Today marks Canada’s first elimination game: a qualifying match against Germany at 4:30 Pacific Time. If Canada wins, they’ll continue on to play a quarterfinal game against Russia tomorrow; of course if they lose the tournament ends here. Join us in the Live Blog:
Roberto Luongo has been confirmed as Canada’s starter, replacing Martin Brodeur, whose two month slide in NHL play has carried over to the Olympics. The one bright spot in the transition is that it is occurring now: had Brodeur put in an effort similar to the one against the United States on Sunday during an elimination game, the tournament would already be over. Despite a shaky final NHL game against Minnesota, Luongo’s been very good since January and made some good stops en route to a shutout win over Norway in Canada’s first game.
Despite where the Canadians are, I don’t think wholesale changes are needed: the goalie switch was the most important adjustment to the lineup, and other minor moves will be needed, and this game against the Germans is a good opportunity to get one last run at finding where players fit.
Despite the switch in Canada’s net, the most important player in this game is Thomas Greiss, the 24 year-old backup goaltender from the San Jose Sharks. Germany cannot compete with Canada either up front or on the back end, and like both Switzerland and the United States will need its goalie to steal the game for them. Greiss has been impressive in limited minutes for the Sharks but has an uninspiring track record in the AHL and isn’t close to being as consistently good as a Jonas Hiller or Ryan Miller, but he can get hot and this is the biggest game of his career. If he stands on his head and the Germans can get some offence – most likely from one of Marco Sturm, Jochen Hecht or Marcel Goc up front, or Christian Ehrhoff on the power play – they have some chance of upsetting Canada.
It’s up to the Canadians to deny them that opportunity. The individual talents on this roster are undeniable, and there can be no quarter shown, just a continual, merciless offensive onslaught from the forwards. Players like Chris Pronger and Eric Staal need to play with discipline, eschewing the careless penalties that have plagued the Canadians. Luongo needs to be the best goaltender on the ice.