Image via the man himself
Heading into the Sochi Olympics there was a general perception that the bigger ice surface would bring with it a more exciting, up-tempo, back-and-forth brand of hockey. But as many people, including Smilin’ Don Cherry himself, have astutely pointed out: the big ice has allowed defensively inclined teams to load up on the blue line and force the opposition to dump the puck in (which is generally speaking a much less effective form of zone entry than actually carrying it in with possession). There’s a lot of “trapping it up” unfolding before our very eyes.
As a result, we’ve only seen an average of 2.65 goals/game in preliminary group play despite all of the world’s top players being involved. I don’t even want to imagine what the play would look like if this wasn’t a “best-on-best” tournament, because it would probably make for unwatchable viewing.
While this morning’s 2-1 overtime victory wasn’t *that* bad, it was still riddled with dry moments that were severely lacking in excitement. For a team that’s as depleted as the Finnish squad is, I’m sure that it was music to their ears. By keeping a much more talented Canadian squad to the outside, and limiting the number of events for the majority of the time, they were able to give themselves a fighting chance.
Fortunately there’s only one Drew Doughty, though.
It was the Drew Doughty show, once again, as he continued his phenomenal tournament by putting home a pair of goals (giving him 4 through 3 games). While he’s clearly amongst the league’s best blueliners over in the NHL, being freed up from Darry Sutter’s grip has really allowed him to take his game to another level in Sochi. Even Canucks fans can’t help but marvel at what he has been able to do thus far in establishing himself as the team’s top defenseman. He’s a sniper.
Another interesting subplot: it may very well be a coincidence since I’m not sure what it’s telling us, but the two best players in this tournament look like pudgy, homeless dudes. Maybe don’t judge a book by its cover, I guess?
A few other notes before we get to the scoring chances:
- According to Sapp Macintosh, Canada controlled 72.5% of all shot attempts in score close situations. That sounds about right, since they seemingly had the puck for the entirety of the game. The scoring chances, while still in their favour, were only 16-7, which kind of reflects what Finland was attempting to do (and actually wound up accomplishing). Almost everything was to the outside, and whenever Canada did manage to get in close.. Tuukka Rask was there. Well, except for the two softies he uncharacteristically wound up letting past him.
Rick Nash had a goal called back in the first period because of a high stick, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen something like this happen. As Thomas Drance noted, the right play would’ve been to knock the puck from underneath the crossbar.. but that’s obviously easier said than done. If someone managed to actually pull that off it’d probably be one of the greatest goals ever.
- Sidney Crosby still doesn’t have a goal through 3 games, and I have to say that he didn’t look all that good with Bergeron and Benn beside him (after those two had been 2/3rds of the team’s most effective line against Norway and Austria). He’s had something of a weird tournament so far. He hasn’t been nearly as bad as some people would leave you to believe, but he does only have 2 assists, and 4 shots on goal next to his name. Which, given his lofty standards, is subpar. Plus.. his line has surrendered the most scoring chances against out of any thus far. If you’ll recall he was also pretty quiet in Vancouver, before finally coming to life at the most opportune of moments.
The most annoying part is that for as long as he (relatively) struggles, this whole “chemistry” narrative will have legs.. What most people won’t conveniently note, though, is how he and Toews are taking on the other team’s best players allowing Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares to mash. That doesn’t fit the narrative. Basically this is where I stand with him: I’m nowhere near panicking, but he will need to be better if the team is going to win this whole thing.
- I don’t know what you have to do to impress Steve Yzerman, but apparently winning a big game in overtime to avoid a dangerous Russian squad simply won’t get it done..
The Scoring Chances
The chance count is brought to you by Cam Charron, who to go along with tracking them did a fine job of breaking down Doughty’s winner. Make sure you give that a read because it’s a quality piece of work. And with that out of the way, here are the individual numbers:
Here’s the cumulative team data, broken down by period:
As someone who has the luxury of watching him play on a nightly basis, I love what Dan Hamhuis is capable of doing on the ice to bits. He’s a fantastic hockey player, and for my money one of the most underrated players in the sport. Most of the things that he does so well aren’t exactly considered “sexy”, and he almost never makes it on highlight reels for people outside of Vancouver to see.
But he played 3:58 in this game, and was a complete non-factor. Meanwhile, PK Subban, wasn’t dressed as a result. I don’t understand how you can watch a game like this and not think to yourself “man this team sure could use someone as dynamic and capable of making things happen like that PK Subban!” He’s one of the very best in the sport in that regard, and is for some reason being completely wasted by Mike Babcock and his staff.
It’s mystifying how basically everyone on Twitter can be 100% united in their opinion on what the optimal lineup combinations are for this team, yet some brilliant minds are totally missing the plot. I don’t have an explanation for it. Babcock told reporters that “there would be lineup changes for sure“, but at this point who’s to say that he’ll get it right?
In this game he finally removed Chris Kunitz from Crosby’s hip, but still for some reason kept utilizing him on the power play. Meanwhile, Martin St.Louis, the reigning Art Ross winner isn’t playing for some reason.
Yes, I was definitely surprised that the coaching staff went back to Price in this one following Luongo’s strong showing v. Austria. I figured that he had earned himself another start after having looked so solid, but apparently Pierre LeBrun’s assertions that the team’s brain trust had already predetermined that Carey Price was their guy were correct.
With all of that being said, Price was fine in this game. He was tested only sparingly, and the only time he was beaten was following a nice tip by Tuomo Ruutu through traffic. To his credit he made a big-time save early in the overtime with what looked like his stick, that kept the game going (eventually allowing Doughty to take all of the glory for himself). I assume that he’s going to get the nod again in their quarterfinal matchup, but Don Cherry did have the following to say:
“I figure they know what Lalongo can do, so they’re gonna give Price another game. But I still think they’d end up with Lalongo.”
— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) February 16, 2014
Hm. The problem with that is that if they need to turn back to Luongo at any point in the future, it’ll probably mean that they’re in some kind of trouble..
via James Mirtle
Ultimately pulling this one out was huge for Canada, since they managed to avoid a potential QF outing against a Russian team that I’d want no part of (despite their struggles). For those that are unfamiliar with them, though, the Swiss are far from a pushover. They gave Canada all sorts of trouble in group play back in 2010, and then pulled out a Silver in the World Championships this past summer.
They’re 2-1 thus far in Sochi, owning Latvia, hanging with Sweden until the very end, and then giving the Czechs all sorts of trouble. They’ve got a bunch of NHL players, including Raphael Diaz and Yannick Weber on the blueline. They’ve also only given up 1 goal against thus far, and will undoubtedly try to follow a similar gameplan to that of Finland. They’ll actually probably be even more effective doing so, because they’re an infinitely faster team from top to bottom, which’ll make for a very interesting QF matchup. Maybe the Swiss will start to get mainstream attention if they’re able to hang with the Canadians.
Don’t expect a blowout, would be my advice..