There were basically three hockey games played in the contest last night between heavily favoured Team Canada and a surprisingly good Slovakian team.
In the first game, the Canadians established themselves as a dominant presence, outshooting the Slovaks 21-9 through two periods and dominating the play. The Slovakians hung in there, to be sure, and their defensive scheme worked to some degree, but there was no doubt who was in the driver’s seat and a 3-0 lead resulted.
The Canadian team seemed to sit back after that, playing to the score, and the Slovakians had difficulty generating much in the way of offence. It wasn’t exciting hockey by any stretch, and it was easy to get caught thinking that the Canadians had already won. I was almost bored watching it, and seemingly the crowd was too, because they started chanting “We want U-S-A!”
Unfortunately for the Canadians, it looked like they slipped into that mindset too, because the third part of the game was completely different. Slovakia started pressuring, and they did a great job of it. With just over 8:00 left on the clock, Lubomir Visnovsky scored a goal that Roberto Luongo would undoubtedly like back. Then miscommunication and a defensive zone faceoff loss led to more trouble, as Michal Handzus scored to draw Slovakia to within one goal at 15:07. Suddenly, there was time left and only a one-goal lead left for the Slovakians to surmount.
They tried. The Canadians seemed unable to even get back to an even keel, let alone pressure the Slovakians, and they allowed numerous quality chances as the clock ran down. Luongo had to be brilliant and made one seemingly impossible save with almost no time left, robbing fellow Canuck Pavol Demitra.
1. Ryan Getzlaf. Getzlaf didn’t have to play against the best Slovakian forwards for most of the night, but he finished with two points including the game-winning power play goal.
2. Michal Handzus. It’s a little strange to see a name like Handzus here, but he’s an underrated player who can line up against anyone and come out on top. In last night’s game he was an effective presence at both ends of the rink, he played physically, and he led the Slovakian team in shots with four. He also scored the goal that brought the game within one.
3. Brendan Morrow. I want to credit Morrow for some incredible work on the forecheck early on in the game; he did score a goal but it was more than that and he’s done a good job of proving he belongs on this team. As you might expect, however, there were lots of other players worth considering here, from both sides.