Olympic Hockey Thoughts

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I played with many Russians in my time in professional hockey. I was always amazed by their skill and skating ability. After being traded to the Vancouver Canucks, during my first practice I was taught a harsh lesson on Russian ability by Pavel Bure and Alexander Mogilny.

Mother Russia

Mike Keenan had us do a one versus one drill in a morning skate of my first day as a Canuck. Looking back I am pretty sure he did it because of me and then lined up both Bure and Mogilny to go against me to see what I was made of.

It turned out he should have maybe sent someone else!

The first guy to come at me was Mogilny. He literally turned me inside out — twice! Not the perfect start to my career as a Canuck. I go back in line and decide I will do better next time.

My turn again, Bure is flying up the ice at me. He sailed by me like I was standing still! Oh boy. Ugly.

I skate into the corner, more then a little upset. The assistant coach pulls me aside and says “Don’t worry kid, they do that to everyone!”

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Some of the best players I played against were Russians as well. Pavel Datsyuk and Igor Larionov were two of the greatest. They were incredible. They made everything look so easy.

There was a lot of pressure on this group of Russian hockey players at the Olympics. Expectations for gold came from the highest levels. I never saw this as a reality for this group of players and coaches. There were way to many agendas for a team to sort out in a short tourney like the Olympics.

The Russians were built to win games by outscoring the opponent. I know that is the objective of the game but it can’t be your only way to win games. It is a not a recipe for success.

The successful teams in this tourney all played very tight defence. They make it so hard to get to the offensive zone and to the net. Look at Latvia. Basically zero offence but they hung in there fairly deep in the tourney. Defence isn’t sexy but it wins games.

All the reports out of Russia suggest that there was a split between KHL and NHL players. This is unacceptable by any standard and the difference between Russia and the winning teams. The Russians do not come together as quickly and easily as other countries. This is why they are not winning international tournaments or having success like the Swedes.

The Russians need to take a hard look at their program and teams. There is no doubt that the offensive talent is there. The high end D men are not there as much as in the past. Any successful team starts on the blue line. They need to play as a team and have the ability as a group to grind out wins.

Sweden’s top four defencemen

If you watched the Swedes beat the Finns to move on to the final you would have seen Swedish head coach Par Marts go with four defencemen often. Especially down the stretch of the game. I doubt it was the four many would have expected.

  • Jonathan Ericsson – Niklas Kronwall
  • Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson

That meant he left players like Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson on the bench. Both are good players. I think Ekman-Larsson is one of the most underrated players in the game. He will be a stud for Phoenix and Sweden for years to come.

What are those two younger players missing that the four that played have? Experience, Stanley Cup victories and familiarity (each pair used was made up of teammates). This is why they play and the younger guys sit at crunch time.

Coaches want steady and predictable play from their blue liners. They don’t want surprises from back there. Team Canada has taken heat for not playing P.K. Subban. His time will come in the next Olympics but for now Mike Babcock doesn’t have the confidence in him to play a steady brand of hockey. I agree with his decision.

Going for Gold!!!

MikeBabcockSochi

Early Sunday morning we will all have our eyes glued to the TV to watch Canada try to win gold over Sweden. Canada had really impressed me with their team play. Babcock has really got these guys dialled in to tight team style. He doesn’t care who you are, he expects you to buy into the team systems.

I think their lack of scoring can be attributed to goalies playing well. Their shot totals are more then fine and they are crashing the net. At some point they need to get some lucky bounces. Lets hope it is Sunday.

This Swedish team is no tap in. They are playing with lots of confidence. I really think the key to the game is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. I can see he is in a zone. Very focused.

To beat him Team Canada needs to get heavy traffic to the net. I don’t think that a couple of bumps by accident into the King would hurt at all. He does have a temper that shows itself when he gets really crowded.

If Canada loses this game it will be because of the play of King Henrik. Canada cannot let him be the difference.

  • Kanuunankuula

    Russia needs to convince more Russian NHL vets to go into coaching in the NHL. Then, they can take their knowledge and experience back to the homeland and start from the ground up. Only when they admit that the NHL version of hockey is what wins, like Sweden and Finland have done, will they return their once lofty status as a top hockey nation that was right up there with Canada. They are a factory for producing offensive fowards, but that is it. In every other hockey category they lag behind.

