February 23 2014 08:39AM
There was a lot of self-inflicted angst, and consternation in Canada after the men's hockey team *only* beat the likes of Austria and Norway by a combined 8 goals. After it took an overtime to beat Finland, and a late 3rd period goal to beat Latvia, some people were misguidedly viewing the perceived lack of offense as some sort of fatal flaw that would eventually catch up to the Canadians.
All of that seems more than silly in retrospect after they went out and thoroughly dominated both the Americans and Swedes en route to repeating as Gold Medalists at the Winter Olympics. Despite the overwhelming built-in expectations that they brought with them into this tournament, they somehow managed to surprise.
It was nothing short of pure, unmitigated excellence. "It was too easy", "It wasn't nearly as exciting as it was in 2010", It was.. Gold.
Based on what we'd seen for the entirety of the tournament leading up to this point, we went into this Gold Medal Game figuring that Canada would have no trouble controlling the action at 5v5. And we were right. In the early going it was all Sidney Crosby and Patrice Bergeron, as they worked together to set up a handful of chances right off the bat. It was only thanks to Henrik Lundqvist's brilliance that those two didn't somehow wind up scoring in those first 7-8 minutes of the game.
Sweden actually came very close to being the first to get the board shortly after the aforementioned onslaught, with Gustav Nyquist hitting the post following a nice move to get out front of the net. Price managed to recover just in the knick of time by finding the puck which was between him and the goal line, and covering him. Unfortunately for them, it wound up proving to be the last real time they made Price and the Canadians sweat..
Canadian Hero Jonathan Toews wound up finally putting one on the board when he tipped home a beautiful centering pass from Jeff Carter. Let's talk about the tournament Jeff Carter had himself, because it was surely worth discussing. After having people question his inclusion on the team, and then more recently plead for him to be healthy scratched following a quiet opener against Norway, he's done all sorts of great things.
He scored a hat trick in just a matter of minutes against Austria, and then went on to be a key cog in Canada's shutdown line with Toews and Marleau. As most of the team did, they had to sacrifice some by trading in the offense they're used to generating at the NHL level for a more defensive approach, but they were damn good in the past couple of games.
They weren't the only ones that were doing their thing, though, as I thought the 4th line - which feels ridiculous to say, but is still true nonetheless - of Matt Duchene, Marty St.Louis, and Rick Nash was fantastic in this game. Looking at the box score they only logged ~7 minutes of ice-time, but it sure seemed like they were hemming Sweden in their own zone and making them run around every single time they were out there. Good on St.Louis, who has had a minimal role on this team as the 13th forward/healthy scratch after being the last guy to make the team.
Yet still, despite all of that good stuff the game was only 1-0 with the clock winding down on the 2nd period. But then this happened..
Good lord is Sidney Crosby good at hockey. He caught a lot of flack for essentially the entirety of the tournament because of the fact that he hadn't scored a single goal.. despite the fact that he had been generating chances for his team like a mad man. He was due, and it was cool to see him not only have a whale of a game, but score that sweet goal to break Sweden's back. I'd like to think even the least rational ones out there will be out of ammo for their wild Sidney Crosby vendetta.
It's not like we hadn't seen a team blow a 2-0 lead late in a Gold Medal game very recently, but it was pretty clear for the full 20 minutes of the 3rd period that the Swedes basically had about as good a chance of scoring on the Canadians as the Latvians did in a similar situation. They were thoroughly outclassed, as Canada kept their foot on the gas pedal. Readers of the blog must've felt weird seeing a team just relentlessly attack their opponent despite having the comfort of a lead to fall back on.
Fittingly, it was Chris Kunitz who sniped the 3rd insurance goal by Henrik Lundqvist to officially put a bow on the game. I've been awfully critical of him in recent days, but some context and perspective needs to be taken into consideration. I think Kunitz is a very legitimate good hockey player, and basically every team in the NHL would consider themselves fortunate to have his services.
The issue, though, is that Team Canada isn't just any team, and he'd be taking away opportunities from other, more deserving players. Much of the reason that Crosby hadn't been racking up the points in this tournament could be directly attributed to Kunitz subtly blowing numerous opportunities to put the puck into the net. He hadn't necessarily played *poorly* (in fact, he was quite effective against the United States).. but he had failed to finish the chances that had been handed on a
silver gold platter to him, and that was the whole point of my argument against having him on the team.
But as people usually tend to do online, they got carried away with their passionate disliking for him, and started to lose the plot a little bit. From a compassionate human being point of view, it was cool to see him put that all behind him and finally get a tally next to his name. In the grand scheme of things it'll be kind of interesting to see how he and his role on this team are remembered years from now..
Scoring chances for the tournament: 139-47.
Shots on goal for the tournament: 241 for, 129 against.
Goal differential for the tournament: 16 for, 3 against.
Number of seconds spent trailing: 0.
Team Canada is good at hockey.
The NHL is back on Tuesday with a game between the Hurricanes and Sabres (making up for a previously postponed game), and the Canucks themselves next play on Wednesday when St.Louis comes to town. Along with that there's the Heritage Classic game against the Senators, and the trade deadline to look forward to. The next couple of weeks will be busy and we'll get back into our regular programming in the coming days.
But for now.. enjoy this. Even Dan Hamhuis is smiling!