With defence like this, one goal is enough
Team Canada's lack of offence won't matter if the other team can't score
Maybe it’s time for Canada to stop fretting about Sidney Crosby’s absent scoring touch, and his teammates’ lack of offence as a whole, and zero in on why this team has advanced to another gold-medal final at the Olympic Games.
The Canadians will meet Sweden in the men’s hockey final on Sunday because of a smothering team defence that was on full display in their impressive 1-0 semifinal victory over the United States on Friday.
Unlike Team Canada, the speedy and skilled U.S. squad had no difficulty scoring goals in its first four games, having averaged 4.75 goals per match.
But it was a different story against the Canadians. Their forwards were supported a stingy blue-line and the few times the U.S. broke through for a scoring chance or a rare odd-man rush, goalie Carey Price came to the rescue.
“They played good defence,” U.S. forward Patrick Kane said. “Every time they got the puck in their own end they were getting it out. They weren't holding on to the puck and trying to make too many plays, they were just making the right play and getting it out so it made it tough on us.
“We didn't really create much offence. On the chances we did have, their goalie made some good saves. It's a little disappointing. We knew it was going to be a tough game. No one said it was going to be easy. I think everyone expected a tight checking game, but to say we would have gotten shut out, I don't think anyone would have thought that.”
Price made 31 saves for his first Olympic shutout. His shutout streak, dating back to the first period of the quarter-final win over Latvia, sits at 104 minutes and 19 seconds.
Jamie Benn scored the game’s lone goal early in the second period, when Canadian defenceman Jay Bouwmeester found him in front for a redirect goal. Benn, of course, is the only player on the Canadian roster who wasn’t invited to the team’s orientation camp in Calgary last August.
The Canadian team has now yielded only three goals in five games. But it just hasn’t been good goaltending or a solid blue-line; the forwards have shown a tremendous commitment to being in the right position defensively and a determination to backcheck.
"That's been something from day 1 that we've really believed in and trusted that that's a big part of success here,” Crosby said. “You see the games from every team at this point are really tight. That's a common theme.
“When there's not much separating each team obviously you have to make sure to keep the puck out of your net. I think as a group we've done a good job. Obviously, Carey's done a great job making the saves when we need them."
This, of course, was a rematch from the gold-medal game in Vancouver four years ago. The U.S. had 13 returnees on the 2014 team. The Canadians had 11. For the third time in four Olympics, the U.S. lost their last game of the tournament to Canada.
Inspired by women's final
It was a game that was played at a breakneck pace. But even though the Canadians seemed in control, they still were up only by a goal and everybody watching knew what transpired only 24 hours earlier when the Canadian women, who were outplayed all night, overcame a late-game, two-goal to snatch gold in overtime.
Some of the men’s team was in the Bolshoy Ice Dome to watch that dramatic game unfold. The rest of the team was back in the athletes’ village. The women’s come-from-behind win provided some inspiration before their big game.
“I dare to say that it feels even better to beat that team with the rivalry we have between the two teams,” Toews said. “Now we have a chance to win a gold medal. We’re going to enjoy this one as much as we can and then we’ll move on.
“We knew that a huge part of the U.S. game was their rush game, whether it was shooting off the rush and getting [second] chances on the far side or trying to find trailers. We didn’t have one guy coming back hard, we had two or three every time. We made it tough on them to create chances and when we could we just used our size and strength in their own zone.
"It was just work ethic. It was good sticks, I think we had active sticks. We never stopped moving our feet, and we were committed to doing the job right. Our penalty kill was great tonight, too. Those are the things, whether you're winning a Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal, you need to do.
“Especially if you only score one goal.”