Monday, February 22, 2010

Reactions to Canada's Third Hockey Game

Canada lost to America last night for two reasons: Ryan Miller and Martin Brodeur. To say that Miller out goal tended Brodeur last night would be an understatement. Miller was absolutely brilliant. Brodeur was average at best. Had Brodeur played half as well as Miller did in last night’s game, Canada probably would have won. But he didn’t. Not even close.

This isn’t to say that Brodeur is the only thing wrong with Team Canada right now. Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer both had off games last night, and once again the power play (despite Crosby’s late PP goal) was misfiring. Canada took too many penalties to start the third period – something they had to know was eventually going to cost them a goal, which it did. I remain unimpressed with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry in this tournament as well. They have been Canada’s two weakest forwards to this point in the tournament. And Canada could have helped themselves out a little bit by shooting higher on Miller. Everything close to the ice, he pretty much had – those were where his truly brilliant saves came from.

But the fact of the matter is, when you are in a tournament like this, your goalie has to be your best player. Miller was last night for America, Brodeur wasn’t. It wasn’t just that he gave up some weak goals, it was when he gave them up that cost us.

The first goal of the game, coming 41 seconds in, hurt Canada. Yes, America was fore checking well on that opening shift, and the puck took a bounce off of Crosby’s stick to beat Brodeur, but still, it was not an overly hard shot, and had Brodeur’s positioning been better, he still could have had it. But Canada fought back, and dominated the game from that point on and eventually got the tying goal. And it’s then when I think Martin Brodeur made the stupidest play I have ever seen him make in net.

Brodeur is usually the best puck handling goalie in the NHL. So what made him come out of his net and bat the puck out of the air like a baseball is beyond me. He gave it right to the Americans, who beat Brodeur on a weak shot. Really, that play is two mistakes by Brodeur – one the batting of the puck out of the air, the other was his flailing around trying to stop a very weak shot because he was out of position. He had time to recover from his stupid first move, but didn’t.

From there on, Brodeur played okay. The third and fourth goal that America scored weren’t spectacular Bv any means, but they are goals that many goalies would have let in. And Brodeur settled down handling the puck after that and made smart plays with it. He made two breakaway saves that helped keep Canada in the game. But by then, Canada was stuck playing catch-up like they had all game. And the Americans, playing with the lead, where able to shut Canada down enough, limiting their really good scoring chances, and letting Miller take care of the rest.

No, Brodeur is not the only reason why Canada now faces a Qualifying game against Germany on Tuesday, and if they win, a Quarter Final Match-Up against Russia. No matter how hot a goalie is, Canada has enough high powered offense, that they should be able to score more goals. Brodeur has been solid, but not spectacular, in his two games so far. But when the big moments come, that is when Brodeur is struggling. He should have had the first goal the Swiss scored on him, and he should have had at least two of the goals America scored. Those goals were all momentum shifters. I think it’s pretty clear that Roberto Luongo should get the start against Germany, and should be given the reins for the rest of the tournament for Canada – however long that is. He played a perfect game against the Norwegians – true, it wasn’t that tough, but still, he can’t be faulted for that. He will have the Vancouver fans behind him, and I think he will respond well.

This is not the time to panic if you’re Canada. You can’t – because if you do, you will most definitely lose. It is also not the time to look past Germany and at the Russians. The Germans gave the Swedes all they could handle in their first game (Sweden’s first goal, in a 2-0 victory should not have counted, as it was clearly goaltender interference). You have to look at the positives. The game against Germany gives Canada a chance to regroup. Another game to get used to each other, and try out different line combinations. A further chance to work on the power play, and the penalty kill. And a game to get Luongo, or should they stick with him, Brodeur, a chance to get his legs under him and prepare for the tougher games ahead.

I also think though that it is time that Canada make some adjustments. You know Canada’s best defensemen were last night? Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty. Brent Seabrook was almost as good as they were, with far less ice time. Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer made costly mistakes. Dan Boyle and Shea Weber were for much of the game invisible out there – which at least means they were not making big mistakes. And you know what forward line I was most impressed with last night? Toews, Ignilia and Morrow. They were a high energy group who banged bodied, and created chances. Once again, I think that Getzlaf and Perry were not as strong as they could be, and while the third player on that line, Eric Staal, was good, he still took a stupid penalty. The San Jose line of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley were once again strong (although they need to get the puck to the net on the power play), and I think Richards worked out very well with Crosby and Nash – making that another high energy line (they need to actually score a little more though). It is time for Team Canada to reward the players doing good, and sit the players who are not performing up to their level.

Do I still believe that Canada can win Gold in this tournament? Yes. They sure didn’t make it easy on themselves though. Bring on the Germans! Then the Russians! Then the Swedes!

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