The surprising thing about Canada’s defense of their gold medal was how clean it was. En route to the Stanley Cup you usually mix in a few poor games, you fall behind at some point, you get outplayed for awhile. Canada’s only sketchy moment was not beating Latvia by more – the final wasn’t all that close. Canada played like assassins methodically and systematically destroying targets without remorse. Target acquired, target eliminated, what’s next?
It sucks that Sweden wasn’t able to dress their best team. While it’s fun for Canadians to win (well, if you’re Canadian), they played a Swedish team without Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, and surprisingly, Nick Backstrom (more on the Backstrom absence here…weird situation). Those are three elite players that could’ve greatly altered the course of the game.
I know “Canada likes hockey” isn’t the most compelling thought, but the city of Toronto was absolute mayhem. I’ve only been here for 16 months after leaving Phoenix, but it’s silly. My wife and I lined up at 5:50 for the seven a.m. game, waiting in a line of roughly 100 people, and had this pic of us taken before puck drop.
And after that, it got busy. The bar down the street had velvet ropes and a bouncer, everyone was in jerseys…hockey’s just an obsession up here.
Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby were so good it was borderline comical. Watching Bergeron think hockey is one of my favorite things in the sport – he’s aggressive on the forecheck, relentlessly hounds the puck, and makes good, safe decisions after acquisition with a rarely-seen consistency. And while his talents are rare, Crosby might be even better. The puck just always goes to the right place, like he’s playing the game in slow-mo with an aerial view.
It was fun to see Marty St. Louis get some real ice time and be as effective as he was. His one-timer off a laser Rick Nash pass had a chance at going in, but aside from that he was just around the net all day. I would’ve liked to have seen him given a bigger chance earlier in the tournament, but it was just great to see him validate his selection at all.
The scariest thing about that Canadian team was in the third period when the Swedes, down two, took the leash off their offensive players (particularly D-man Erik Karlsson)…and they got nothing. I mean, really, in the last two games for Canada, Price has been asked to be good in the first, and be average after that because of Canada’s ability to keep the puck in the offensive zone. I thought for sure Sweden would generate some nerve-wracking moments late, but like the US, they even got rolled when score effects should be taking place.
After Sidney Crosby scored his breakaway goal (which was nice to see, given how well he played all tournament despite minimal results), the second period ended and Sid took an extra second on the bench as the guys filed to the dressing room. The team’s other leader, Jonathan Toews, gave him a punch in the shoulder to get his attention to say good job, but words weren’t really needed. The solemn, silent “we got this” head nod that followed was great.
As Mike Babcock said about Sid – he’s a man of moments, and he created another one today.
I don’t entirely get what other countries are doing with their ice time distribution (looking at you, Czech Republic) – how Sweden only gives Oliver Ekman-Larsson 7:19 against Canada blows my mind. This guy is one of the best defensemen in the NHL (a pretty good league), yet he can’t log time over guys like Ericsson or Oduya? If I’m a GM with a coach who has some petty issue that stops him from using our best talent, he’s gone.
So, Nick Backstrom apparently took some Claritin and therefore “tested positive for banned substances” and couldn’t play in the gold medal game. Claritin. Is Claritin really propelling Backstrom into a class of his own? We can’t let a guy with allergies play? Even if he was taking the medication to make himself better, that’s where we draw the line considering all the stuff guys take? I guess you have to be ultra-careful in the Olympics and he’s somewhat at fault, but man…what a terrible break.
In conclusion, Canada’s dominance in Sochi came from their ability to possess the puck. (Well, that and their d-corps being unreal – Weber and Doughty tied for the team lead in points.) They forced goaltenders to make save after save, but if you get enough chances, you’ll score a few goals. I wrote in my preview that it would be tough to reverse a lead against Canada because of their commitment to defensive responsibility, and (for once) I was right. Babcock had the guys fully bought in to a system of short shifts and smart play. The could’ve won games 10-7 and left it up to chance, but the coaches chose not to. Instead, they were smothering on the forecheck, impossible to contain, and just generally ruthless. Canada did what they had to do in every game. The goal wasn’t to impress, it was to win, and they did so convincingly.