  • beloch

    Finland might not have the offense that the US team did, but they had a quality blueline. Let’s look at the shots Canada has put up so far in this tournament:

    (Canada:Other Team)
    Finland 27:15
    Norway 38:20
    Austria 46:23
    Lavia 57:15
    USA 37:31

    No team limited Canada to fewer shots than Finland. Finland is a seriously good team and deserved to win Bronze, especially after the lack of discipline showed by the U.S. once Selanne scored. Sweden roughly drew even with Finland at 26 to 25 on the shot clock, so hopefully Canada can outshoot Sweden to the same margin that they outshot Finland, if not by an even larger margin. They’ll need to! Canada’s shooting percentage is just 6.8% over the course of the Olympics compared to Sweden’s 11.4%!

    If it were just one game that Team Canada had not scored much in I’d be willing to chalk this up to a hot goalie. However, Canada’s forwards have had a tough time generating points in nearly every single game of the olympics. Latvia played a rookie AHL net-minder against Team Canada and a team comprised entirely of NHL stars got just 2 goals on 57 shots against that kid! Strudwick says Canada is driving the net well, but against Latvia I saw precious little of that. Something is seriously wrong with how Canada’s forwards are playing offense. Fortunately, their defensive play has been solid and Canada’s blue-line is insanely good.

    Canada’s odds of victory are good if they play the same game tomorrow that they’ve played so far this tournament. Yes, the lack of scoring for the forwards is a concern, but the gold medal match is not the place to try to fix it. If Team Canada can outshoot the Swedes by a significant margin the Canadian forward’s wretched shooting percentage won’t matter. Babcock is unlikely to rock the boat unless the Swedes pull ahead by multiple goals through two periods. As they did against the U.S. team, tomorrow morning the Canadians are just going to “go to work”.

    My obvious game day prediction: It’s going to be a beautiful thing!

  • Citizen David

    These Olympics have for the most part been defensive games , but Sweeden missing Zetterberg, and Half a Twin, thats 40% of there fire power, so they played a tighter defensive game.

    SAfe, with the Chicago pairing Oduya and Hjlamarsson, both + players in the NHL, and the Detroit connection with Kornwall and Erricsson, both also plus players in the NHL, in fact Kornwall has 36 pts .

    Karlsson can put up points, but is -14 NHL player.
    Edler didnt get much ice time either.

    OEL, has 29 pts and + 3, but is only 22 yrs. old, but I think at the end team parings won out.

  • Citizen David

    If Oduya is better than why wouldn’t Ottawa trade Karlsson and his huge cap hit that would fetch a massive return and then trade a B prospect and a 3rd for Oduya to be their top D-man? Or Pheonix with OEL? Because he’s not nearly as good.

    • Joy S. Lee

      You’re taking nothing else into account, not the environment they’re in, not the team they’re on, not their health, not their experience, not the stage they are playing on…so your perspective is a bit limited on this. Unless you’re prepared to dig into all of that sort of stuff, then you could probably let this one go.

  • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

    @ Ubermiguel:

    ~Clearly the Swedish coach who has got his team to the gold medal game knows nothing about hockey or player evaluation.~

    FIFY

  • GVBlackhawk

    Russia was built like the oilers. Everything up front. Hopefully Kevin Lowe and MacT are paying attention to canada and understanding how to build a winning team. Since Katz has a love affair with these guys

    • bazmagoo

      Couldn’t agree more, the Olympics are a prime example of why we should be looking at trading Eberle for a #1 d-man. Don’t mean to pick on Ebs, but he plays in a position of strength (Yak, Hemsky). Besides Hall and RNH he’s the only one who can get us a #1 d-man. It’s not going to happen, but it’s fun to speculate.

      • Jordan McNugent-Hallkins

        Name me the dman we are trading for?And secondly name me a single GM who after watching the Olympics is going to trade their number one dman. Also name me a team who can afford to trade their number 1 dman.

