February 21 2014 01:44PM
Smile, Stevie Y, Canada is off to the Gold Medal Game!
We'd been highly anticipating these 2-3 hours of action ever since Drew Doughty put home the overtime winner vs. Finland last Sunday, essentially providing a blueprint for the route to the medals. Canada/United States, in a rematch of the 2010 Gold Medal Game that won't ever be forgotten around these parts.
While the game itself may not have been as dramatic as that one four years ago, or even more recently, the one these two countries' women engaged in yesterday, for my money it completely delivered on its promise. It was fast-paced, it was highly skilled, and the best players in the world were all for the most part playing at their best.
Sure, there may've only been one goal scored in the 60 minutes of play, but that hardly tells the story of what was a fantastically played, and uber competitive hockey game. For those of you keeping score at home, it's now Canada 2, USA 0 in meaningful hockey games in Sochi.
Jamie Benn Has Got it Going On
That one goal was scored by none other than Jamie Benn, as he put some wicked hand-eye coordination on display in tipping Safe Bouwmeester's pass home. Bouwmeester gets some flack - probably moreso from myself than anyone else - but that was an all-world play in which he put some great vision on display.
But let's not get away from this site's patron saint, Benn, who continues to have himself a heck of a tournament. He was right up there with Tavares in terms of the team's most effective skaters (which is quite a testament, considering all of the big names involved), and with JT now on the shelf, I think he's got to be in the short conversation for MVP if Canada goes on to win it all.
I particularly liked what Justin Bourne had to say on the Benn-Getzlaf-Perry unit in his recap of the game:
"I just can’t wrap my head around lining up for a faceoff against Ryan Getlaf, Corey Perry and Jamie Benn. I mean, eff me. These guys have some of the best mitts on the planet, and they just happen to be eight-foot-twelve, 600 pounds each (ballpark). They’re just so crafty and strong, trying to D-up on them from the corner out must take so, so much energy. What a game they played today, Benn in particular. The vision and tip on the first goal were silly."
.. how the heck wasn't this guy invited to the team's Orientation Camp? That somehow makes their little ball hockey rendezvous look like an even bigger joke than it already was.
The Scoring Chances
I've attached the chance data below, thanks to the fine tracking work on one Cam Charron. As you'll quickly realize, the Crosby line was pretty darn dominant in this game. While I'm sure there will still be some mouth breathers out there that will point to the donut he has in the "goals scored" column, there's really no point in arguing with those or people or trying to sway them, because they seem set in their ways.
The fact of the matter is that Crosby did whatever he wanted to out there, and really it was only Khris Cunitz's lack of finishing ability (to go along with a strong Jonathan Quick performance, in fairness) that got in the way of Crosby having himself a couple of assists in this game. There were probably at least 4-5 golden opportunities for Cunitz, which he unsurprisingly blew. I'm sure he'd be viewed differently were that to be the case. Regardless, the process is there, as is his excellence.
Meanwhile, the Toews line (with Marleau and Carter) were the only Canadians to have a minus next to their name, but that was solely due to circumstance. Babcock once again went to them as the "tough minutes" unit, and for the most part I thought they did everything you could ask for from guys asked to play against Kessel, Pavelski, and JVR. Carter, in particular, came flying right out of the gate, and seemed to be all over the place. Both he and Marleau were nearly rewarded for their efforts near the end of the game as both had a shot at the yawning cage.
Anyways, I just wanted to point that out because putting data like this into context is always a crucial component when it comes to analyzing it. Here are the individual scoring chance differentials:
Here are the cumulative team totals:
JESUS PRICE!!!!— Strombone (@strombone1) February 21, 2014
I have no issue with admitting when I've overlooked something in my analysis, or simply blew a call I've made in the past. It happens to everyone that finds themselves doing this thing day in and day out (unless you're a no good fence-rider, and then what's the point anyways?).
So with that in mind, I'll fully cop to being wrong about the goaltending situation for Canada. It'd be fair to say that I wasn't exactly overly confident in the team's decision to ride with Carey Price as their starting goaltender, especially when they stopped playing the Latvias and Norways of the world, and started taking on real competition.
But now I have to (very willingly, and happily) give Price his due, because he was fantastic. Particularly in the first period, when he made a handful of legitimately tough saves, like the ones on Phil Kessel and John Carlson. As the game went along he was called upon less and less, but was rock solid whenever he needed to be, which is all you really ask for from the guy playing behind a team like this.
Now, he could just as easily go on to have a bad game on Sunday and the narrative will take a full 180 flip ("should of started Luongo!"), but for the next 24 hours or so Mike Babcock and Co. look pretty smart for their decision.
Two other Canucks notes before we look ahead to the aforementioned Gold Medal game:
a) Dan Hamhuis played a grand total of 0:00. Babcock went ahead and spread out his defensive minutes pretty uniformly across the top-6, with all of them playing somewhere between 18 and 21 minutes. That's something I'm perfectly OK with. But if you're not going to play that 7th guy unless there's some sort of emergency, then wouldn't it be a savvier play to have someone like PK Subban dressed in case you find yourself in a position where you need goals? Nitpicking, I guess.
b) Ryan Kesler topped 20 minutes in this game, registering only the one shot on goal. The CBC cameras showed him arriving to the arena with a big ol' bandage around his hand, and at the end of the 2nd period he appeared to gingerly head to the lockerroom after going down to block a shot. I tweeted this earlier, but it's going to be really cool when he shows up to Vancouver in a Ziploc bag in the form of a pile of dust.
Hey, I know those guys! The only thing standing between Team Canada and being back-to-back Gold is Daniel Sedin, Alex Edler, and Team Sweden.
Despite their litany of injuries - heck, they're missing three of their top 6 forwards in Henrik Sedin, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen - they've done an admirable job of making it all the way to this point.
Ultimately, though, I think they're going to find out very quickly that there's a substantial difference between playing Slovenia and Finland (their two elimination game opponents), and playing this Canadian team. I would be pretty stunned if Canada didn't roll through them at 5v5, thoroughly controlling play. Whether they'll be able to actually convert some of that into goals, especially with Henrik Lundqvist back there, remains to be seen.
What also remains to be seen is whether Canada will be able to avoid taking any dumb penalties, and how their penalty kill will hold up against the tournament's best power play unit. Despite missing two pretty darn gifted offensive playmakers in Zetterberg and Sedin, the Swedes have still managed to boast a savagely dynamic man advantage in this tournament up until this point. I'd say that their only real chance to win on Sunday morning will be if they continue to crush it on special teams.
Make sure you either set your alarm clocks, and load up on the beer.. and we'll see you guys on the other side!