Postgame: Canada v. Latvia

Good Kristers Gudlevskis action shot.

In a sort of tongue-in-cheek manner I tweeted prior to the game that there was a part of me hoping that Edgars Masalskis would stop 57 shots in a Latvian victory as Matt Duchene and PK Subban watched from the press box. 

I was obviously kidding because, let’s get real, there’s no time for trying to prove a point when patriotism and potentially Olympic Gold are on the line, but the horrendous tactical decisions Mike Babcock and his staff continue to make are unquestionably beginning to take hold as one of the biggest storylines currently going. It’s a shame that it’s in a way overshadowing the actual hockey itself, which is fantastic.

It turns out that it was actually Kristers Gudlevskis who manned the net for Team Latvia, but otherwise, for a while there it looked like my wishes may actually come true. He (and the defenders in front of him) put on a show in stifling the Canadians for as long as they could, before Our Lord and Sheaviour finally came through. 

Team Canada won by a 2-1 score on Wednesday morning to move on to the semi finals, but the story for at least a couple of hours will surely be about the difficulties they encountered in accomplishing that task.

The Rundown

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Image via Pete Blackburn

That’s not a typo. When all was said and done Canada wound up outshooting Latvia by a 57-16 margin, which is both crazy, and a testament to how obscenely in the zone Gudlevskis was in this game. After being beaten by a Patrick Sharp shot (and more importantly, a perfectly executed screen by John Tavares, who we’ll sadly touch on in more detail in just a bit) at the 13:37 mark of the 1st period, he was basically unbeatable back there. 

I say “basically” because he was actually beaten himself, but saved by a combination of his defenseman’s glove and Tim Peel’s continued incompetence. Here’s an even better look at it in GIF form. Canada should’ve technically received a penalty shot for their troubles, but alas, you can’t review that sort of thing. 

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Image via Marc Dumont

Since Gudlevskis is at least somewhat human (contrary to what he was leading us to believe for large parts of this contest), there was an instance late in the 3rd period where he was slow to get up following a stoppage in play, and needed to be looked at and treated by the trainer. 

The commentary team was suggesting that Ted Nolan should burn his timeout to give him a little breather, but he didn’t.. and on the following sequence Shea Weber put a bomb home to give Canada the lead. As if you could love the guy any more..

GIF: Weber's go-ahead goal & celly on Twitpic

The Canadians wound up holding onto that 2-1 lead for the final 6:54, without too many legitimate scares in the final minutes. Once again, it was difficult to gauge Carey Price’s performance on the other end because of how sparingly he was tested. What I do know, was that there were moments where he looked more than a little shaky; which in his defense probably have a lot to do with how cold he was standing back there.

The Weber goal was obviously a big “jump out of your seat” moment, but I think Latvia’s goal in the first period may’ve actually been my favourite individual moment of the game. Carey Price was absolutely owned by the Latvian goal scorer – and in turn, putting Roberto Luongo’s occasional antics back there to shame! – as he flopped around like a fish. No word on whether his jock strap has been retrieved from the rafters as of this moment.

What also stood out on the play was Jay Bouwmeester being abused, which struck me as a little odd since I was led to believe that they he was a far safer option than that free-wheeling, riverboat gambler PK Subban. Wait.. you’re going to tell me that all defensemen occasionally make a mistake and get caught? Blasphemy!

Unfortunately, there’s some bad news to pass along. Shortly after the game word broke on John Tavares’ injury that caused him to leave the game in the 2nd period (and not return):

That’s a tough pill to swallow. Tavares was, for my money, the team’s best skater through 3+ games and his absence will prove to be a big blow. Not that Matt Duchene, who will now draw back into the lineup, is any sort of slouch.. but a team that was already having its share of troubles converting chances now finds itself in an even more difficult spot. Especially since it essentially ensures that Chris Kunitz will once again have a big role on the team. 

It would be cool to have the likes of Steven Stamkos and John Tavares against the States (and down the line potentially Finland/Sweden), but I don’t think those teams, particularly the two latter ones, will shed any tears over this news.

The Scoring Chances

Cam Charron tracked the scoring chances, and they’re basically an extension of the shot attempt numbers we referenced above. Team Canada once again owned a game, and for the third time in 4 outings, appeared to have trouble in going from scoring chances –> goals

I don’t know what to tell you. It’s kind of unacceptable of only score two times against Latvia’s backup goaltender when they’re playing the second of a back-to-back, but these sorts of things happen. It’s why single elimination games are so sketchy. 

A goaltender can get hot, you can have a couple of bounces not go your way, and suddenly you’re reeling against a team that you’d crush 8 or 9 times if you played them in a 10-game series. That’s what happened here. I’m still a big believer that if Canada keeps on controlling play, and generating chances the way that they did in this game, they’ll be fine against Jonathan Quick and the States.

