Thursday, May 15, 2008

Team Canada World Hockey Championships 2008 - Is This Team For Real?

About halfway through the game vs. Norway I thought to myself; 'this team is going nowhere.' Then they scored 6 straight goals.

I'm used to a range of inconsistency in the World Hockey Championships, the nature of the tournament (short) and the players (young) makes for a perfect cocktail of inconsistency. But Canada should never be in a tight game with Norway, let alone two.

In the 2006 World Championships Team Canada went unbeaten in the round robin and qualifying rounds and then disposed of Slovakia 4-1 in the quarter finals. In the semifinal Canada played Sweden.

Now, the very recent history of these two teams in the World Championships has been generally favourable to Team Canada. There were a couple of very good Swedish teams that Canada faced in the finals, Swedish teams that were more than expected to win it all, facing Canadian teams featuring half of the Oilers roster including Cory Cross, Anson Carter, Mike Comrie, Sean Horcoff and of course, Steve Staios and Ryan Smyth. The Canadian squad came out on top two years in a row, 2003 and 2004, the first time with a disputed OT goal by Anson Carter, the second time in a come from behind effort featuring a then mostly unknown goaltender playing for Sweden named Henrik Lundqvist.

That game in the 2006 World Championships semis did not go well for Canada. It was 2-0 Sweden before Canada even blinked, and then 5-2 just a couple minute into the second period. Canada scored one with less than a minute left in the second and scored early in the 3rd, Canada got very close several times but it was too much of a deficit to overcome. They played the bronze medal game the next day and had nothing left emotionally or physically having spent it all trying to overcome the Swedish onslaught. As is usual with Canada, it's Gold medal game or nothing, and they lost 0-5 to the Finns in the bronze medal game.

This team has better depth and better high end talent than that 2006 edition of Team Canada. They literally have three lines that can light it up at any time and a 4th line that just looks plain mean out there most of the time. They have a defensive group who worst performer (according to ice time) has probably been Jay Bouwmeester. In net that year Canada had Alex Auld and Marc Denis - this year they have former Conn Smythe (and WC Gold) winner Cam Ward and top NHL shutout man Pascal Leclaire. This team also gets to play on small ice.

Look, this is a good hockey team. 30 NHL GMs would love to have this roster - but anything can happen in a single game. No disrespect to Sweden, but this team could even lose to a roster whose top line consists of Niklas Backstrom, Tony Martensson and Patric Hornqvist. Especially if that Swedish roster employs one Henrik Lundqvist.

2 MURRAY Douglas D- 0-0-0 +2 - 13:41
5 FERNHOLM Daniel D - 0-3-3 +2 - 14:53
7 WALLIN Niclas D -1-1-2 +2 - 15:50
36 STRALMAN Anton D - 2-3-5 - 16:19
24 FROGREN Jonas D - 0-3-3 +8 - 17:57
29 JONSSON Kenny D - 2-4-6 +3 - 19:23
23 EDLER Alexander D - 1-2-3 +4 19:36
6 JOHANSSON Magnus D - 1-2-3 +2 22:53

I would imagine that Johansson and Edler get the undesirable task of shutting down Heatley Getzlaf and Nash, although it's not entirely obvious what the pairings are. As can be seen, this defensive group is actually pretty even top to bottom in terms of point and plus minus distribution. This is both a sign of a good defensive group and a team that's been successful, especially in terms of even strength. Their team is a combined +72, which although pales in respect to Canada's +114, it at least shows that Sweden is winning the even strength battle by about 2 goals per game.

Murray, Wallin and Stralman are their top penalty takers so look for Canada to try and exploit both Murray and Stralman with the Heatley Getzlaf Nash line. It's my opinion that Canada has been playing Burns and Aucoin with the top line, so expect Staios and Hamhuis to be up against the Backstrom/Martenson/Hornqvist line. I might be jinxing the poor guy by saying this, but Staios has yet to be on for an ES goal against.

It's hard to say how Team Canada coaches reacted to Ward's game vs. Norway. I didn't feel he had much of a chance on either goal, but it sounds like Pascal Leclaire will be starting tomorrow. Is this part of a general plan or reaction to Ward's game? Only Hitchcock and the rest of the Team Canada staff knows.

Some intangibles:
Now that Sweden is the underdog and Canada is the favorite, how will Canada react? Can the Swedes take advantage of a Canadian team that knows they're expected to win?

What is the deal with Marcus Nilson? He has 4 goals, 2 assists and is +4 playing only about 3 minutes more a game than with the Flames.

The Tre Kroner roster also features Oilers rookie Robert Nilsson. He's getting about the same ice time as Nilson and is 2-3-5 +5.

How will Eric Staal play, and where will he be slotted in? Although the line was broken up halfway through the game, with Derek Roy being slotted in between Doan and Toews, the St. Louis, Spezza, Roy line wasn't half bad. I thought Spezza did a lot of good things, although he still isn't doing enough IMO. For my money he gets put back between Chimera and Mayers.

Does Kunitz get put back with Doan and Toews, or does Roy stay with that tandem. Personally I like Roy with them because it gives that line so much tenacity. I think it'll depend on how Hitchcock wants to line match, or if he wants to line match. Doan Toews and Kunitz become more of a shutdown line together, and more of an offensive line apart. I think Hitch will go the offense route.

How will Canada respond in the third period? If they have a lead, can they hold it?

Canada plays Sweden tomorrow at 2:50 MST. Game on TSN and


MetroGnome said...

Marcus got the shaft last year. He really didn't play all that badly when he was in the line-up but Keenan just had a hate on for him for whatever reason.

Apparently Nilson expressed a wish to be traded in a recent interview (for a Swedish newspaper). Can't blame him. I wouldn't be surprised if he's flipped at the draft for a pick.

therealdeal said...

It's sad to realize we've underutitlized or misplaced a halfway decent player yet again.

walkinvisible said...

i'm not sure how much of an asshole tandem sutter and keenan are/will be, but nilson is very good value and a solid two-way player. i'm not convinced they'll deal him for next-to-nothing....

MetroGnome said...

but nilson is very good value and a solid two-way player. i'm not convinced they'll deal him for next-to-nothing....

Right. But Keenan has clearly shown he doesn't have any use for Nilson (preferring the likes of Godard and Nystrom over him last year) and Nilson doesn't want to play here anymore as a result. If Marcus indeed pushes Sutter for a trade, the return for a 1M, 3rd/4th liner who played all of 40-odd games last year and has modest career highs is really limited.