out, they'll win their pool with 8 points, putting them into a tie with Canada, at which point it comes down to goal differential, which Canada has done well at because of the 8-0 win against Norway. Of course, if the Czechs win in overtime as well, they'll win their pool with 8 points, so it could be a three way tie on top.

Of course, this all presumes that Canada beats the USA in regulation. Even if they beat USA in overtime or a shootout, they'll still win the pool - but will likely finish 3rd. And if the Czechs win in regulation, and so does Sweden or Finland, then they'll still finish 3rd, but have a buy into the quarters.

The nightmare scenario would be Canada losing to the USA, either in regulation - in which they would definitely not get a buy into the quarters - or in overtime - in which case they probably will not get a buy into the quarters. Remember, only 4 teams get that buy into the quarter finals - meaning that at least two of the top 6 teams outlined above, will have to play an additional game to get to the quarters. Canada doesn't want to do that.

So there you have it. Canada could still come in 1st overall coming out of the round robin. But they could also finish as low as 6th. It all depends on what happenes this weekend.

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