Individual chance totals

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Cumulative team totals:

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The Canucks

Image via Darryl Dyck

The picture above obviously wasn’t from this game (the jerseys are a slight giveaway, darn it!) but it may as well have been. Roberto Luongo rode some pine yet again in favour of Carey Price, while Dan Hamhuis was technically “active”, but that was more a technicality than anything. He logged 5:17, with only Martin St.Louis (4:51 as the 13th forward) and John Tavares (who was injured in the 2nd period) playing less than him.

The crazy part is that it was a bump in ice-time from his 3-and-change against Finland. Actually, that’s in no way the crazy part. The true crazy part is that the braintrust which this contract has given the reins to seems to feel that those sorts of small doses of Hamhuis are a better option than PK Subban, who has a fresh Norris Trophy on his mantle at home.

Our buddy Rhys already nailed the subject, so instead of regurgitating his points I’ll just plug it again. Please do read it if you haven’t already. It almost seems unfathomable at this point that there are still people that believe that PK Subban is any more of a liability than some of the other guys playing ahead of him, but here we are. That the occasional mistakes he makes somehow out weigh the significant benefits he brings to the table in making all of his teammates more effective. What a crazy world we live in.

What’s Next

.. you mean, other than going for a walk and getting some fresh air? A day off, and lots of questions about whether or not this team can find a way to more optimally convert the chances they’re creating. 

They’re scheduled to play the United States of America on Friday at 9AM PST, which’ll be the second half of what are two simply fantastic semi final games. The States managed to take advantage of some Pavelectricity en route to a 5-2 victory over the Czechs. 

They’ve now outscored their opponents by a 19-6 margin – which is unquestionably an impressive figure – but the general sentiment is that they’ve been somewhat lucky in riding the percentages. So far it has been all Phil Kessel, all the time, but they’ve still got some other players over there that I wouldn’t be overlooking.

It should prove to be a fantastic game. I wonder how many times the ’10 Gold Medal Game will be referenced in the lead-up to it? Take the over, whatever the line happens to be.

  • Marsh

    So, even for the best players in the world, playing on arguably the best team in the world, goals are random?

    How will the narrative be able to explain that away?

  • Mantastic

    Mr Filipovic, great overview per usual, however how come you don’t mention the great game played by our Zurich Lion player, Ronalds Kenins? In my opinion he played better than some of our forwards. He looks like a Jannik Hansen type player, and bodes well for organizational depth.

  • Mantastic

    as i mentioned in Rhys’s previous post, the reason why PK isn’t playing is mostly because of which hand he plays and the other RHD that are slotted ahead of him… pretty obvious Babs isn’t comfortable having players play their off side.

  • Mantastic

    So,if I understand this article correctly, Mike Babcock and his staff are making horrendous tactical decisions because they haven’t played PK Subban? I don’t seem to see any other reasons in this article. Sure, Canada has trouble putting the puck in the net but that’s the fault of the player, not the coach. I realize that Subban has the ability to be an offensive threat but with players such as Weber and Dougherty do we really need him, particularly when there is a concern about his defensive abilities. Yeah,I know he won the Norris trophy but that is based on points,not the ability to keep the puck out of our net.

    • Dimitri Filipovic

      Combining that with playing Chris Kunitz over vastly superior players like Duchene/MSL is pretty egregious on his part. It very well may not wind up mattering because this team has so much damn talent on it, but this has been far from Babcock’s finest performance.

      (I’m assuming he has been given the opportunity to make all of these decisions himself, rather than being a puppet for Steve Yzerman and Co.)

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    Wow, that was a pretty kind game review D. Yes, Canada dominated the play but they had extreme difficulty beating Latvia’s BACKUP GOALIE!!! Not good, really not good. Yes, the goalie had a great game but was he better than Quick is going to be on Friday? I don’t know, but I know we aren’t gonna be getting 50 shots on Quick. Sure, USA is riding the percentages to a degree but Canada just isn’t converting and we haven’t even played really tough competition yet. And Price has looked shaky all tournament and Tavares is now out. I’m not liking our chances against the Americans but I think the American’s have an excellent chance at taking the Gold this year (yay for Kesler…), I just hope Canada manages to get a medal.

  • Dimitri Filipovic

    How is it possible that in a game where Canada out-shot Latvia 57-16 and outchanced them 27-10, Crosby and Kunitz were -1 and -2 in scoring chances respectively?

    What the heck!?

  • Vladimir

    “That the occasional mistakes he makes somehow out weigh the significant benefits he brings to the table in making all of his teammates more effective. What a crazy world we live in.”

    The crazy world it’s when the Olympic Games are played in Russia and at the same time,police in the neighboring country kills dozens of people. THAT’S CRAZY.

    • Mantastic

      They could be played in Romania and that would still be true. They could be played in Seattle and there would be druglords in a neighboring country killing dozens of people. I don’t see the relevance.