Bring on Finland, and difficult decisions for Mike Babcock
Who starts in net for Team Canada? Who comes out of the lineup?
Decisions, decisions. Mike Babcock and his Canadian men’s Olympic hockey coaching staff have plenty of decisions to make before the next outing against Finland on Sunday.
Will it be Roberto Luongo or Carey Price starting in goal? Did defenceman P.K. Subban and forward Matt Duchene do enough to stay in the lineup in Canada’s 6-0 win against Austria on Friday?
If so, with Babcock’s declaration that Patrick Sharp and Dan Hamhuis – the two unfortunate Canadian souls who sat against Austria – will return to the lineup on Sunday, who comes out?
When asked about having to sit star players like Sharp, the vocal coach remarked that it’s “ridiculous” that he has to make decisions. This was something that wasn’t the case in Vancouver when Team Canada brought 23 players and only the third goalie (Marc-Andre Fleury) was the odd man out.
Babcock informed the 32-year-old Sharp as the players were filing into the Bolshoy Ice Dome before the game against Austria. The coach was thankful that Sharp, who is sixth in the league in goals scored with 28, didn’t ask for a reason.
“Because I didn’t have one,” said Babcock, who added that the only good thing about Sharp sitting out is that when he goes back to the Chicago Blackhawks he will have a new appreciation for the extra players in the Windy City.
Not saying who's next in net
Babcock refused to answer whether it will be Luongo or Price against Finland. But it will be tough to pass over Luongo. He’s the incumbent gold-medal winner and, by the slightest of margins, enjoyed the stronger performance so far in Sochi.
In his 23-save shutout versus Austria, Luongo faced far more action and quality chances with the counter-attacking Austrian team than Price did in the 3-1 victory against the defence-first Norwegians on Thursday.
“I’m not the one to plead my case, man,” said Luongo, when asked what he would say to Babcock to help his cause to start against Finland. “I’m here to play for Canada. It doesn’t matter what happens moving forward. There are no personal agendas. It’s about representing your country and doing whatever it takes to win.
“It’s out of my hands. If it’s me, I’ll be ready. If it’s not, I’ll be ready. It doesn’t really matter.”
There was a funny scene at the end of the game against Austria. Jeff Carter, who was a candidate to sit out against Finland because of his ineffective outing against Norway, rebounded with a second-period hat trick against Austria on goals that were scored off rebounds from in close.
Carter wrestled the puck away from Austrian goalie Bernhard Starkbaum at the end of the game. He wanted to give the puck to his teammate, Luongo, to commemorate the shutout. But Luongo tried to give it back to Carter for his three-goal game. The Canadian goalie wasn’t sure where the puck ended up.
A no-hats hat trick
Carter, meanwhile, felt a lot better after his easy-as-pie hat trick.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a hat trick like that,” he said.
“You get a goal you feel good about yourself. Your legs feel better. Your hands feel better. It feels like the game comes a little easier.”
All three goals came within 11 minutes and 54 seconds, but not one hat was tossed on to the ice surface to mark the occasion.
“I didn’t think about that,” Carter said. “I guess they didn’t want to lose all their Canadian gear. They spent a lot of money on it.”
The one decision Babcock did make after the game was to give his players a day away from the rink on Saturday. He also imposed a gag order on the coaching staff, saying that there would be no hockey talk between the coaches and players.
“The coaches can only say hi to the players,” Babcock said.
Maybe by having three full days to prepare for the opener, the Canadians suffered from information overload from the well-prepared coaching staff. Maybe it’s time for instincts to take over.
But first Babcock has some decisions to make.