Sunday, May 18, 2008

Team Canada World Hockey Championships 2008 - Gold Medal Game Thoughts

1st Intermission

After 20 minutes Canada has a 3-1 lead based on goals from Burns (2) and Kunitz (1), but I don't think Canada has been the runaway better team. If you've been watching the broadcast you'll see Canada has gotten a couple of breaks on penalties going both ways (a non call against Canada and a bad call on Russia).

Russia, especially the 'Capital Punishment' line of Semin, Ovechkin and Fedorov, have been extremely dangerous each time they've been on the ice and have a goal (Semin, from Ovechkin) to show for it.

Hitchcock has clearly decided on a power vs. power strategy and is playing Heatley, Getzlaf and Nash against the Capital Punishment line. It's hard to tell if MacT is trying to match Hamhuis/Bouwmeester against that line or Burns/Keith or if he's decided either of them would be fine. We lost sight of the Capital Punishment line for nearly 6 minutes while Russia tried to kill off a couple consecutive Canadian PPs.

Brent Burns has been the story of this game so far for Canada scoring two goals. Burns' first goal was a shot from the point after making a great play to fake out the shotblocker, it came just after a Russian penalty expired. His second goal was a 5-3 PP marker on which Heatley fanned on a shot that St. Louis redirected to Burns out in front. Really a fantastic play by Martin St. Louis on the play.

Spezza has been a real story as well, he's been playing very simple smart hockey and I've even seen him throw his body around. Ottawa might want to take note, it's possible to ring Spezza in a bit and still have him contribute.

Jovanovski has really imposed himself in this game and leads all Canadians with over 9 minutes of ice time. He set the tone early with a huge hit off the opening faceoff and he's just looked fantastic.

Duncan Keith with a slash at the end of the period and Canada has to kill off the majority of the penalty still and the Russians get fresh ice here at the beginning of the second.

Canadians are outshooting the Russians 15-5.

2nd Intermission

A much closer period for Canada, and IMO what we saw was simply an inability of Canada's top line to handle Russia's top line. A smart in-game adjustment by Ken Hitchcock and by the second half of the period we saw Doan, Toews and Roy playing the Capital Punishment line. I like the change a lot, let your captain go up against their top player. The level of commitment Doan has in identifying Ovechkin was obvious when he avoided an obviously loose puck to slam Ovechkin physically. So far he's the only one who's been able to match Ovechkin in the physical department, as all of Bouwmeester, Burns, Hamhuis have been victimized by number 8's explosivity along the wall and in races for loose pucks.

The move also freed up Heatley/Nash/Getzlaf to score a goal of their own for a tie for Canada in the period.

We're also seeing some real running around in the defensive zone for Team Canada. Canada has really had trouble identifying their defensive zone assignments and as a result the Russians have had some absolutely top quality chances from the slot and high slot. It cost Canada on their first goal and it almost cost them a couple times in the second.

Breakouts have also been an issue for Canada. On their SH goal against, as Pierre Maguire mentioned, Canada had 3-4 chances to get the puck out and failed. They've had issues getting the puck to their wingers on the boards with the Russian forwards in very good position to pick off passes along the boards.

Craig MacTavish continued to favour having Jovonovski on the ice but Canada's top defenceman in ice time for the second was Duncan Keith whom he played just over 8 minutes. Doan, Toews and Kunitz all saw their icetime increase up front by about a minute, partially due to reassignments and partially due to increased 5-5 time.

Watch for the Russians to continue to shoot from the outside hashmarks and hope Ward kicks out a rebound to a streaking Russian player. I feel it's a set play and Canada has gotten lucky in that they haven't connected yet.

I didn't feel Canada did a perfect job in the third against the Swedes as it got very close towards the end. After dominating that game in the faceoff dot they lost several late game faceoffs in a row. Third periods have not been kind to Canada, so we'll see if they can lock it down.

