Granted the gold medal isn’t on the line. Not directly anyway. But it won’t make the heavyweight match everyone wanted to see any less compelling. Even if it will play out to what amounts to an undercard.
That doesn’t matter. It’s Russia versus Canada. The two most talented teams in the world. And even better, it’s Sidney Crosby against Alex Ovechkin. A matchmaker’s dream for these Games between hockey’s biggest Stars on its biggest stage. Winners go on, losers go home.
Team Canada set up the quarterfinals matchup and kept is medal hopes alive without really sweating. They probably did enough of that after spending a couple of days feeling the heat from a country in distress after the preliminary round loss to the Americans, but Canada showed no lingering effects from that disheartening episode and annihilated a ridiculously overmatched German team 8-2.
Truth is the game really wasn’t even that close despite the fact that Germany has a half a dozen NHL players on their roster. They are not front-line players and there’s not much talent around them, which forces Germany to play prevent defense from the opening facing and an overall game that relies less on trying to beat teams than hoping they might somehow beat themselves.
That didn’t happen in the preliminary round for the Germans who were shut out twice in their three losses. And it was pretty clear from the outset that it wouldn’t happen against a Canadian team that came out desperate to prove they are not done yet. In essence Team Canada made this game look like a glorified scrimmage, using the first period to figure out ways of breaking through Germany’s fallback positions and then blowing things open in the second and third periods.
Canada’s dominance went far beyond the scoreboard to the shot clock, faceoff circle and overall time spent in the offensive end. That made it an easy night for goaltender Roberto Luongo, who took over from Martin Brodeur for this one, but didn’t really get a chance to show if he’ll give Canada a better chance to win in a big game. Still, it was probably a pretty good tune-up for Canada because it essentially got a chance to refine the areas it has struggled with in this tournament under game conditions.
Canada didn’t really expect to have much trouble with the Germans, but it didn’t take any chances either. The Canadians played a more basic north-south game, avoiding the tendency to look for fancy plays and firing shots at every opportunity. That’s something Canada was hesitant to do at times in the opening round, but this time they fired 39 shots on German goalie Thomas Greiss and at least that made that went high or wide.
More important, Canada dominated the boards and got the kind of traffic it in front of the net it will need against the Russians. But its biggest boon may have been finally finding the wingers that fit with Sidney Crosby, who has played with different linemates in every game so far. One of them was Jarome Iginla in the first game, and with the Calgary Flames captain back on the wing and joined this time by Eric Staal on the wings, Crosby’s line produced three goals and three assists and created several good chances.
Still, Canada’s best line was the newly assembled trio of Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews and Brenden Morrow, each captains of their respective teams who were put together to be an energy line. They were tenaciously effective, coming up a goal by Richards, and important creating the kind of pressure that kept Germany bottled up in its own end whenever they were on the ice.
Look for them to come over the boards whenever Ovechkin’s line does for Russia. And look for a great game too.