Following Team Canada’s 3-1 victory against Norway to open the 2014 men’s hockey team’s Olympic play, Steven Chmielash, Rory MacDonald-Gauthier and Patrick Smith took some time to break down their favourite and least favourite parts of the game.
Which unit, forward or defence, stuck out as your favourite line combination?
Considering this is the first game of the Olympics for Team Canada, everyone had to get their footing and get a feel for the international ice. I thought Canada played a fast paced game on the forecheck and on the backcheck. They also got better as the game progressed. Nerves might have been a factor in the beginning as they didn’t manage the puck as well but after the first period, they collected themselves and got back on track.
Having said all that, my favourite line combination of the game had to have been the Bergeron-Tavares-Benn line. Now, if you’re sitting there scratching your head wondering, how I could pick my favourite line combination with Benn on it when I had him pegged for being benched on our previous podcasts? He surprised me in today’s game. It was a nice goal, granted it was an even nicer feed from Patrice Bergeron, who finished with two assists, but that line really stood out for me against Norway.
Team Canada experimented with a few line combinations that were a bit unexpected. Although us podcasters predicted a few lines accurately, I don’t think any of us saw the magic of the Tavares – Bergeron – Benn line coming. They did all the little things right: got to the dirty areas, took some punishing hits to keep the play going, kept the Norwegian squad on their toes and shut them down when they did start pushing a bit too close to Canada’s net.
Oh, and they got a goal, too. Some nifty passing from Bergeron combined with Benn’s awe-inspiring finish was the turning point that was eventually credited as the game-winner. In a game where none of the lines were able to truly click, this trio showed the most promise. Look for this line to factor in against Austria and potentially be the go-to shutdown line against Vanek, Grabner and Michael Raffl.
Despite sticking with the same offensive lineups in Team Canada’s two previous practices, coach Babcock shuffled his defensive pairings numerous times in the club’s first 2014 Olympic game. With having the ability to dress a seventh defensemen we saw Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks being shuffled throughout multiple lines.
Regardless of this shuffle, my top pick for favourite line combination was that of the St. Louis blueliners, Jay Bouwmeester, (16:54 TOI, 2 SOG) and Alex Pietrangelo, (20:23 TOI, 4 SOG). While the two didn’t register a single point they proved that their lack of scoring was a good thing – we didn’t notice them. From Bouwmeester’s ability to cycle the puck and complete clean passes, to Pietrangelo’s ability to join the rush and still beat Norway’s offense back to his own zone, the Blues top pairing showed us what is most important in this tournament – skating and puck movement.
This opening game against Norway was a great conditioning stint. North American players have the disadvantage on Olympic sized ice because they’re used to the standard NHL size. That’s no surprise. This game allowed Team Canada to adjust their playing styles accordingly while grabbing a win and three points.
What is the number one thing Team Canada needs to work for next game?
After discussing goaltending with my fellow podcasters, they seem to think that Carey Price’s play wasn’t spectacular and kept on reminding me that Canada held Norway to a goalless drought from 1982 until Price let in that goal today. Granted, he might not have played at his best but that’s not the area I think Canada needs to work on.
Going forward, I think Team Canada needs to stay the course. They have all the elements to be a gold winning team; they just have to weather the storm. It was their first game in Russia; we need not worry about the fact that they only scored three goals. After the first period, Mike Babcock, Canada’s head coach, said “Don’t think, just play.” And clearly the message was read loud and clear.
Canada needs to work on their second and third scoring opportunities. They were getting some great shots on net and the Norwegian goalie, Lars Haugen was shutting the door. What I wasn’t seeing a lot of was traffic around the net. Players need to go hard to the net and start picking up the garbage in the crease.
The defensive zone coverage left a lot to be desired. This isn’t a knock on the defensive units because, for the most part, they were effective enough. Letting Norway stay so close in the first period, though, is inexcusable. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not time to hit the panic button just yet. Not even close. But if Team Canada wants to be successful against Russia, Sweden, the USA and other powerhouse teams, they need to use these games against lesser opponents to iron out the kinks.
In this case, they need to give Price (or Luongo, or Smith) more defense and ease their nerves a bit. Price looked a bit shaky, coughing up big rebounds and never really getting into a groove. If he were able to see more pucks, be screened less and face less quality shots, he’d have likely gotten his confidence up and earned the shutout. And although Norway’s lone goal came on a Price brain cramp, the onus is on the defense to put the goalie in his comfort zone.
Goaltending. Yeah, we won 3-1 and it was the first game against Norway. Nobody will remember this game in the long run, right?
What they will remember is that Price allowed a goal from a team that hadn’t scored a goal in the Olympics since 1982. Myself, Steve and Pat are more than aware that this is the go-to stat to finger point at but you can’t help but notice the obvious. After getting dinged in the shoulder by a slap shot at the end of the first period Price looked a little shaken up. There were numerous occasions in which he gave up shoddy rebounds and relied on his D-men to bail him out.
My suggestion? Defensemen need to stay at home and give Bobby Lu a chance to shine. Give the savior of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics a chance to stand his ground. Compare his play to that of Price’s and work from there. Get the two conditioned and warmed up so they’re both readily available. If there’s one easy topic to spark controversy it’s goalies. Play it safe and hope that neither of them will go off the tracks and try to knock one out of the park, à la Brodeur circa 2010.
Rory, Patrick and Steven will have ongoing coverage of the men’s hockey team as the Olympics go on. Stay tuned for roundtables, podcasts, live blogs and more.