A 5-3 loss to the United States is not a particularly enjoyable game for any fan of Team Canada.
Personally, I’m of two minds about it. The rational side of my personality recognizes that the Canadians were better at almost every facet of the game and that the real difference makers were in net. Martin Brodeur, who has been on a two month slide and didn’t look good in a win over the Swiss didn’t look good here either, allowing two goals on the first four shots and looking uncharacteristically bad while handling the puck. Ryan Miller was tremendous, as was Jonas Hiller on Thursday, and looked a lot like the Vezina frontrunner that he is. That rational part of me also recognizes that this was one game, that last time Canada won gold they had an even uglier defeat at the hands of Sweden (a loss which prompted the move from Curtis Joseph to Brodeur) and that every thing needs to be kept in perspective.
The other half of me is bitterly disappointed. I’m not making broad statements about the national character (as one commenter did in the post below) or writing the team off, but I’m still angry. The decision to start Brodeur seemed like the safe choice, but it was also the wrong one given how he and Luongo have played over the last two months. A part of me rages at every player who took an undisciplined penalty, and that list is a lengthy one. The image of Ryan Kesler sweeping the puck away from Corey Perry and into the empty net had me spitting with rage at a player I never much liked to begin with. The problems seem to be myriad.
The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. Minus goaltending, the Canadians were the better team. Not a perfect team, and at times not even a particularly good team, but better than their opposition. Some changes need to be made, starting in net and going from there. Brent Seabrook deserves more ice-time, particularly given the struggles of other defencemen (veterans and youth alike). Up front, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley and somewhat surprisingly Jonathan Toews have been Canada’s best players and they ought to get more ice-time.
1. Ryan Miller. The Sabres’ goaltender was excellent in net and kept the Americans in the game despite some ugly results on the shot clock. He won the goaltending matchup by a significant margin.
2. Brian Rafalski. Two goals in the first period alone tell part of but not the entire story; he moved the puck effectively and played solid defensive hockey too. He’s a key veteran for the Americans and his importance has only been increased with the absence of Paul Martin.
3. Duncan Keith. Canada’s best defenceman at the tournament by a significant margin, Keith played well at both ends of the ice. I lost count of the number of times he simply held the puck in at the offensive blue-line or made a smart pass to help Canada move through the neutral zone with speed. He edges out a bunch of other deserving players, notably Ryan Kesler on the American side and Jonathan Toews up front.