Monday, February 17, 2014

Canadian Olympic Watch: Don't Panic

drew doughty canada
Only in Canada can an undefeated round robin turn into a crisis.

Canada has yet to lose a game heading into the elimination portion of the tournament, but the problem is they aren't beating teams by enough and haven't looked as dominant as they should. Canada looked sloppy early against Norway, and only managed to win 3-1; they pummeled Austria 6-0, soothing the nation's collective nerves somewhat, but then barely eked out a 2-1 overtime win against a stifling Finnish team.

The fact that Canada didn't throttle the weakest division in the tournament is troublesome. And Canada's likely quarter-final matchup will be against Switzerland, a team that plays a similar choking style that worked so well for Finland. Memories of Martin Gerber stonewalling the Canadians in 2006 come rushing back.

And what of the golden boy? Sidney Crosby has yet to score a goal, like many forwards not named Jeff Carter, leaving the defence to generate the majority of the offence. To make matters worse, there are still problems with finding wingers to play with Crosby. Even the over-his-head Chris Kunitz has been unable to wave his magic chemistry wand over Crosby and make everything better. Mike Babcock has already taken the blender approach to line formation and given Crosby a chance with nearly everyone, much like Vancouver in 2010. And with good reason—because if a line with Crosby doesn't create scoring opportunities on every shift we Canadians are nervous.

In comparison, the US looks terrifying. Phil Kessel can't be stopped; TJ Oshie has enough moves to end any shootout; and Jonathan Quick is able to take away go-ahead goals with the kick of a post. They did so against a substantially tougher division and have already played in bigger, more important games than Canada. A potential semi-final matchup between the two North American rivals favours the States based on the first three games of the tournament.

And yet despite all the complaining, in the larger picture, things are looking pretty good. Canada is 3-0 heading into the important games, the goaltending has been good, the defence better, and the forward group is still the deepest and most talented in the tournament. These guys didn't forget how to score overnight.

The goals weren't there in the opening round, but Canada controlled nearly 84% of the scoring chances through the first three games, although the edge was much closer (53%) against Finland. Five of the top 10 scorers in the NHL are Canadian, as are four of the top six scoring defencemen. This is a group that will score.

And now after facing Finland in the opening round and playing against and learning the type of game plan teams will throw against them, Canada will be better prepared come elimination time. Babcock isn't the best coach in the NHL for nothing.

So take a deep breath. The best players on this team are largely the same guys who came through in Vancouver, so they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Bring on the Swiss.

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