Team Canada ready for tight playoff games in men's hockey
Many fans may find the lack of offence hard on their nerves
Didn’t like that Canada game last night? Get used to it. That’s what we’re going to see in the quarter-finals, no matter the opponent.
The Finns scored 14 goals in their first two games, more than any other team in the men’s tournament. Against Canada, they abandoned almost all pretence of offence, sitting back, waiting for a mistake, daring the Canadians to find a way to score through five skaters and a goalie.
By Mike Babcock’s count, Finland had five scoring chances. Your teenagers have more in three hours of high school.
“It’s a defensive, defensive game,” he said Monday. “If (Canadian fans) think we’re getting seven [goals], they’re watching the wrong sport.”
Yes, the USA looks terrific, an offensive beast. But, in the magnificent game against Russia, its goals came on the power play before T.J. Oshie scored 50,000 times in the shootout.
That was a much more impressive win by the Americans than the twin blowouts of Slovakia and Slovenia. If you cannot win tight games, you cannot win gold.
The best thing right now about Team Canada is the way it defends. Just two goals allowed against Austria, Finland and Norway – second-best among the 12 competitors. They back-check hard, with Jeff Carter making a quiet, but important, defensive play moments before Drew Doughty’s goal won Sunday’s game.
Price, Luongo have been sharp
When the opposition broke through, both Roberto Luongo and Carey Price were very sharp. Not always easy when you face few chances.
But it’s hard to ignore The Case of the Silent Scorers. Patrice Bergeron plays for the Boston Bruins, who defend the middle of the ice in the defensive zone as well as any other team in existence. But there’s a difference between how it’s done in the NHL and how it’s done here.
“It seems like they really don’t pressure the walls as much,” he said. “It’s one guy [coming at you] and then he goes back to the house. Then it’s another guy going to wherever the puck goes. It’s a little different than what we are used to.”
That’s the key. They’ll let you have the wall, but when you try to bring the puck closer, they engage.
“Instead of being one or two steps away and having to fight to get to the net, you’re probably four or five,” Sidney Crosby said. “So it takes a little longer to get there. And, usually, by that time, they have someone coming to support to make sure that if you do have that step that it’s tougher to get there.”
“If you could skate down the middle, you would,” Babcock said. “They stand (with their two defencemen) right there, so you kick it out and you penetrate. But we’ve got to get through the middle without the puck more than we have.”
Late in regulation of Sunday’s win, Ryan Getzlaf created a great opportunity by getting to the middle of the ice high in the Finnish zone. When the puck came to him, a defender challenged. Marc-Edouard Vlasic slipped into open ice and Getzlaf found him.
Tuukka Rask made the save, but it was a high-quality opportunity. Maybe we’ll see more forwards circling high.
There were 15 even-strength goals scored by defencemen in the preliminary round. Canada had five of them – three by Drew Doughty, two by Shea Weber. That’s something else to really like about their chances, as several other coaches seem terrified to activate defenders.
Russia, for example, concerned about the footspeed of its defence, is not very aggressive that way. It’s a major reasons the Russians are struggling to score. Tough to play three-on-five.
Babcock spent the first minutes of his Monday availability explaining how much harder it is to get offence from the blueline on international ice because of the smaller offensive zones.
“They cut your ‘D’ off quicker than they would at home,” he said.
Doughty and Weber found a way.
The forwards must do it, too. Score “the ugly goals,” as Bergeron called them. Nothing more beautiful than an ugly goal in Sochi.