We all knew it was coming – at some point, Russia and Canada had to play each other in this Olympic hockey tournament. The rock and the immovable object, the two hockey superpowers were destined to face each other, even if it’s not in the ideal gold medal game.
After struggling against Switzerland and losing to Team USA, Canada’s coaches and management seem to be back on track and have made some strong decisions. Even after a decisive 8-2 win over Germany, Wednesday night’s game against Russia is still going to be the closest, most fraught match-up of Canada’s entire Olympic tournament.
Head coach Mike Babcock and his assistants are definitely doing some things right. For example, they’re smart to keep Chris Pronger off the ice and therefore out of the penalty box.Yes, Pronger’s a big bruising defenceman who is a great leader in the locker room, but under the stricter rules of international hockey he takes too many penalties. So far he hasn’t spent a single moment in the sin bin, and Team Canada is all the better for it.
Keeping Pronger benched isn’t just addition by subtraction; it’s giving more ice time to younger, more disciplined defencemen.
The blue-liners that have benefited most from this are Drew Doughty and Dan Boyle. Both have made smart choices on offence, jumping into the rush at opportune time and creating plays with smart passes. Their defence hasn’t suffered either – their teammates can depend on them to separate the man from the puck.
Similarly, Babcock made the right call replacing Martin Brodeur with Roberto Luongo, even if it came too late for most fans liking.
Although he holds just about every National Hockey League goaltending record, ever, Brodeur has looked shaky in net. Most people will focus on his poor performance against the United States, but he looked uncomfortable against Switzerland as well. Brodeur had a hard time tracking the puck, gave up big rebounds and lacked confidence against the Swiss.
With Luongo between the pipes and Pronger on the bench, there’s a good chance that Canada’s superior defence will be able to shut down the formidable Russian offence lead by Alexander Ovechkin, although there are still some nagging questions.
Most significantly, Sidney Crosby doesn’t seem comfortable in his own skin, even if he did click with Jarome Iginla and Eric Staal Tuesday night.
This is compounded by the fact that the coaching staff seems intent on making Crosby the focal point of their attack, having him take a penalty shot that Rick Nash earned against the Germans. I understand that they want to get him scoring again, but Nash is more than capable of taking a penalty shot. They don’t want to cut off their nose to spite their face.
Honestly, it’s anyone’s game. Sure, Team Canada was embarrassed by the Americans, but the Russians were also upset by the Slovakians. Canada’s defence is stronger than Russia’s, but the Russian attack is more powerful than Team Canada’s. It’s a trade off.
For Canada to win they need to come out strong and fire on all cylinders - not just the players but the coaches too. They simply can't make any missteps.