Staal, St. Louis and Kunitz bounced back from a bad game vs. Sweden and are playing what I think is their finest game of the tournament.

Russia outshot Canada 12-8.

3rd Intermission

Well, once again Canada's worst period is the third and now we're all tied up going to 4-4 Sudden Death. 20 minutes of OT then a shootout.

Despite the fact Canada was outshot 13-6 the two goals against weren't scored because of defensive zone assignment breakdowns or anything like that which is good news. The Russians have a couple lucky ones this game but their philosophy is all about throwing pucks on/at net and you have to expect once in a while they'll get a bounce.

Certainly the story of the game for me has been the Capital Punishment line outplaying the Heatly/Nash/Getzlaf line. Sure, Canada's top line is on the board but they just haven't been very dangerous on the whole. Ovechkin Federov and Semin on the other hand are getting about one high quality scoring chance per shift. Ovechkin is a +2 while Heatley Nash and Getzlaf are only even.

Hamhus was MacT's go to defenceman that period (8:49 ice time) but the standout performance by a defenceman in that period went to Staios. Just playing really smart in his own zone, not panicking on 1-1s and as always he's blocking a bunch of shots. Jovonovski's ice time was reduced again this period but he still leads all Canadian defenceman. Brett Burns is catching up though.

For their part, Russia shortened their bench. Two players Maxim Sushinski and Konstantin Gorovikov, both -2 in this game, didn't even see the ice. Obviously Ovechkin was played to the bone, trailing only Alexei Morozov and Sergei Zinoviev for ice time that period on the Russian bench. I would expect that to continue.

OT predictions: Shane Doan for Team Canada, or (who else) Alexandre Ovechkin for the Russians.


Ilya Kovalchuk blows one by Ward for the win.

The Russians really deserved this game, they outplayed Canada for large stretches. They just had a terrific game plan, all offense all the time, and credit their coach, Bykov, for going for it every chance he got. He played 4 forwards on the PP that won the game and there was just too much firepower for Canada to handle. Full credit and congratulations has to go to Team Russia, there is no argument from me about how good they were, and maybe a sign of a Russia's resurgence.

I wanted to write about the game vs. Sweden and never got the chance, but there's something that really disturbed me about that game. It wasn't so much that Canada leaned heavily on Heatley/Nash/Getzlaf, as they had a terrific game scoring 3 goals. It was that all of Canada's goals in that game relied so heavily on unbelievable individual efforts. This team had talent, but it never did become much of a team. It reminded me a lot of Canada's 2005 lockout edition. That team rode the success of one line, Nash, Thornton and Gagne, which was shutout in the final vs. the Czech Republic. That team had a lot of talent as well, but like this one, it wasn't much of a team.

Nash, Heatley and Getzlaf did not have a great game today, I wouldn't even say they had a good game. Their one goal against Nabokov seemed like a weak one to me, and they played most of the game in the defensive or neutral zone. Was it a product of stiffer competition in team Russia, fatigue, or some other factor? I don't know, but they weren't impressive.

I have to feel for Nash though taking the penalty on the game winner. A lot of people will probably blame him for the loss but there was 5 goals against Canada not just 1. There were a lot of breakdowns (Patrick Sharpe played arguably his worst game) by a lot of players.

I'll write more about this later, now I just want to sulk.


walkinvisible said...

people will vilify both nash and the refs for the delay of game penalty in OT, but russia received no less than TWO similar penalties during the game (that, i believe, canada scored on one of).

the first canada goal was a sham: instead of a goal for, staal should have been given two in the box. karma's a bitch....

we definitely lost it in the third --canada looked like a flames' team: trying to hold the lead against a stronger team, instead of continuing to press for an insurance goal. dumb, dumb, dumb. not sure where to point my finger, but if it was just ineffective player execution, then it's still chalked up to coaching/motivation.

the russians, swedes, finns & czechs look effin' scary for 2010. russians especially....

therealdeal said...

We look look pretty good for 2010 though too.