Abel to Yzerman
by VooX on 02/19/10 at 05:49 PM ET
Prior to the Olympics there was rampant predictions that the hockey tournament was going to be a battle between Canada and Russia. If yesterday’s games did not halt such folly, then nothing will.
Starting with Canada’s game against the Swiss, hockey fans and analysts were treated to a game that proved nothing can be taken for granted. And there were a few things I’ve noticed as trends so far.
First, the SJ Sharks line of Thornton - Heatley - Marleau are Team Canada’s best forward line. They provided more energy and scoring opportunities than all the other forward lines combined. Despite some wishing to credit the victory to Rosby, it is evident that the skill and chemistry of the Sharks’ line carried Team Canada through a (too) tight game.
Second, while I cannot dispute that Pronger should be on the squad despite my loathing of him in general, he should never have been given Associate Captain status. His completely brainless
play (edit: I was mistaken about the penalty) led to the tying Swiss goal. In typical Pronger fashion, the Neanderthal put his own vendetta ahead of the team’s best interests. I hope that Hitchcock bitch-slapped him all night for being his typical brain-dead self.
Third, remember those “Rosby doesn’t stop” Gatorade commercials? They should be changed to “Rosby doesn’t stop, except to backcheck”. It would be much more accurate given the Golden Child’s aversion to any backchecking. By my (unofficial) Rosby Backcheck Tracker, Thid the Kid only backchecked twice. When he chose to backcheck, he broke up the opposing rush. See how that works, Rosby? It’s a team game bitch, start playing like it is.
Don’t forget the odd-man rushes where Rosby chose, selfishly, to shoot instead of pass to the open man. While in other plays he chose to make an inappropriately fancy pass instead of shooting, halting the scoring opporutunity.
I don’t care if the trolls around here claim I don’t understand hockey, if they took off the Rosby-coloured glasses they’d admit I have a point about his lack of team play.
Iginla got benched and Rosby’s line lost all jump with Nash and Rosby largely ineffective throughout the entire game. Despite threads lauding Rosby at HFBoards, I don’t consider shootouts an indication of how a player has played during the 65 minute game prior. And I’m not willing to say Rosby won the game.
Onto Team USA, aka Team 2-on-1 going the other way.
While this was my first opporunity to watch the team play, from what I have read their defensive effort was similar in the first game to what happened last night.
Team USA is talented, more than many give them credit for, but unless they tighten up their defensive gaffes they will be on the outside looking in during the medal games. The squad features good offensive D-men, Rafalski scored a nice pair yesterday, but I believe the injury to Martin has left them lacking a needed defensive presence on the blueline.
For those who questioned Mike Green’s omission from Team Canada, look no further than the odd man rushes the US squad gave the Norwegians. There were at least 5 by my count, all caused by the defence jumping into the play aggressively and getting burned. If Green was on Team Canada, this would be a problem for the team as they struggle to recover from his ill-timed aggression.
I’ve enjoyed watching Kessel work on the American team as I have watching him in Toronto. I think he is making smart plays and choices, and will be a future stud on Team USA. The team features enough offensive talent to be a contender, while not being the most potent on paper they need to find their scoring touch to be taken seriously. Ryan Miller is playing great and is a good choice to start between the pipes for the rest of the tournament, but unless the D-men pick up their game Team USA will be in a lot of trouble when facing offensively powerful teams.
Speaking of powerful offence, Team Russia is absolutely ridiculous. But as the game against Slovakia showed, it is a team game where anyone can win with solid all-round play. Ovechkin is quite simply the most exciting player in the world today, and arguably the best. Although I consider Datsyuk a more complete player than Ovie, if Dangle doesn’t start shooting instead of deferring to Ovechkin continually, the team will struggle to score. Despite the high-octane forwards, the snipers will have to make some gritty plays in front of the net and along the boards instead of all waiting for a pass to make a dazzling one-timer. The Russians are a team where snipers will have to sacrifice personal stats for solid team play.
Much like Team USA, the Russians are weakest on their blueline. Unlike Team USA, the Russians can generate a million goals a game if they get things going. That’s right, I said a million and I mean it. Literally.
Every team plays a complete team game or they will be disappointed. The Slovaks and the Swiss showed that teams will be rewarded with solid defensive play and a quick counter-attack on a rink of NHL proportions. Nothing can be taken for granted by any team. Almost every team has the potential to upset the favourites, and if that upset happens outside of the preliminary round there will be a lot of finger pointing and blame being spread.
The winner of the tournament will be the team that can generate the best chemistry among the forwards while remaining responsible defensively as a team. And that means well-chosen times for the the defence to join the attack, snipers choosing to do dirty work in front of the net and along the boards, and backchecking from forwards who need to sacrifice offensive output for defensive awareness.
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