Editor’s note: Rory MacDonald-Gauthier was unable to join us in blogging a preview for Team Canada’s next game, but will be back tomorrow for the Canada-Latvia game’s post-game reaction and recap.
Canada has to be relieved at the news that Latvia won their qualifying match against Switzerland.
The chippy team, led by assistant captain Lauris Darzins and Buffalo Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons, beat the talent-laden Swiss 3-1 and punched their ticket to a quarter-final match against Canada.
Although Switzerland seemed to be the bigger threat to Canada’s medal hopes, the focus for the team from the Great White North now has to shift to a team that has gotten where they are through a combination of grit, tactical defence and a never-say-die attitude. The lack of pure talent is easily offset by a team-centric focus on defence.
Despite this strong team defence, the Latvians finished the round-robin stage of the tournament with no wins and three losses, including one at the hands of the aforementioned Swiss team. But they turned the tide when it mattered, scoring early and hanging on to their lead to set the stage for the best-case scenario matchup for Canada.
Other recognizable names on Latvia include former NHLers Kaspars Daugavins, Oskars Bartulis and Janis Sprukts.
Canada can’t get ahead of themselves, tempting though it might be. On paper, this is a complete mismatch and Canada’s firepower will steamroll anything the Latvians throw at them. But they can’t afford to play down to Latvia’s level, or there may be an upset in the works.
Elsewhere in Sochi, Sweden will play Slovenia, Finland will match up against Russia, and the United States will face the Czech Republic in quarterfinals action.
Team Canada head coach Mike Babcock caused quite a stir when he said that both P.K. Subban and Dan Hamhuis “haven’t got much of a chance” of playing, as he’s content with the defensive pairings and their chemistry.
Now, I’m sure this came as surprise for some. I wouldn’t have thought that Babcock would come out and blatantly said that but he did. The defence has been solid. In fact, the majority of our goals have been coming from the backend. I had Subban pegged to be sitting out when we did our mock lineups. Not because I hate the guy — I mean, I’m a Canadiens fan — but for the mere factor that there’s really no room for him. Subban has a great two line pass, he can jump in on the rush and as much as people think he’s a defensive liability, I don’t.
But good news Canadiens fans, Price will be starting in net tomorrow. It seems as though Price is Babcock’s guy. Granted, both goaltenders have not been seeing many shots. There is still little fault to be found on Carey, although my colleagues might disagree but this is just my opinion. Its Carey’s net to lose. Rewind back to the 2010 Olympics when Brodeur was the go-to-guy until he lost the net to Luongo. This is the same thing. If Price struggles, in comes Luongo.
If Canada faces Switzerland, they’re going to need to match the pace and speed of the Swiss. They are a fast team with great skaters. And in that case, I’m a bit surprised that Duchene might be sitting out as he could match the Swiss speed. However, if it’s in favour of Benn starting then I could understand. Benn, to my surprise, has been a standout. He proved me wrong, and I’ll be the first one to admit it.