February 19 2014 01:27AM
After three rather uneventful preliminary games, we finally get to the games that matter and Canada ends up with the easiest quarterfinal opponent in Latvia. Give the Latvians credit, they scored three goals on the stingy Swiss yesterday and were deserving of their 3-1 victory, but their Cinderella run ends today.
Had Canada lost to Finland they would be playing Russia, and the angst and excitement would be much higher, but I think we will have to wait until Friday to be excitedly nervous about a game.
While I'm giving Latvia no chance, the Canadian players won't be looking past them. Canada's forwards are horny for goals, and I expect we'll see quite a few of them break out offensively.
I believe people have made a bit too much over the offensive woes of the forwards. It is three games, and while you'd like more goals from the forwards, only the USA and Finland are averaging more goals per game than Canada.
Yes, only three forwards have scored a goal, but the D-men have picked up the slack. You can expect that trend to be reversed in the next few games. Canada's forwards are simply too good not to start scoring.
Here is a quick look at Canada's production:
Many are suggesting that Babcock give his top players more minutes, however, he didn't do that in 2010 and Canada still won gold. Icetime and juggling lines are pretty much the same as what we saw in Vancouver.
“We’ve changed our lines, in my opinion – same at last Olympics – too
much,” Babcock said yesterday, however, that didn't stop him from switching them up again for today.
He seems to be having an internal battle with himself over line combinations, but I get the sense he wants to stick with some of the new combinations, especially those that get off to a good start today.
Matt Duchene will be a healthy scratch, while Nash and St.Louis will rotate on the 4th line. There isn't enough icetime to get every player involved to the level they are used to, so the fourth line will need to find a way to contribute in 10-11 minutes.
Subban will sit and Hamhuis will likely spend most of the game on the bench. I'd rather have Subban as my 7th D-man, but considering how little icetime the 7th D-man will get, I'm not sure it matters. Babcock wants his D pairs to have a left and right shooting D-man, so the only way Subban could play is if he replaced Weber, Doughty or Pietrangelo. That isn't happening.
Neither goalie has faced much rubber. Canada has allowed the fewest shots in the tournament so far, 58, and I doubt Price will be very busy today.
- I like that Babcock is going back to Kunitz and Crosby. Kunitz knows how to play with him, and just because they didn't score for two games doesn't mean they won't moving forward. Kunitz was better vs. Finland and his style of play is better suited in grinding games like we will see when Canada faces the USA, most likely, in the semi finals. Kunitz hasn't been nearly as bad as people suggest, he is just the easy target.
- Here is the TOI amongst forwards when Canada won gold in 2010:
Crosby 16:56, Nash 15:46, Marleau 15:36, Eric Staal 14:50, Toews 14:38, Getzlaf 14:00, Heatley 13:50, Iginla 13:40, Joe Thornton 13:35, Perry 12:52, Mike Richards 12:42, Brendan Morrow 11:04 and Bergeron 6:27.
Babcock had eight forwards with 13:40 or more of TOI/game, so far this year he only has five, and one of them, Duchene, isn't dressing. I suspect you will see him give more icetime to a few lines the rest of the way.
- Canada got a lot of production from their blueline in 2010 as well, just not as many goals as we've seen so far. Keith, Weber and Boyle had six points in seven games, while Pronger added five.
- Iginla had five goals in 2010 while Crosby, Heatley and Perry had four.
- Toews led the team in scoring with 1-7-8 and Iginla 5-2-7, Crosby 4-3-7, Heatley 4-3-7 and Getzlaf 3-4-7 all averaged a point-per-game. Canada has five players at a PPG clip so far this year.
- Latvia only has 1 active NHL player, 20 year old Zemgus Girgensons for the Buffalo Sabres. Oskars Bartulis and Kaspars Daugavins were in the NHL recently, while 41-year-old Sandis Ozolinsh last played in 2008.
- I don't foresee any upsets in the quarterfinals, but if I had to pick one it would be the Czech Republic knocking off the USA. I think we will see CAN/USA and RUS/SWE in the semis on Friday.
- I'm amazed at how quickly people have overreacted and often over analyzed Canada's play thus far. I'm not sure what people expect from Crosby, but I think he has played fine. Here is one example of some fans taking Crosby's struggles a bit too far...
"Why can't Babcock give up the Crosby experiment and give his attention to guys that are producing. Let's face it, Crosby isn't a factor internationally. His point production in 2010 and now proves it. His "Golden Goal" was him hacking at a loose puck," John
I guess nine points in 10 Olympic games thus far is brutal. John, you might want to watch the replay of his goal again. He displayed a bit more skill than just "hacking at a loose puck."
John isn't the only one going overboard. I've read comments suggesting Babcock will use Crosby's line in a checking role moving forward because they are struggling.
- Hopefully after today's victory people will be able to exhale and get excited about the semi finals, rather than stress about who isn't scoring. I can't wait until Friday.
***That is Latvian Madara Malmane***
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Canada's forwards emerge from hibernation and trounce Latvia 6-1.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Someone will freak out that I'm not giving Latvia enough respect and that anything can happen in a one game elimination. I guess, but consider this. If you wanted to make $100 on Canada to win you would need to bet $5,500. I'd say the odds Latvia wins are essentially zero.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Crosby scores a goal and adds an assist to quiet those worried about his play. For good measure Kunitz scores as well.
RECENTLY BY JASON GREGOR