Tim Wharnsby - Monday Feb. 17, 2014 09:57

Sidney Crosby not worried about slow start

Men's hockey captain has 2 assists in 3 games

Canada's men's hockey team captain Sidney Crosby
Canada's men's hockey team captain Sidney Crosby laughs at a question during a press availability at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 17, 2014. (Jim Young/Reuters)

SOCHI – Mike Babcock and Sidney Crosby don’t share the same concern some fans have back home about the Canadian team’s narrow victories in the preliminary round, and the lack of statistical production from the Canadian captain.

After a 2-1 overtime victory against Finland on Sunday, in which defenceman Drew Doughty scored both goals, Canada advanced to the quarter-finals on Wednesday. The team awaits the winner of the Switzerland-Latvia qualification game on Tuesday.

“I think [Canada is] playing at a pretty high level,” Babcock said. “The teams we’re playing against are good. They’re playing hard. To me, just keep playing and find a way to do what you do to help your team.

“Doughty scored the goals last night, but the team won. That’s what we care about. It doesn’t matter if that was Sid or [Jonathan] Toews or [Shea] Weber, no one cares.”

But how can the world’s best player be held to just two assists in the three preliminary games?

It’s the same reason why Alex Ovechkin hasn't scored since his first shift in the tournament. It’s the same reason why the best players don’t always score often or set up a boatload of goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The stakes are high. The checking is tight. The goaltenders have been spot on.

Shades of Vancouver

If you look at Crosby’s production in Vancouver four years ago, he had a goal, a shootout goal and three assists in the first three games. He scored again early in the third period of the 8-2 rout against Germany in Game No. 4, but then didn’t register a point for more than nine periods until his golden goal in the gold-medal final. Yet, Canada won.

Babcock hasn’t been concerned in Sochi about Crosby’s play. But he did provide new linemates for his captain in the game against Finland after Crosby’s middling start. Out went his trusty sidekick with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Chris Kunitz, and the revolving door was halted on the right side, which has included Jeff Carter and Martin St. Louis.

In came, Jamie Benn and Patrice Bergeron, two of Canada’s better forwards in the opening games against Norway and Austria. Bergeron and Crosby have had success at the international level, dating back to their days on the 2005 Canadian junior team.

“No, I think it doesn’t really change how you play or what you do out there,” said Crosby, when asked if it’s difficult to break in new linemates. “I think you’re always aware of who you’re playing with, and what their strengths are, but I don’t think it changes what you do out there.

“I don’t think you really have a chance to overthink too much. As far as what you’re doing individually, it’s more your game plan as a team is what’s going through your mind, rather than who you’re necessarily playing with. All the guys here are so good, I think you can just read off each other, no matter who you’re playing with.”

The Canadians were content with the way played against the defence-first Finns. They out-chanced Finland 18-5 and yielded only two scoring opportunities to Finland in the second period. Unfortunately for Team Canada, one of those chances was a goal thanks to a pinpoint redirect off the stick of Tuomo Ruutu.

Difficult adjustment

For his part, Crosby and his new linemates helped out on Doughty’s first goal against the tight-checking Finns. But it’s not easy playing with Crosby in a short-term situation like this because of his speed.

“The challenge is to try to play your best,” Bergeron said. “He’s obviously the best player in the world. It’s about trying to find him when he’s open, but also it’s getting open for yourself, not just trying to feed him. He’s a smart enough player to get open and see the right area to go to. I’m trying to do the same thing as well so he has some options.

“As the game went on, every time you have a new linemate you have to adjust in the first couple of shifts, but as the game went on I felt a little better. We’ll see what happens.”

What Canada expects to happen is the tight-checking, low-scoring games to continue.

The Switzerland-Latvia game is a rematch from the preliminary round that saw the Swiss eke out a 1-0 victory.

Switzerland no longer can be considered a pushover. It took Canada to a shootout in Vancouver four years ago to prevail, and the Swiss won its first medal in 60 years at the world championship last spring when they settled for silver.

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