Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Just like in Vancouver both teams have taken drastically different paths to their showdown. So who has the edge? Let's break it down.
Canada has flat out dominated the opposition in every department except the scoreboard. They are controlling nearly 70% of the shots and most often even more of the scoring chances. Yet to this point they have only five goals from their forwards in four games. The drought can't possibly last forever, can it? This year isn't like Torino when a group filled with way too many pluggers could manage only three goals against teams not from Italy or Germany. There are a talented bunch of goal scorers waiting to break out for Canada. They have earned a little patience. That said, it would probably be a good time to bring that team shooting percentage up on Friday.
In comparison, the USA is shooting the lights out and look terrifying in the process. Phil Kessel leads the tournament in scoring and is showing what can happen when he plays with a legitimate first-line centre. The US is getting contributions from plenty of players other than Kessel too, and have TJ Oshie waiting to finish off any game that goes to a shootout. Canada may be more talented than the US, but right now the States are red hot.
Quick, name an American defenceman not named Ryan Suter who has any chance playing any minutes on Canada's blueline. Time's up, the answer is nobody. Canada can't even dress PK Subban, let alone some defenceman who USA brass agonized over taking instead of Jack Johnson. Behind the top pair of Suter and Ryan McDonagh there isn't a lot to like about the American defence, and for a group that will have to contend with elite talent on every line, not just one or two like they did against Russia, that's not a good matchup. Of course, Latvia's defence wasn't a very good matchup either...
Canada's defence has looked impenetrable for long stretches of the tournament, with only a few apparent breakdowns. Drew Doughty has looked like the best defenceman in the world, and he's getting the third most minutes on the team, which just speaks to how well Shea Weber and Duncan Keith are playing. Canada is also getting the majority of their offence from the blueline, with both Weber and Doughty playing hero in consecutive games.
Jonathan Quick might be the most overrated goalie in the league. He has only been better than average in two of the last five seasons, costing his team nearly 20 extra goals in those three bad seasons. He's built his reputation on a crazy good 2011-12 season in which he was dubbed the best goalie in the world (apparently Henrik Lundqvist doesn't exist in that world). Still, the spectre of 2012, especially the Kings' Stanley Cup run, looms large and casts a terrifying shadow. Quick may be overrated, but a 50-save shutout doesn't seem out of the question.
Carey Price hasn't been as good in his career as backup Roberto Luongo, but he's younger and has been considerably better this season. He also has better career numbers than Quick, behind a worse defence. Those numbers aren't quite as good in the playoffs, however. Price has only posted a save percentage better than .900 twice in the playoffs, and one of those seasons it was only .901. Contrast that with Quick who looks unstoppable come playoff time. Add in that fact that Price really hasn't been tested, starting against Norway, Finland, and Latvia, and the edge goes to Quick, no matter how overrated he may be.
Slight edge: USA
Mike Babcock is probably the best coach in the NHL and as close to being beyond reproach as can be, yet he's still enraging many by insisting on keeping the reigning Norris Trophy winner benched because of the stupid Subban-is-risky narrative. To be fair it isn't like the rest of the defensive group is playing poorly. In fact, quite the opposite. But for a team struggling to score goals doesn't it make sense to at least let Subban run wild on the power play? I trust Babcock, but it sure would be nice to see Subban in the lineup. John Tavares' injury lets Babcock off the hook for dressing Chris Kunitz.
Can the Americans avenge their loss in Sochi? Will Canada score some goals? All this and more answered Friday afternoon.