Monday, February 22, 2010

Canada hasn't lost anything yet

The panic button is being hit right across Canada after last night's loss to the U.S. In short series goalies can steal a win or two That's why the Stanley Cup is a best 4 out of 7. Certainly Team Canada could have played better last night. Defensive coverage at times was weak and the team took a series of damaging penalties. However they dominated the game and just couldn't beat Miller more than 3 times.

This isn't the same team that went to Turin and was shutout 3 times. More like the 2002 team. If you remember that team lost the opener to Sweden 5-2. They squeaked by Germany 3-2 and then tied the Czechs 3-3. So their record after the initial round robin was just 1-1-1. At the time the country was also in panic mode and Wayne Gretzky went to the media to declare the world was against them after a missed call by a referee on a hit from behind on Theo Fleury. In the quarterfinals Canada beat the Finns 2-1 and then blew away Belarus 8-1. In the finals the handed the Americans a 5-2 loss.

It's hard to go undefeated in a tournament like this. The gap between Canada and the rest of the world has closed considerably. Many hockey nations now have strong goaltending which helps to level the playing field. Countries that are largely made up of NHL players do not prepare for the Olympics which creates a considerable disadvantage. Meanwhile the Swiss and Germans have 4 year hockey programs designed to inflict the maximum pain to powerhouses like Canada and Russia.

The Swiss team are drawn largely from the Swiss league and practice regularly during the hockey season. They have developed a distinct style of play - much like Muhammad Ali's "rope a dope" approach in his fight with George Forman. They will sit back and allow you to attack while waiting for you to make a mistake. That's what the Americans did last night. Canada has to take a much more conservative approach to international play. Much like what you would do in the 7th game of a Stanley Cup final.

So tomorrow they take on the Germans which will be followed by the Russians. If they are truly the best team at the Olympics then they will eventually have to take care of Ovechkin and company.

As for the Americans, they are not guaranteed a birth in the finals quite yet. They have to take on the pesky Swiss with their version of goaltending hell in the form of Jonas Hiller.