        Its a myth that trading one of Eberle or Yakupov will bring us a Shea Weber type dman. If it was possible don’t you think 28 other teams would be doing the same thing. Its mind boggling the crap someone has been spreading that there is a reality in which this kind of trade happens. MacT would be all over it like flies to poop.

        Reality check. The Oilers will need to develop their own number 1 defenceman ala Nashville. You do that by drafting guys like Klefbom and Nurse and putting them in positions to learn and succeed and develop over time. Shea Weber did not step into the NHL as a number 1 dman.It took patience and development.

        We need transition dmen like Ference to help guide the kids and to steady the blueline as these kids grow and learn. We need at least one more of the Ference type who can compete night and night out for 2-3 years till the kids develop.Its not an overnight solution but surely it has more substance than an Eberle for a number 1 dman trade.Or whatever pie in the sky musing anyone else wants to fantasize about on a Saturday night.

        • Word to the Bird

          Agreed. I think that teams don’t usually make blockbuster trades because it’s too great of a calculated risk.

          As for the top 2 defenseman thing, while it is technically possible that the Oilers could get a top 2 defenseman with the young studs we have, it won’t happen because it’s too much value to give up. Improve the D core with top 4 defensemen playing in the top 4 (go figure) and wait for Nurse, Klefbom, Marincin, Schultz, (Ekblad) etc. to develop into that stud.

  • GVBlackhawk

    The one thing you are missing in your analysis if Sweden’s defenseman: coaching pettiness. Oliver Ekman-Larsson did not play a single minute in that game because the coach hates him. Not reduced minutes — he got zero playing time yesterday. That has nothing to do with experience.

    Anyone who watches hockey knows that OEL is better than any of the top four that Sweden put out there. If Sweden continues to value experience over quality, it will be to their detriment.

    Go Canada Go!!

  • Oilbridge

    So, the Canadian Olympic team practice together only a few times before the actual event – new team mates, new coaching staff, new line combos and a different system. Result? Well, off to collect gold tomorrow. Doesn’t seem too difficult, does it?

    So can ANYONE explain why all of these reasons have been given for the Oilers doing so badly this season? Yes our goal tending was atrocious, but what else went wrong? We have witnessed these Olympics how a team can adapt and adjust quickly, perhaps we could try a little harder down the stretch and play for PRIDE, not another top draft pick. Pride right now would seem more of a motivator than another “possibility prospect.”

    • Joy S. Lee

      Whoa. We’re talking about the best, veteran-laden, winningest players on the planet, who have honed their craft in the most challenging professional league in the world…and you want to compare a team of kids to that, and look down on the organization while you do it? That’s not exactly a fair comparison, don’t you think?

      However, I think your point does have some validity in the sense that — and I really believe it comes down to the COMMITMENT of the players in particular, and staff and management as well — to LEARN the freaking systems already, and MAKE IT all come together. But there are a lot of moving parts to a winning NHL organization these days. These players do get a bit of a pass for being younger and inexperienced, quite frankly, but the sooner they “get it,” the sooner they — and we — can start enjoying more winning than losing. Because the talent is here, now, and more is coming.

      I really think the take-off point is much closer now, though this losing fog makes it hard to see. Combine this with the concern of the losing affecting the young team core, means this organization HAS TO do something in the now to move it forward, there’s really no choice in the matter. We can only guess as to how long before we hit some smooth pavement…but the ride should be fun. Hold onto your hats.

    • Randaman

      Gee, I don’t know what could have gone wrong! Pretty easy to compare the two teams straight up I think. Are you nuts?! You compare 160m in salaries to what we put on the ice night after night?
      The coaching looks very similar as well doesn’t it?
      I absolutely love it when I get to respond sarcastically and vent some frustration with this Oiler team. You want to see a team play like individuals you don’t have to go far at all.
      Coaching or players? You tell me

  • Oilbridge

    “If Canada loses this game it will be because of the play of King Henrik. Canada cannot let him be the difference.”

    If King Henrik stands on his head, isn’t that more of a reason to dress Subban instead of hamhuis? Hamhuis only saw the ice for a couple shifts and maybe didn’t even get a shift. Why have a defensive player as your extra dman on the bench? I’m hoping that it doesn’t come back to bite us in the butt tomorrow!

