Canada opened their Olympic tournament with a 3-1 victory over Norway this afternoon – you can follow our story stack on that here. As for analysis, here’s 10 things I thought while watching the game unfold.
We’ll start with the easy stuff. From the superficial, meaningless file:
* Team Canada’s jersey’s look pretty damn good on TV– or at least better than many initially thought they would – but good lord, are they wearing awful hockey socks. (I said the first point was superficial. Hush. We’ll get to the actual hockey soon enough, and I have a history of caring about these things.) They look like they’re wearing volleyball kneepads.
* I find the jersey number hierarchy fascinating. I get that Kunitz gets #14 over Benn because he’s older, but when there’s a huge talent disparity – say, Jay Bouwmeester getting 19 over Jonathan Toews despite the latter being a team captain and Bouwmeester only wearing the number for a portion of his career – it’s just interesting. Toews is in 16, Tavares is in 20 (out of courtesy to Steven Stamkos?)…it all just seems odd. Feel free to weigh in with any insight/opinion in the comments.
Norway’s captain (and ex-NHLer) Ole-Kristian Tollefsen was pretty close to murdering a few innocent Canadians today. For years Canada’s modus operandi was to come out and smash opponents and take control of the game physically, but they’ve learned they don’t need pure plugs on their team…which is good. That’s left the team with a very skilled group that’s less inclined to engage in the senseless banging, and it showed. Tollefsen ran roughshod over Canadians, one after another, particularly in the first period.
An addendum to point two - Tollefsen ran roughshod over Canadians, one after another…until he ran into Canada’s best player on the day, Jamie Benn. He tried to smoke him cutting across the middle, but it’s really, really hard to run over an actual refrigerator on skates, as he learned. In 8:52 of ice time – again, in words this time – in eight fifty two of ice time, the least of any Canadian player (next lowest forward was St. Louis at 10:47) , Jamie Benn scored, had the second most shots amongst forwards (to Marleau, who played 15:50), won puck battles and looked like a rock.
What I’d like to see Canada do: play a line of Benn-Crosby-St.Louis. Crosby is a disher and o-zone possession master, Benn has a great stick, is a shooter and a physical presence, and St. Louis is a rusher, shooter…whatever you want him to be. This is my line of choice for Canada, and I won’t even listen to an argument that Kunitz-Crosby-Carter is better.
(Oh, and also: more John Tavares. Like St. Louis, he’s the type of savvy thinker/creator that can dominate events like this. 11:31 of ice time isn’t enough.)
Jeff Carter was among Canada’s top forwards in ice time, but it looks like they have him brainwashed to be hockey’s version of a “chucker.”
Essentially, throwing the puck to the net against most of today’s ‘tenders, when there isn’t any traffic, is a turnover. Hopeless shots are the equivalent of dump-and-chase in today’s NHL – why are you giving your opponent the puck for free?
Sidney Crosby is special. I mean, you knew that, so I’ll keep this short, but the guy is a puck-acquirer to the ‘nth degree. He causes turnovers, he maintains possession, and he’s great at using his feet, so anytime there’s a puck bouncing somewhere near him it’s suddenly flat and his team has possession. It’s just one of his many talents, but it’s a big one.
It’s not the worst thing in the world that Canada had to actually play 60 minutes in their tournament opener. Sweden, for example, played 25, then stopped playing their top guys as much, slipped into a prevent defense, and ran the clock out. These players don’t have much time to gel. While you’d like to see your team be so dominant they don’t need to play a whole game hard, it’s not such a bad thing on night one. It’s an up-tempo practice with opponents that are actually trying.
Full respect to Norway for keeping it close with Canada, but holy onions and gravy, how did they come up with a d-zone game plan that involved any man-on-man coverage? Canada often had their third forward high in the o-zone to the point where it looked like they had three d-men, and Norway ran a guy all the way up there to stick with him. That meant that Canada’s more talented forwards rarely faced out-numbered situations down low, and were able to keep puck possession for huge swaths of time. That also left a big soft spot in the slot – I would’ve liked to have seen Canada’s D be more active because of that.
Speaking of Canada’s D, here’s what we learned about them today:
Their job largely consisted of taking passes at the blueline and dispersing the puck to the next place. Norway had a couple high quality chances, but I mean that literally – just a couple. Otherwise all we saw from Canada’s D was offensive play. Surrre would’ve liked to have seen some Subban in there.
As someone rooting for Canada, I don’t hate that they didn’t score a pile of goals. I thought they answered my initial questions for them pretty well, and they heavily out-chanced Norway throughout the game (24 to 5 to be specific, 23 to 2 at even strength – for more on that, check out Thomas Drance’s in-depth piece). “Luck” fluctuates, so all you can do is create those opportunities and hope the bad will even out with the good down the road. It almost always does.
How about being Shea Weber in this tournament? Your whole career in Nashville you’ve never played with a better scorer than…I dunno, David Legwand (Nashville’s all-time leading scorer!)? Martin Erat? Alexander Radulov for an hour? I don’t blame him one second for signing that offer sheet that inevitably kept him with the Preds, but you have to think experiences like this are a breath of fresh air for him. He looked like he enjoyed today’s game, he scored a beauty, and he got to pass it hard without knocking over any of his Preds teammates, who over the years have been using their sticks as tripods to not fall down.
…Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but I do think he’s going to have fun playing with Canada’s embarrassment of riches.