Monday, February 22, 2010

A nation bummed: Canada loses 5-3 to the U.S. in Olympic men's hockey

SEVERAL DAYS LATER: We did it! We did it! What an incredible performance against the Russians. But it's not over yet.



Canada's 5-3 loss to the U.S. in men's hockey earlier this evening bummed me out and probably bummed out most of this country. (I tweeted throughout the game. You can find those tweets, and follow me, here.)

It's not over yet, though. Canada will play Germany on Tuesday and a win would put them in the quarterfinals against Russia. And while most of us expected a possible Canada-Russia matchup later in the tournament, it's certainly a game that Canada could win. We might not be the favourite, given our performance in the first few games, but Russia hasn't exactly been terribly strong either.

As for the game against the U.S., well, without taking anything away from the Americans, Canada dominated most of the game and outshot the U.S. by a wide margin. I won't say that the better team lost, because, in this case, the better team was the one that put up five goals against us, but the U.S. won largely because its goalie, Ryan Miller, played outstandingly well. And, as can happen in a tournament like this, a hot goalie can make all the difference.

Canada looked really good at times, but the speed and hustle of the Americans seemed to surprise us, to put us on our heels, especially throughout much of the third period (when Canada took some bad penalties).

But the real weakness was in net, where Martin Brodeur, long Canada's #1 goalie, played a horrible game, at least by the standard one expects of a Canadian goalie at the Olympics and certainly by the standard Brodeur himself has set throughout his distinguished career. It'll likely be Roberto Luongo in net against Germany, and a strong performance there should give him the nod against Russia.

I would also add that some of Canada's players just haven't shown up, or have shown up and played poorly. In the latter category I'd put Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, both of whom looked terrible against the U.S. In the former category I'd put most of the forwards. The San Jose line -- Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau -- has been excellent, but beyond that we haven't gotten much out of anyone, including Sidney Crosby, who played much better tonight than against Switzerland but who still hasn't shown himself to be the on-ice force we need him to be. I thought Rick Nash and Mike Richards played fairly well as Crosby's starting linemates, and Jonathan Toews and Brendan Morrow were strong, but what about Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Eric Staal and Jerome Iginla. Seriously, this team isn't going to score a lot if all it's got up front is one effective scoring line.

Other than Pronger and Niedermayer, the defence was fine, especially Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty. But too many errors produce too many scoring chances for the opposition, and Canada simply gave away far too much to a U.S. team that was generally outmatched all game.

I try to remain positive. Again, there were stretches of total domination against the U.S., and of course it takes time even (or especially) for a group of superstars to click.

But it starts in net, where Luongo will have to be solid, and then more than solid against Russia, and there will have to be significant improvement up front.

Ultimately, what matters is putting the puck in the net, and thus far, against both the Swiss and the Americans, Canada just hasn't been able to do that nearly enough.

Canada can do it, of course. There's just so much talent on this team. But we've put ourselves in a tough spot, and it'll be a tough climb up into medal contention.

Thankfully, for an entire nation bummed out, it's not over yet.


Update: I'm calmer than I was last night. Basically, this is still the team that was one of the favourites going in, and they're still pretty solid from top to bottom. And while I'm concerned about the lack of goal scoring, their performance last night, minus those few horrendous gaffes, was generally excellent. There's just only so much even a great team can do against an even greater goalie, and Miller was simply greater than they were.

It looks like it'll be Luongo against Germany tomorrow, and then hopefully against Russia the next night.

Above all, though, for all the talent this team has, it needs to want this. We talk often about Canadian heart. Well, it's time for that heart to shine through, and to be backed up with a determination we haven't seen this team yet.

There's a lot of second-guessing going on all over Canada. Should a Tampa Bay line -- Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier -- have been chosen. What's up with Getzlaf and Perry? Is Iginla right? Was Morrow necessary? What's up with Staal? Why is Pronger so awful? Is Niedermayer done? Have we seen the last of Brodeur as our top netminder? Etc.

Well, fine. But think back to the day this team was announced. Aside from a peripheral selection or two (Bergeron over St. Louis, the Carter omission, Doughty over Bouwmeester), we all pretty much agreed with Yzerman's choices. Sure, we lack the sort of dominant playmaking sniper the Russians have in Ovechkin and Kovalchuk, the sort of player who can make things happen on his own, but there just aren't many weaknesses on Team Canada. And what we lack in the sniper department we make up for with four potentially fantastic lines and, Pronger aside, some solid defence led by a new generation of stars: Doughty, Keith, Seabrook, Weber.

And, really, the U.S. didn't play all that well last night. They were solid, especially on defence and the penalty kill, but, as I wrote, Canada dominated for long stretches. It's just that goaltending can win games on its own, whether it's a Hasek for the Czechs, a Gerber for the Swiss, or a Miller for the Americans. It's that simple.

Which is not to say Canada will get past Russia. That'll be a tough one, and we'll have to play a much more solid game from top to bottom, as well as much more spirited one, to beat what is probably the co-favourite with Sweden.

But there's no reason we can't do it, and there were enough positives last night to build on, to take into the game against Germany, which should be a unifying experience, and then into what should be an intense and hard-fought match against Ovy & Co.

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