  • Oilbridge

    So the Russians are generally speaking Enigmatic players that play like individuals and have a harder time playing in a team concept? Sound like Yakupov anyone? Hmmmm Amateur Scouts are you listening? I would be very very leary of drafting a Russian in the first round anymore. Especially in the top 10-20 picks. Too many examples not to be called a trend. And when things don’t work out .. its an easy out for them to hop back home to the KHL. Hope I’m wrong.

      • supra steve

        Wonder how many other clubs would have taken Yaks with that first overall? We saw this past summer, with Nichushkin falling to 10th overall, that the “Russian factor” does seem to get consideration at draft time. Don’t get me wrong, I know it would have been hard to pass on Yaks, but considering team needs and the Russian thing, may have been wiser to grab Ryan Murray (or trade pick for experienced D).

        • Joy S. Lee

          I don’t disagree, per se, but you have to admit that Yakupov’s upside is highly intriguing. Let’s put it this way: I don’t blame them for selecting him.

          Would you still pick Ovechkin, if he were up for this year’s draft? Yeah, I thought so, me, too. Yakupov has plenty of game in him, and may yet prove to be at least Ovechkin-like.

          Which begs the question, would you trade Ovechkin for Ryan Murray? I suspect most would probably want more from the side giving up Ryan Murray in that deal. So, I’d say the jury’s still out on this one.

          Yakupov is fun to watch, and seems to attract all sorts of drama on both sides of the puck. With his tools and skillsets, however, he very much has the capacity to be a significant piece of this Oilers future.

          The beauty of it is that Yakupov is no shrinking violet, either. He’s got game. What he’s missing is experience.

  • Citizen David

    If Sweden is leaning on Oduya it boggles my mind. No matter how you slice it there is no way he should be there when they leave Hedman behind. Not playing Karlsson and Ekman-Larsson is ludicrous too. They are dominant defencemen. The idea that they are solely offensive d is wrong. As a Canadian I’m pumped that they might be playing Oduya and Hjalmarsson more than their two elite d.

    • Jason Strudwick

      Experience counts big cat. Both teams in final have and are playing veteran d men. For the most part USA had inexperienced d. Don’t put Oduya down too much.

      • Citizen David

        Poll all thirty NHL GM’s if for the Stanley cup they would rather have Karlsson and OEL or Oduya and Hjarlmarsson. It’s not even close. One side has a Norris trophy and are both number one defencemen. They other side are a bottom pair. That’s like saying if Canada took Boyd Gordon instead of Crosby as their number on center and still made the Gold medal game it would be a good idea.

        • ubermiguel

          “Who would you rather have on your NHL team for a few years?” and “Who would you rather have on your team for a single game elimination tournament?” are different questions.

          • GVBlackhawk

            Funny how the Swedish coach waits until the third period when the team has all but lost to start playing his best defenseman (OEL).

            Experience is good but it should not trump playing the best players.

            Edler getting more minutes than OEL in the gold medal game? Laughable.

        • toprightcorner

          Finland won bronze so the must be a pushover team like you said.

          I don’t think you can question Swedens usage of dmen if they get to gold medal game. The successful teams are playing defense first and trying to limit goals and that’s what the 3 medal teams have done. the teams that focused on scoring like USA, Russia and Czechs all failed to succeed. Playing veteran dmen has proven safer that’s why the younger dman that have some defensive deficiencies are not playing or playing less.

          I also think the top dmen that are used to playing over 22 min a game are less effective if they only play 17 min. You have to do whats best for the team not the players.

        • Citizen David

          Everyone undervalues Finland. I don’t think either of their wins against Russia or US were upsets. A silver and three bronze in five Olympics for Finland. But Rask missed the semi final against Sweden.

          • Kanuunankuula

            Loss not really Kari’s fault, Rask probably would not saved us, our D let us down in the Sweden-game and was by far our worse game in the tournament. It’s a %&%¤ing trend, it’s always Sweden. Same as the USA had two worst games against Can and Fin, what can you do, that’s how tournaments work. Mikey could get off his canadian high horse, we did take you to overtime.