Canada suffered an awful defeat in the semifinals on Thursday morning to eliminate them from contention for the gold medal. What happened?
Put simply, Canada was out-played. By my count, the scoring chances were 36-22 in favour of the Americans, who were full value for their victory. This wasn’t a loss to be hung on any individual; it was a total team collapse in the face of a very, very good American team.
Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. There are two different ways to judge Ryan Nugent-Hopkins performance. The first is simply to look at his contributions as one would any other player, and by that score Nugent-Hopkins fares well. The first line came close to holding its own in scoring chances (+6/-7 on the game) and Nugent-Hopkins had some memorable moments: a great shot early in the second, a post in the third and a couple of smart plays on the power play, including a sublime pass from behind the net and a ton of patience before taking a shot from low in the right circle. He also blocked multiple shots. The lone negatives were a slashing call after a shift that stretched longer than three minutes (seriously) and the world’s slowest skate to the bench for a change which contributed to the fifth American goal. For any other player, this would have been a fairly good game.
The other way to judge him is as the captain and best player on a great team – the guy who needs to get things done when nobody else can. By that score, Nugent-Hopkins falls well short of other great players in Canadian history. I don’t see that as a completely fair way to judge the individual, but like it or not Nugent-Hopkins failed to live up to the memory of his best predecessors – guys like Jordan Eberle – in a crucial game. From my perspective, that’s because asking anyone to live up to those examples is a tall order.
The middle six. This game was lost by Canada’s second and third lines. The second line was content to trade chances and got burned as a result; they generated only five scoring chances for versus 11 against at even-strength. The third line was worse: after a disastrous first period where they seemingly had no idea what to do in the defensive zone, they finished the game with just two scoring chances for versus 10 against. It’s hard for any team to win when the middle two lines go +7/-21 on the game.
Malcolm Subban. Subban will take much of the blame for this defeat, and he was outplayed by Jordan Binnington (who replaced him after the fourth goal) but it really wasn’t his fault. On the first goal, both members of Canada’s top defence pairing got sucked to the boards, and then Scott Harrington fell over trying to get back to the net. Brett Ritchie was in position to cover but bizarrely left the front of the net; at that point it was over as Subban managed to hold the line with an American alone in front but couldn’t stop Jake McCabe’s eventual goal. The second goal against featured the entire Canadian lineup clustering aimlessly in front of the net, completely abandoning the points and doing nothing but providing a screen for the Americans; the third goal was a text book example of both a bad change and how not to play a 1-on-1 (courtesy Ryan Murphy). The fourth goal saw Xavier Ouellet repeat the Murphy lesson. It wasn’t Subban’s fault: he wasn’t nearly good enough but he doesn’t deserve to take the blame for team-wide incompetence.
Special teams. Canada was remarkably good on the penalty kill – where guys like Boone Jenner and Philip Danault played very well, in sharp contrast to their even-strength struggles. Ty Rattie scored a shorthanded goal, too (more on that in a moment). The power play was less effective – they generated some chances, but not as many as they should have given the talent on the team.
The Ty Rattie goal. The refereeing was surprisingly good early in the game, but came apart in the third. The Rattie goal is a superlative example of incompetent officiating. Rattie hit the crossbar on a great shot, and then collected the rebound off the iron. At this point a whistle was blown for reasons that remain incomprehensible (the official had not signaled for a goal on the shot off the crossbar, which would have been an error but at least understandable). Rattie scored on his next shot. At this point the officials decided it was a good goal despite having blown the play dead. It was a bizarre goal – Ray Ferraro described it as one of the most random he’d ever seen – and the only consolation was that it turned out to be meaningless.
Dirty Canadians. The Canadian entry did their best to back up Nail Yakupov’s controversial assertion that they play well past the line. Both Mark Scheifele and Philip Danault took blatant kneeing penalties, sticking their legs out for the hits. It’s hard to understand why they would choose to make such plays, but they did.
That’s how I saw the game; I’m looking forward to other takes in the comments.