Team Canada shines despite jittery win over Norway
Climb off the ledge, Canada.
As maddening as it was at times, especially through those jittery first 20 minutes, there was a lot to like about Team Canada's effort in tonight's win over Norway.
No, it wasn't a 10-0 hide tanning. And maybe that 3-1 final score doesn't look so impressive, especially after seeing the way the Americans played with their food this morning, but it was a lot closer than the play suggested. After that scoreless first period, the Canadians turned it on in the second, outshooting the Norwegians 14-0 before allowing Carey Price to get a couple touches on a late penalty kill.
And even though they coughed up a goal early in the third as a penalty to Duncan Keith wound down, the Canadians thoroughly tilted the ice in those final 40 minutes and ended up outchancing the Norwegians, by my rough count, 21-4. So maybe GM Steve Yzerman and friends knew what they were doing when they put this group together, after all.
Canada's gold-medal defense had to start somewhere, and this was a solid first step.
Here are a couple quick thoughts with Friday's game against Austria in mind:
Get Selfish: Canada finished with 38 shots on net, but considering the team's huge advantage of possession, it should have been closer to 50. The Norwegians deserve some credit here. They did a great job of jamming up the middle of the ice, getting sticks and bodies in lanes to take away those clean looks.
But there were times when the Canadians played as though they were hearing "Sweet Georgia Brown" in their heads as they looked for the pretty play rather than the direct one.
There was a lot of respect on the ice today. Too much, in fact. (I'm looking at you, John Tavares.) And so shots were passed up in lieu of trying to create something that wasn't there and too many possessions went for naught.
Canadian hockey is best when it's played north/south, so these guys shouldn't feel guilty about calling their own number. Get the puck on the net and follow it with grim determination.
Sit Rick Nash: Teams don't often change their lineups after a win, but it's a good bet that Canada will want to give Matt Duchene and P.K. Subban a look before the lifting gets heavy. So, who comes out? Dan Hamhuis was fine in limited use today, but after Canada's power play struggled to generate any real chances, it's a good bet that Subban draws in against Austria. His speed and playmaking ability could be just the ticket.
As the last named forward, Martin St. Louis might be the obvious choice to sit out tomorrow, but he showed some real spark and versatility today while playing on both the first and fourth lines. (He looked to have better chemistry with Sidney Crosby than Jeff Carter, too.) But the one forward whose performance stood out for all the wrong reasons was Nash. He floated through the defensive and neutral zones and while he had two shots, his lazy play dragged down the Toews-Sharp combo in the offensive end.
Odds are that St. Louis ends up keeping Mike Smith company, but it should be Nash.
More Benn: He was quick. He was physical. He was arguably Canada's most obvious forward ... and he played just 8:52, the lightest workload of any skater. Hard to figure that one out. It was Benn who drew the delayed penalty that led to Shea Weber's second-period goal and yet he was passed over on the next two shifts for the fourth line. When coach Mike Babcock finally tapped his shoulder, Benn responded by scoring Canada's second goal, a laser to the short side top shelf that's become his signature in Dallas.
Ice time is a precious commodity when this kind of talent is assembled, and a kid like Benn won't have anything handed him. But he showed something today, much like Jon Toews did back in 2010. Look for him to draw a larger share against Austria.
Give Carter another chance: It wasn't the best night for the Crosby-Carter-Kunitz line, at least in the sense that they were held off the score sheet, and Carter and Kunitz both looked a little flustered at times. But the line was involved in several scoring chances--seven each by my count for Crosby and Carter, and four for Kunitz, suggesting that with a bit more puck luck, this combination could be effective moving forward. Carter has to remember, though, that he's there to shoot first, second and third. Forget about making plays and get the puck on the net. If he does that, he'll get results.