It’s the first Olympic meeting between the Team Canada and Team USA men’s national hockey teams since the Vancouver 2010 gold medal game.
Nothing less than the ideal is acceptable when it comes to Hockey Canada, but let’s think about what Canada has done well, versus what they haven’t done so well so far in this tournament. What hasn’t been Canada’s problem: their defence and goaltending. What has been a problem: scoring enough goals on excessive quantities of shots. Are Canadians more confident if Team Canada is entering a game against the high-scoring Americans, who have questions in net and on the blueline? Certainly not. If they accept something less than perfect, winning four out of four while not scoring “enough” on 35, 40 or 45 shots —against trap teams — is surely the best of the less-than-perfect scenarios.
This brings us to the point of how some fans and pundits espouse an entirely too simplistic expectation of a single game of hockey when they suggest it is — or should be — a guarantee that a team like Latvia will be blown out by Canada; as if Latvia is “so bad” that Canada aren’t deemed adequate if they don’t walk over a team whose entire gameplan is to stack five players between the puck and the net, hope for the best, and rely on a hot goalie. There were eight players on Team Latvia who have played in the NHL, and an NHL-drafted goalie with some recent AHL accolades, who, over a single game sample, is entirely capable of putting on a show that frustrates a collection of very good NHLers. The difference between a good AHL goalie — who is playing out of his mind — and a good NHL goalie playing well in a single game is not a difference at all. Mix in a large heaping of luck and good fortune (hand-on-the-puck incident, Kunitz’s empty-net cross bar, ample lucky bounces around the net), and, yeah, it’s possible the Canadians might only win by one goal. Play a game with a 58-17 shot count five more times…
Austria and Slovenia entered the tournament as the two worst teams – Canada and the USA blew them out, respectively. While Canada played a group of teams who had no illusions of going go toe to toe with them, Team USA trounced a terrible Slovakia team (who lost every game, including to Slovenia, and conceded a ton of goals overall) that thought they could trade chances and a poorly-put-together Czech team that wasn’t content to just sit back, either. Canada’s preliminary group was “poor,” but every team they played against played like they knew it. Canada’s consistent possessional dominance and its depth should ensure it generates the majority of the chances on Friday.
The United States has had the best single line in Joe Pavelski, James van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel unit, but not the better supporting cast, and certainly not the better defence, as Canada’s has been excellent. The goaltending remains to be seen; Jonathan Quick has a track record of big-game success, but there isn’t a shred of evidence yet to back up the statement that Carey Price hasn’t done his job. In our angst we sometimes lose sight of it, but Canada’s roster is, unquestionably, more talented.
The point here is not some argument that it’s all going to come together for Team Canada on Friday in an unexpected rout of the Americans. The Americans have looked better as a team, able to find working combinations and roll with them — perhaps giving them the edge. Canada are still struggling to find the right combinations up front. Of course that could change in one game. While Max Pacioretty portrayed his team as the underdogs in Wednesday’s post-game interviews, it seems Team USA is the Vegas favorite going into this game. If you’re Canada, you’ve got no problem with that.
Stick Tap to Daily Faceoff for the jersey graphics.
Team Canada Olympic Roster vs Team USA
|13th forward: Martin St. Louis
Team Canada Olympic Roster Line Combinations, Feb. 20th. 2014
Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos (injured, will not play), Martin St. Louis, John Tavares (injured, will not play), Jonathan Toews
Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber