Sunday, February 28, 2010

Team USA / MSNBC Ryan Miller prank call

Before the Gold Medal game on Sunday afternoon, "Ryan Miller" had an interview on MSNBC, and as ESPN learned earlier this week, media outlets should probably do some background checking.

An imposter phoned MSNBC and managed to convince them he was USA Goaltender Ryan Miller before taking to the air. They interviewed him and the fake Ryan Miller called Canada and Russia overrated, felt that Canada would have an 'easy time' with Slovakia, and should Canada face USA in the finals, he almost guaranteed a victory.

As Yahoo reports, the caller had a rather think New York accent and any reasonable hockey fan would be able to recognize that the voice did not belong to Ryan Miller.

As the story goes, once the prank call / interview aired on MSNBC, Ryan Miller (the real one) began receiving calls asking if his success at these Olympics had led him to shed his modest and humble personality in exchange for a more arrogant side that brashly suggested USA would cruise to a gold medal.

Miller then contact NBC to rescue his reputation. MSNBC then interrupted their next show, Hardball, to air a phone interview with the real Ryan Miller, where they apologized to him and Ryan set the record straight on his expectations of Team USA.

It really is telling how America's media could confuse a random New Yorker for one of America's greatest Winter athletes. However, as ESPN experienced earlier this week, perhaps they should do more fact checking. A transcript and video of the interview can be found here.

Crosby the Overtime Hero - Canada wins Gold

Sidney Crosby's legacy grows by each major defining moment in Canadian hockey. Crosby waited for the right moment at the biggest stage of them all - the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, in the Men's Gold Medal Hockey game.

Crosby scored coming out from the corner on a little pass from Jarome Iginla to vault Canada to a gold medal, a medal that hung precariously in the air moments prior.

When Zach Parise scored with 24 seconds left, a hush fell over Canada Hockey Place, and all of Canada for that matter. Canada took the intermission to regroup for the four on four overtime period.

Sidney Crosby joins the likes of Paul Henderson and Wayne Gretzky with undoubtedly one of the greatest goals in Canadian hockey history.

Credit should also go to Roberto Luongo, who played extremely well in the Gold Medal Game. "Luongold" made several key saves throughout the game, including a game-saver off the stick of Joe Pavelski in overtime on a Scott Niedermayer giveaway.

Chris Pronger, Dan Boyle and Scott Niedermayer lived up to their reputation by demonstrating the veteran's poise that was expected of them in this tournament. Jonathan Toews, arguably Team Canada's best forward throughout the tournament, and Rick Nash both demonstrated their versatility and penchant for clutch play.

The line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Brendan Morrow was arguably Canada's best on this day - consistently cycling and controlling the puck deep in the American zone.

The USA meanwhile had outstanding efforts from Ryan Miller, Ryan Kesler, Patrick Kane and Zach Parise in a losing cause.

Canada will be abuzz tonight, as streets are filled with ecstatic fans thanks to the Men's Hockey Gold medal, culminating an amazing Olympic Games in which Canada hauled in a record 14 Gold Medals.

Friday, February 26, 2010

"The Glove From Above"

Slovakia made it closer than many thought it would be, as Canada narrowly hung on to 3-2 lead thanks to perhaps the save of the tournament by Canadian goalkeeper Roberto Luongo.

CTV's post-game report has already dubbed Luongo's miracle save with 10 seconds left off of Vancouver Canuck teammate Pavol Demitra the 'Glove from Above'. Luongo appeared down and out having made a save with Demitra poised to tie the game in the dying seconds. Demitra, staring at an open net, fired the puck on goal only for Luongo to reach up and get just enough of it with the mesh of his glove to keep Canada ahead for good.

The Slovakians played a tremendous game, frustrating the Canadian attackers in the neutral zone. While Canada played well enough to deserve the win and demonstrated that they were the more deserving side, Slovakia executed their game plan very well and minimized Canadian opportunities, while capitalizing on their own.

Slovakia will play for the Bronze medal versus Finland, while Canada will play for gold against the USA who beat Finland 6-1 earlier today.

Canada has strong efforts from most members of the team. Crosby looked very strong, as did Brendan Morrow. On the other hand, Chris Pronger and the San Jose Shark line showed questionable decision making defensively in the third period. The Canadians will definitely have to shore up their defensive play and regain their form against Russia and Germany if they are to secure a victory against the USA on Sunday.

Nevertheless, Sunday will be an exciting day in Vancouver and across Canada as the 2010 Winter Olympics will culminate in an excellent gold medal Men's Hockey final pitting Canada against their arch-rival USA. The game will have great symbolism and should galvanize the country. Without a doubt Canadian television viewing records will be broken.

Praising Canada

Unlike Russian reporters, the USA has some pleasant things to say about their Canadian experience.

NBC News Anchor Brian Williams puts it quite nicely.

You're welcome Brian!

Incredible 1st Period Propels USA to the Final

It was a semi-final game that many predicted would be a low scoring, tight checking affair. The young, inexperienced, upstart Americans against a veteran laden, workhorse Finland. Both teams have the two best statistical goaltenders in the tournament in Ryan Miller and Miikka Kiprusoff. Easy to predict close games at this stage between two hockey powers, but this tournament has taught us to expect the unexpected.

It was an early and catastrophic blunder from Kiprusoff at just 2:04 of the first period that seemed to start the impending onslaught. Kiprusoff came well out of his net in an attempt to play the puck away from a charging Ryan Kesler, unfortunately he passed it right to Ryan Malone who scored on a wide open net. It was about to get a whole lot worse for the Finns.

Four minutes later, with Janne Niskala in the box, Zach Parise built on the American lead from a nice pass from Paul Stastny. Then just two minutes later, with Toni Lydman off for boarding, Erik Johnson made it 3-0. And again, it was about to get a lot worse.

Miikka Kiprusoff's night was over after Patrick Kane scored to make it 4-0. Unfortunately Niklas Backstrom didn't fare any better as Kane then scored his second in just over two minutes to make it 5-0. At 12:46 of the first period the Americans had a shocking 6-0 lead. It will go down as one of the most amazing periods in olympic hockey history. The Finns would add a late goal from Antti Miettinen on new American goalie Tim Thomas after Ryan Miller was given a rest.

This will be a bitter pill to swallow for the Finns who have many players on their team in their final Olympics. It will be new generation of hockey players for Finland after this tournament if they have any hope for future success. The one saving grace for Finland is that they can still play for a bronze medal on Saturday.

The underdog tag can be officially removed from this impressive American team as they now play for the gold medal. This new generation of USA hockey has arrived and should be a force for years to come.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Russian newspaper calls Canada "Cowardly"

A Russian newspaper has launched some very harsh words towards Canadians shortly after their Olympic Men's Hockey team was trounced by the Canadian men.

“Vancouver is not fit to hold the Winter Olympics" it decrees. “The Red Machine Runs into a Maple Tree,” was Pravda’s headline. Other newspaper banners across Russia included “Nightmare in Vancouver” and “Down and Out".

The Star is reporting that the website’s main athletic complaint is about a short-notice drug test issued to Russian skier Natalya Korosteleva. It neglects to mention that VANOC organizers have no input into the drug-testing regime of any particular sporting body.

It also impugns us for the decision to give the gold medal in men’s figure skating to American Evan Lysacek over Russian Evgeni Plushenko – as if we had some say in that, either. The writer slinging mud at Canada for this should give his head a shake. Last time I checked, it's the Russians who are Olympic Gold Medallists at bribing judges (Sale and Pelletier in Salt Lake City anyone?)

The London Times reports that even the more diligent critics of Vancouver 2010 have been astonished by the editorial in Pravda that claimed that “Vancouver is not fit to hold the Winter Olympics”, that “the utter incapacity of this country to host a major international event” is because of an “inferiority complex”, that “Vancouver is mutton dressed as lamb” and that if you “take off the outer veneer, the stench is horrific”.

The Russian rag continues to , “We all know Canada has problems with the future lines drawn on Arctic maps and we all know Canada lives in the shadow of its larger neighbour to the south.”

It gets worse...

“The abject cruelty shown by Canadian soldiers in international conflicts is scantily referred to, as indeed is the utter incapacity of this county to host a major international event, due to its inferiority complex, born of a trauma being the skinny and weakling bro to a beefy United States and a colonial outpost to the United Kingdom, whose Queen smiles happily from Canadian postage stamps.”

“Maybe it is this which makes the Canadians so … retentive, or cowardly.”

Excuse me? Since when do the Russians think they have the moral high-ground on anything to do with Human Rights? Now granted, I'm not as ignorant as the writer of that article, and I'm certainly not going to label an entire nation as he did.

Oh wait, hang on, the article is written by a Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey. Doesn't sound very Russian does it? Well it's not. It's English. Any biography of him online has been taken down it seems, but he was educated (debatable) in Leeds and is English through and through.

If you'd like to read the crap that passes as journalism, the article can be found in its entirety here.

Olympic Men's Hockey Power Rankings - Semi-Finals Edition

It's that time again. After some remarkable Qualification and Quarter-final round action, the PuckWatch Power Rankings were bound to change. Only four teams remain, USA, Finland, Canada and Slovakia. Slovakia was PuckWatch's dark horse to medal in Vancouver 2010 and they look poised. USA and Finland face off Friday afternoon, with Slovakia and Canada doing battle in the evening. This edition of the Power Rankings show Canada and Slovakia moving up, and Russia and Sweden moving down.

1 - (PR 4). Canada

Team Canada stumbled against the USA thanks to some average goaltending at one end, and the game of Ryan Miller's life. Canada obliterated Russia in the Quarters after beating Germany 8-2 and they appear to have cobbled together some amazing combinations. The newly formed Toews-Nash-Richards line was outstanding, shutting down the Russians top line entirely. Canada seems poised to re-claim its hockey supremacy at the highest level.

2 - (PR 2). USA
Since upsetting Canada, USA has served notice that they are for real. It seems highly plausible that we may see a rematch in the Gold Medal game. Ryan Miller has been incredible and the USA forwards have chipped in with timely goals to earn them the number two spot.

3 - (PR 4). Slovakia
The eternal darkhorse, Slovakia has nothing to lose. For some reason, experts had no expectations on this team. Superstars like Marian Hossa, Marian Gaborik and a solid supporting cast of Stumpel, Palffy, Demitra, and Handzus round out some solid forwards. On Defense, they have the incomparable Zdeno Chara, along with Lubomir Visnovsky, Andrei Meszaros, and Milan Jurcina. The Slovaks have had steady goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and should not be underestimated.

4 - (PR 5) Finland
Finland has quietly put together a strong tournament. Despite being shutout by the Swedes, they have looked solid against the lesser teams, and were strong against the Czechs. Finland - USA seems to be a toss up.

5 - (PR 1) Sweden
Sweden appeared to be favoured for a medal, but never seemed to play with much passion. As the Canadian broadcasters pointed out in their last game against Slovakia, in the dying minutes when Sweden called it's timeout, the coaches and players were not even talking to each other. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist did not feel that the Quarterfinal matchup against Slovakia was his best game. True, but Sweden never really showed that it wanted to repeat as Gold Medallists.

6 - (PR 3) Russia

Russia lived up to its reputation as an enigma. The country, the hockey team, even the individual players. Russia toyed with Latvia and the Czechs, couldn't beat Slovakia, and was completely and utterly anihilated by the Canadians. In the most hyped hockey game in the past 5-10 years, Canada simply destroyed Russia in all facets of the game. Questions will be asked. Apparently Coach Bykov said something to the effect of "Let's get the guillotine or the gallows out, yeah? We have 35 people in the squad. Let’s cut them all up on Red Square.”

7 - (PR 7) Czech Republic
The Czechs had an up and down tournament. Escaped with a win against the Slovaks, and a decent showing in a loss to the Russians. They barely hung on to beat Latvia, and were outclassed in a shutout at the hands of Finland. Having Hemsky would have helped, and Jagr had a nice tournament, but at the end of the day, Havlat and others did not do enough.

8 - (PR 8). Switzerland

The Swiss definitely seem to be in a class of their own - the middle class. Not quite as good as any of the teams above, but clearly a level above those below, the Swiss performed admirably, pushing the Canadians to the limit and making it to the Quarter-finals against the USA.

9 - (PR 9). Belarus
Belarus beat Germany, and gave the Swiss a scare in the Qualification round. They never showed much in the tournament when it came to upsetting one of the big boys.

10 - (PR 10). Germany
The Germans disappointed at this tournament. Never really threatening to upset anyone, and they lost to Belarus. Goal scoring was absent, and goaltending did not keep them in many games.

11 - (PR 11). Norway
Norway showed some feisty habits and pushed Switzerland to the limit. But in the end, too many blowouts to warrant anything better than 11th.

12 - (PR 12). Latvia
Their tournament produced a spirited but sloppy effort against the Russians. They showed lots of heart but were simply out-skilled. Taking the Czechs to the wire will be their biggest achievement here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Canada dominates Russia

The most anticipated hockey game in years pitted Canada versus Russia Wednesday night in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Canada had the pressure of an entire nation on them as they played in front of the home crowd with golden expectations.

The Russians as well had tremendous pressure on them. Russia's medal haul this time around has been lackluster and the nation's hopes for redemption rest upon the shoulders of Alexander Ovechkin and the rest of the Russian Men's Hockey Team.

The game began with Canada taking it to the Russians with an unrelenting forecheck. Canadian forwards pounded Evgeni Nabokov with 21 shots in the opening frame and struck early and often. Ryan Getzlaf opened the scoring and seemingly before everyone had touched the ice once, it was 3-0 Canada.

The Russians clawed back into it with a seeing-eye puck from the blue line to make it 3-1, but Brendan Morrow walked out from the corner untouched to serve notice that Canada meant business, making it 4-1 after one period.

Corey Perry scored twice, and Shea Weber hammered home his second goal in two games to elevate the Canadians to a 7-3 lead after two periods, and the Canadians never looked back.

The Russians' lack of depth on defence showed, as the Canadian forecheck came wave after wave and never seemed to relent. Canada won the puck in the Russian zone with ease.

The Russian attack meanwhile was somewhat non-existent. Ovechkin was shut down and Semin, Malkin and Datsyuk never appeared to be all that dangerous all night.

Canadian Defenceman Dan Boyle credited Canada's forwards for making the defensemen's job relatively easy.

Canada's win signifies the end of the tournament for the Russians, who were arguably an equal gold medal favourite to Canada. Canada meanwhile will face the winner of the Sweden - Slovakia game Friday night at 6:30pm EST.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Canada vs. Russia Preview

In what might be the biggest, most important hockey game in nearly a decade, Canada will take on Russia Wednesday afternoon in Vancouver.

Hockey fans will catch a glimpse of the Olympic Host country in 2010 with the Olympic Host country in 2014. Canada versus Russia. Sid the Kid versus Alex the Great.

So how will the two teams match up?

Well, there are two sides to the story. On the one hand, Canada may be fatigued playing their second game in as many days while the Russians have had some time off. On the other hand, where chemistry and and rhythm are paramount, Canada may actually have an advantage with the extra game to prepare and develop more comfort with linemates.

Russia will likely present the toughest challenge Canada has yet to face in these Olympic games, but that does not necessarily mean they will lose. While Canada lost to the USA on Sunday night, most would agree that Canada badly outplayed the Americans and only lost due to average goaltending on their side, and an incredible performance by Ryan Miller at the other end.

The Russians boast tremendous firepower on their top 2-3 lines, but lack depth at forward and on defense. The likes of Sergei Gonchar and Andrei Markov ensure the Russians will have a mobile defence and a good first pass, but it remains to be seen if the Russians can withstand a forecheck from a team as big, fast and tenacious as Canada. Russian concerns regarding their defense may be realized.

Canada will have to be better in their own zone than they were against the Americans and the steady butterfly style of Roberto Luongo should ensure that any random pucks thrown at the net are blocked and covered.

Russia's elite talent represent potentially the strongest challenge to the host country, and tomorrow should prove a very exciting match up. Canada will need to beat Russian netminder Evgeni Nabokov in a timely manner and will likely be unable to win a 1-0 or 2-1 game. Canada must continue to outshoot their opponent and likely fire at least 30 shots on net and collect 4 goals if they are to have any chance of winning.

Their forecheck must be incessant and their defense must be smart. If the Canadians can spend prolonged periods in the Russian zone, they should emerge victorious.

The action gets under way just after 4:30pm Pacific.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Roberto Luongo to start versus Germany

"This is Luongo's Team Now"

CTV is reporting that Roberto Luongo will start Tuesday night for Team Canada against Germany, and should Canada win that game, he will carry the torch going forward.

The Toronto Star is also reporting that "when asked if Luongo was taking over the rest of the tournament, Babcock said it was a moot point. Now that the teams are in single-game knockout mode, if a goalie has a bad game, Canada’s Olympics will be over.

“If you’re changing goalies, you’re probably out of the tournament,” he said. “If you don’t win now, you go home.”

Babcock also made adjustments to his forward lines, moving Eric Staal onto the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla and placing Rick Nash on left wing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. "

What's Wrong with Team Canada?

What’s Wrong with Team Canada?

Many Canadians are asking that question. After a lackluster performance against Switzerland resulting in a narrow 3-2 shootout win, and a disappointing 5-3 loss to the USA, hockey bloggers and media and even the players themselves are wondering what is wrong with Team Canada?

Let’s actually take a moment and look at some of the positives:

The Good

Team Canada’s youth, the Drew Doughty’s, Duncan Keith’s and Sidney Crosby’s of the world are all performing quite well. Not only are the youth performing well, they may be carrying the team.

Another positive is the number of shots they are throwing towards opposing teams' nets. While the USA are a good team, Canada outshot them 45-23, a margin of 2-1, similar to their output against Switzerland.

So why does Canada have only 5 of a possible 9 points?

The Bad
In spite of their success in shot totals, and an 8-0 drubbing of Norway, they’ve only managed 5 goals (not including the shootout) in their last two games, while giving up 7. Have they simply run into two red-hot goaltenders?

Quite possibly, but even Norway was able to beat Jonas Hiller more often than Canada was.

The Canadians firing shots at the opposing net have been looking too much like the Harlem Globetrotters at times – and not in a good way. On the power play, they seem content passing the puck around in stylish yet overly-predictable fashion.

So what does Team Canada need to do?

Firstly, they need to move the puck faster and go to the harder areas and keep their game simple.

Too many grade A scoring chances are being exchanged for a low-percentage pass to a teammate. Too many shots are coming from the point without a screen, and from the corners – in other words – more low percentage plays.

Most importantly, Team Canada needs to be difficult to play against. They need to be more physical and intimidating. They are in front of 16,000 screaming fans clad in red and white and need to start playing like it.

Perhaps American Ryan Kesler’s empty-net goal to seal Canada’s fate on Sunday night was a perfect example. Despite a last-minute push to net the equalizer, Corey Perry hopped over the boards as the sixth man with Martin Brodeur skating to the bench. Perry was forced to retrieve the puck in his own zone and despite having time and space to protect the puck, Perry let Kesler sneak up behind him, dive, and swat the puck off his stick and into Canada’s net, sealing the win for the USA. Kesler’s great play is symbolic of the Americans effort on Sunday night. Out-classed by Canadian talent did not matter. The Americans showed great desperation and played as a team.

Simply put - the Canadians need to employ this work ethic.

The Ugly

There are too many passengers on the bus. Crosby, Nash, Toews, Doughty, Keith, Seabrook have been solid. But where are the likes of Chris Pronger? erhaps the penalty box? Where is Joe Thornton? Perhaps skating through the neutral zone with no obvious passion, or losing the puck in the corner? And what can be said of Martin Brodeur? A man lauded for his amazing puck handling found himself the goat on perhaps three of the four goals he was beaten on versus the USA. Brodeur looked like a man trying to do too much on Sunday night. Instead of making the save, he’s trying to bat a puck out of mid-air, dive to make a poke check, you name it. It seemed every foray into the Canadian zone saw Brodeur wandering from his crease to play a puck he should have left for his defenders. This resulted in poor positioning as he tried to recover his stance in net, and inevitably, the puck wound up behind him. When you watch the highlights again, notice his form on every goal against.

Even if we choose to not hold Martin Brodeur responsible for those gaffes, let’s look at it from another angle. Canada has run into a hot goaltender two games in a row, which has cost them dearly in this tournament thus far. When will Canada have a hot goaltender? Since Roberto Luongo's performance against Norway, they been out-goaltended two games in a row with Martin Brodeur in net. Jonas Hiller and Ryan Miller both stole the show, while Martin Brodeur was average.

Canada cannot afford for average goaltending in these Olympics. If Team Canada sticks with Martin Brodeur, there will be many questions asked after the tournament, should Canada not be successful.

1) Why would Canada play Martin Broduer in a building where he has never won until the Switzerland game?

2) Why would Canada not play Roberto Luongo in his home rink?

3) Why would Canada stick with Martin Brodeur after two lackluster results, when Luongo posted a shutout in his only test?

Don't get me wrong, Brodeur is one of – if not the greatest - goaltender of all time and deserves all the respect in the world for his accomplishments. But right now Canada needs the greatest goaltender in February 2010 in Vancouver, and that man may be Roberto Luongo.

Olympic Men's Hockey Power Rankings - Updated

The Round Robin portion is now complete and it's time to look once again at where the teams stand. Team's previous ranking indicated below with (PR). Team Canada falls and Sweden rises in this installment.

1. Sweden
Sweden are the defending gold medalists and have gotten better as the tournament progresses. Henrik Lundqvist has yet to allow a goal, and a convincing 3-0 victory over the Finns on Sunday night puts them in the top spot.

2. USA
USA pulled off an upset against Team Canada on Sunday afternoon and proved that they are for real. Despite being outshot badly and arguably outplayed for most of the game, they leaned on Ryan Miller who provided the performance of a life time. Nevertheless, the USA have a good group of players and are deserving of more praise than suggesting merely that Ryan Miller is awesome. Will be interesting to see how they perform against other top teams.

3. Russia
Russia looked sloppy against Latvia despite the lopsided victory, lost to Slovakia in a shootout, but looked strong against the Czech Republic. Ovechkin's enormous open ice hit on Jaromir Jagr is the type of spark than can galvanize a team. Look out for a Russia/Canada quarter-final match up on Wednesday.

4. Canada
Team Canada ran into a red-hot Jonas Hiller and a red-hot Ryan Miller. But is there more to say? Yes. Canada has been 'getting by' on talent alone but is drawing criticism for their uninspired play, specifically from veterans like Brodeur, Pronger, and Thornton who are counted on. Despite outplaying the Americans badly, they lost that game. Had they won, they would be the #1 team in these rankings, so one game can't drop them too far. They need a convincing win over Germany.

5. Finland
Finland looked very strong in its first two games, but stumbled against Sweden. Still, the Finns always play a great team game, and have automatically qualified for the quarterfinals based on their strong play. They are they defending silver-medalists and will provide a worthy challenge.

6. Slovakia
Slovakia deserved a better result than a loss to the Czechs, they beat the Russians and pummeled the Latvians. You may recall they also started 5-0 in Torino before losing to the Russians in the Quarterfinals. This team is a nice dark horse.

7. Czech Republic
Czechs look good but not great. They beat the Slovaks but never really challenged the Russians. Czechs are likely not in the class of the Canadians, Russians, and Swedes, but could upset any team in a touranment such as this. Czechs are certainly competitive but likely will not medal.

8. Switzerland
The Swiss have performed admirably, pushing the Canadians to the limit and beating the Norwegians. The Swiss will play Belarus and will likely face the USA in the Quarterfinals.

9. Belarus
The Belarussians did not have a strong showing against the elite teams, but did have a great character building victory over the Germans. As the Belarussians showed in 2002, anything can happen.

10. Germany

The Germans could be described as a disappointment thus far. Usually an automatic world #8 behind the big seven, the Germans have scored only three goals in three games and lost to Belarus. Despite a few NHLers, mostly on defense, their play has been lackluster thus far. That being said, an incredible upset of Canada would erase all of that.

11. Norway
The Norwegians were beaten handily by the USA and Canada but put up a good fight against the Swiss. Norwegian forward Vikingstad's hat-trick against the Swiss is a definite bright spot.

12. Latvia
Losing 8-2 to the Russians, and being throttled by the Czechs and the Slovaks will land you in last place. Of the lower ranked teams entering this competition, they definitely drew the short end of the stick having to face three strong teams, they will try to play spoiler against the Czechs on Tuesday.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympic Hockey Power Rankings

Three days into the Men's Olympic Hockey tournament, it's time to rank the nations based on the results thus far. Canada, USA, and Finland are undefeated and have been impressive thus far, while Sweden, Czech Republic and Russia have been somewhat disappointing thus far. Slovakia and Switzerland have been effective underdogs and the rest, well, they have some work to do. Look for some upsets in the coming days!

1. Canada
Canada owned Norway as they should, and deserved a more convincing win over Switzerland. Jonas Hiller kept the Swiss in it. Canada outshot both teams badly and has the best goal differential in the tournament. Still not at their best.

2. USA
USA Hockey looks good. The young guys can play and they have taken care of business versus Switzerland and Norway. Sunday's test against Canada awaits.

3. Finland
Finland was convincing in their victory over Belarus. Tougher competition will determine their true place in these standings. They look good so far.

4. Sweden
Sweden may be finding their legs, but looked uninspired against an upstart German squad. More was expected from the Swedes, as expectations to repeat as gold medalists are high.

5. Slovakia

Slovaks deserved a better fate against the Czech Republic, and playing their second game in two nights came up with a huge victory against the Russians in a shootout. They played the Russians strong and have momentum on their side going in to their remaining round robin game against Latvia.

6. Russia
Russia beat Latvia 8-2 but managed to look sloppy in the process. They also managed only one goal in 60 minutes against a tired Slovakian squad, and Ovechkin and their potent offence managed only one goal on seven shots in the shootout. They definitely haven't found their game yet - but they better do so soon.

7. Czech Republic
Czechs deserve full marks for their victory over Slovakia. There is no substitute to finding ways to win a game, but they definitely will be in tough against Russia on Sunday.

8. Swizterland
The Swiss pushed Canada to the brink, forcing extra shooters in a shootout to find a win. Jonas Hiller has been simply amazing. Look for them to continue to make life difficult for the hockey powers.

9. Germany
Germany played Sweden very tough and should do the same with Finland. Look for them to beat Belarus.

10. Latvia
Despite the 8-2 defeat, the Latvians played Russia strong. They didn't finish their chances and took too many penalties. They didn't quit however and will certainly try to play spoiler.

11. Belarus

Belarus is in tough. Without their two top players in Grabovski and Kostitsyn, they will be hard-pressed to win much, but Sweden - Belarus will remind everyone of 2002 and Tommy Salo's worst nightmare.

12. Norway
Norway has been outscored 14-1 thus far and only mustered 11 shots against the USA. They will hopefully have more success against the Swiss.

Olympic Men's Hockey Day 3 Review

Slovakia 2 - Russia 1 (F - SO)
Slovakia completed the first upset of the Olympics in Men's Hockey. After fighting to get back into the game, the Slovaks finally found the equalizer in the third period off the stick of Marian Hossa. Pavol Demitra's pass found Hossa in the slot and he beat a suprised Ilya Bryzgalov. Unlike the Canadians, the Russians were not victimized by a hot goalie in Jaroslav Halak, but were just not the dominant team one might have expected.

The underrated Slovaks pushed the game to overtime and then a shootout where it went an incredible 7 rounds before Pavol Demitra made a beautiful move, out-waiting Bryzgalov before floating it into the top corner. The Slovaks put forward a gutsy effort in a much needed victory in order to stay alive in the 'Group of Death'.

Slovakia plays Latvia on Saturday while the Russians play the Czechs on Sunday.

Canada 3 - Switzerland 2 (S/O F)
Switzerland provided the Canadians with everything they could handle. Well, at least Jonas Hiller did. The Swiss goalie kept the Swiss in a game they probably had no business being in.

Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau scored goals early in the first and second period, but Jonas Hiller shut the door after that. The Canadians outshot the Swiss 47-23 but were unable to beat Hiller a third time until the shootout.

The Swiss played a strong positional game and did their best to thwart Canadian forays and managed to score a nice goal on a transition play, and then a lucky one off of Patrick Marleau's skate to tie the game at two. The Canadians outshot the Swiss 18-3 in the third period but could not find a third goal.

In the shootout, Canada sent Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, and Ryan Getzlaf but none were able to score. None of the Swiss shooters could score so it went to sudden death rounds. Canada sent Sidney Crosby back out and he fired a quick wrister to give the Canadians the edge. Martin Brodeur then stopped the last Swiss shooter and Canada grabbed the victory.

Canadas next game is Sunday against the Americans.

USA 6 - Norway 1
The USA continued its strong play today with a convincing win over Norway. The Americans held the Norwegians to only 11 shots while directing 39 of their own towards their opponent's net.

Brian Rafalski led the way with two goals as the Americans won their second straight game to sit atop their division with the Canadians, Swiss, and Norwegians.

USA plays Canada on Sunday night to decide the Division and quite possibly who advances to the Quarterfinals or who has to compete in the qualification round to enter the quarterfinals.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympic Men's Hockey Day 2 Review

Czech Republic 3 - Slovakia 1
Despite being outshot badly, the Czech Republic managed to hang on to a 3-1 lead. Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Plekanec scored goals late in the 2nd period to break the game open. Slovakia was on the receiving end of a few questionable calls that helped keep them at bay, and some additional bad luck when the game's first goal bounced in off of Patrick Elias' caboose.

The Czechs did not give up many great chances in the third period, despite being heavily outshot. The Slovaks meanwhile may have deserved a better fate, but did not show the determination necessary to go to the hard areas and demonstrate the desperation required.

Slovakia's tournament takes a quick turnaround as they lock horns with Russia on Thursday night. The Czechs meanwhile will take on Latvia.

Finland 5 - Belarus 1
Finland looked confident and well in control of this matchup. Olli Jokinen scored on the powerplay, and team leaders Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne provided what is expected of them: Leadership and Offense.

Finland was definitely the better team in this one, and will be fighting with Sweden to win their division and advance to the quarterfinals without having to take part in the qualification matches to make the final 8. In order to avoid relegation, Finland will have to win their division ahead of Sweden (along with Germany and Belarus), or be in second place but better than likely the USA, and Slovaks/Czechs.

Finland outshot the Belarussians horribly, 45-12.

Finland's next game is Friday night against Germany.

Sweden 2 - Germany 0

Sweden squeaked past Germany with a 2-0 win Wednesday evening. They only managed to outshoot the Germans 25-22, and despite obviously never trailing in the game, it did appear to be closer than the Swedes would have hoped.

Most of the bottom 4-6 teams in the tournament appear to be playing defensive hockey, hoping to keep the score as close as possible for as long as possible. In this game, the Swedes seemed uninspired at times. The opening goal by Mattias Ohlund was controversial as Daniel Sedin appeared to interfere slightly with Germany's goaltender, Greiss.

The Swedes will take the win and move on - and their performance Wednesday night may not be an indicator of future performances, but with goal differential entering the equation to settle ties in the standings (and therefore determining who advances to the quarterfinals), and marginal victory against a weaker team will impact their ability to win a tie-breaker against other strong teams they may be tied with at the end of the round robin.

Sweden plays Belarus on Friday morning while Germany takes on Finland Friday evening. How many Tommy Salo jokes will there be between now and Friday?

Vancouver 2010 Olympic Men's Hockey Tournament Format

Vancouver 2010 has introduced some changes to their seeding format when it comes to the elimination games. In addition to issuing 3 points for a win, 2 for an overtime / shootout win, 1 point for an overtime / shootout loss, and 0 points for a regulation loss, they are throwing in a Major League Baseball style Wild Card spot so to speak.

There are three divisions with four teams, and each team will play their division rivals in a round robin. Once those three games are complete, the three division leaders and the team with the fourth best record will automatically advance to the Quarter Finals. The other teams (seeds 5-12) will then compete is a brief Qualification Round. Four of those eight teams will advance to the Quarterfinals, joining the 4 teams who advanced from the Round Robin stage.

PuckWatch predictions would have Canada, Russia, and two of Sweden, Finland, and USA advancing automatically to the Quarterfinals.

For more information, check out the CTV Olympics website.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Men's Hockey Day 1 Review

Canada 8 - Norway 0 - F
Team Canada took a period to find their legs - and perhaps their hands as well - but cruised to a convincing 8-0 victory over the upstart Norwegians. Without their two best players and playing in front of a tremendous Canadian crowd, the Norwegians came out strong and stifled the Canadians attack for the better part of the first period.

The Canadians' line combinations were as follows:
Nash - Crosby - Iginla
Marleau - Thornton - Heatley
Staal - Getzlaf - Perry
Morrow - Richards - Toews/Bergeron

Patrice Bergeron started the game on Canada's top line, but after a Jarome Iginla goal with Crosby and Nash, that new line never looked back. Iginla netted a hat trick on the evening, including a highlight reel 6th goal where every player on the ice touched the puck in a beautiful display of passing by Crosby's line.

Crosby's line definitely gets strong marks on the evening, as does every Canadian line as they all got on the score sheet with at least one goal each.

The defense also looked sturdy. 20 year old Olympic rookie Drew Doughty showed why he was a wise selection as he pulled off a few nice moves and a huge hit in the neutral zone to compliment his steady play.

The Norwegians demonstrated the parity in today's international hockey landscape. Despite never really challenging Canada, they did show that they can tighten up a game and keep the score relatively respectable.

Roberto Luongo was impressive in spot duty, shutting out the Norwegians and making a couple of strong saves during a rather pedestrian 60 minutes where he could be forgiven if his attention wandered.

Canada plays Switzerland on Thursday.

Russia 8 - Latvia 2 - F
Russia opened their tournament in convincing fashion with an 8-2 win over Latvia. The game however may have been a little closer than the score indicated. The Latvians certainly were spirited adversaries and may have deserved a better fate. Latvia found themselves on the short end of a few questionable calls by the officials, and failed to bury their chances as they watched the Russians pull away.

While it's hard to argue the game was ever in doubt - especially with Ovechkin's timely goals - the Latvians certainly provided a tougher challenge to the Russians than the Norwegians did to the Canadians.

USA 3 - Switzerland 1 - F
The Swiss took advantage of the smaller ice surface in an effort to trap the Americans and keep their speedy youth at bay. They gave the American a good challenge, represented by only a modest shot advantage of 24-15 in favour of the Americans.

The USA appeared more determined in the second period, potting two goals before conceding a goal to the Swiss in the third period.

As Jamie Bell as CTV reports, the Americans played a strong game and did not forfeit many quality chances.

Switzerland shutout Canada 2-0 in Torino in 2006 and have a duo of quality goaltenders in Anaheim's Jonas Hiller, and former NHLer Martin Gerber.

The US take on Norway next.

Olympic Men's Hockey Predictions

Day 1
USA vs. Switzerland
Canada vs. Norway
Russia vs. Latvia

Sunday, February 14, 2010

NHL Daily Picks

Sunday's picks - last day before Olympic Break

Lightning @ Rangers
Predators @ Penguins
Canucks @ Wild
Senators @ Islanders
Blackhawks @ Blue Jackets
Ducks @ Oilers

Overall Record: 31-10-10
Last Night: 4-1-1

Saturday, February 13, 2010

NHL Daily Picks

Saturday's Picks:

Lightning @ Islanders
Sharks @ Sabres
Senators @ Red Wings
Devils @ Hurricanes
Flyers @ Canadiens
Bruins @ Panthers
Capitals @ Blues
Stars @ Coyotes
Thrashers @ Blackhawks
Ducks @ Flames
Avalanche @ Kings

Overall Record: 20-6-8

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blackhawks trade Barker to Wild

The Chicago Blackhawks have traded defenseman Cam Barker to the Minnesota Wild for defenseman Kim Johnsson and 2009 first round pick Nick Leddy.
Kim Johnsson gives the Blackhawks some much needed playoff experience at the back end and is a good puck mover who should fit into the Hawks high flying transition game. He currently has six goals and eight assists in 52 games this season. Another notable factor for this trade is that Johnsson is slated to become a UFA at seasons end and will give the Hawks some cap relief.

Nick Leddy was selected 16th overall by the Wild in the 2009 NHL entry draft. He played for Eden Prairie (Minn.) High School last season and was the winner of Minnesota's prestigious "Mr. Hockey" award. He currently plays for the University of Minnesota.

The 23 year old Barker was the third overall pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft behind Ovechkin and Malkin. In 51 games this season Barker has four goals and ten assists and is +7. The 6'3, 215 pound Barker is in his first year of a three year $9.25 million deal. Barker was one of the Blackhawk players who was involved in the infamous Dale Tallon contract paperwork debacle, which forced them to, perhaps, overpay on few contracts.

Barker really broke out last season with the Hawks, he had six goals and 40 points in 68 games and averaged 18:20 of ice time per game. He also had 29 points while on the powerplay and was a solid top four defenseman. This year however, it has been a much different situation. Barker has seen his ice time drop significantly from 18:20 last year to just 13:05 this year. With the emergence of Nik Hjalmarsson, Barker became a number five or six defenseman for Chicago. With the Hawks recent resigning of Toews, Kane, and Kieth, something had to give and Barker was clearly the odd man out.

This is a trade that could work out for both teams. The Wild get a big and very skilled defenseman, while the Hawks bolster their blueline for the playoffs. The Blackhawks also improve their cap situation and get a very good prospect in Nick Leddy.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

NBC: Ice Dance over Canada vs. USA Men's Hockey

If you were hoping to view the marquee Men's Hockey matchup between Canada and the USA on Sunday night, February 21st, better look elsewhere.

Remember how NBC and other American outlets complain about overseas Olympics not being conducive to prime time viewing for American audiences?

Well, even with their wishes granted in Vancouver in 2010, NBC will once again fail to deliver a gold medal performance. Despite favourable television schedules for events across the board, NBC is choosing to continue to air taped performances from earlier in the day. The NBC is squandering an opportunity to watch some of the most amazing hockey of our generation.

Sunday, February 21st, Team Canada plays Team USA in Men's Hockey. Surely to be one of the biggest events of the entire Olympic games. You might expect with football season over to see this game on NBC as part of their Olympic coverage? Think again.

As the Globe and Mail points out, NBC Exec Dick Ebersol is opting to show Ice Dance instead. According to Ebersol, more women watch the Olympics than men.

While the game will be shown on their cable affiliate MSNBC, even the Americans themselves are expressing their disdain for NBC's coverage. Sports Columnist John Conzano chimes in suggesting NBC should either cover the Olympics properly or not at all.

PuckWatch cannot help but wonder how Gary Bettman and the NHL brass feel about interrupting their season only to see NBC squander a golden opportunity to celebrate the game of hockey, and expose the NHL's star athletes to a new market with one of the best rivalries in hockey.

NBC has not had the best reviews of late, with their late night debacle between Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno - and this will not help the peacock's reputation. However, perhaps NBC is not eager to dedicate prime time television time to the Canada USA game because they feel there is a strong likelihood they will lose. The USA has long been criticized for Olympic coverage. While CBC has traditionally showcased the world's best athletes while highlighting Canadian performances, the US certainly focuses on its own athletes, and anything else pretty much never happened.

It's a shame. The US has an exciting and young men's hockey team with Patrick Kane, Phil Kessel, Ryan Kesler, Bobby Ryan, Zach Parise, Ryan Miller, and Erik Johnson to name a few. They could surprise, and NBC should wake up and broadcast the Olympics marquee sport.

NHL Daily Picks

Friday's Picks:

Canadiens @ Flyers
Predators @ Devils
Canucks @ Blue Jackets
Rangers @ Penguins
Maple Leafs @ Blues
Thrashers @ Wild
Coyotes @ Avalanche

Overall Record 16-4-7

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 3, Panthers 0 - F - February 11th, 2010

The Vancouver Canucks managed to post a strong 3-0 win over Florida on Thursday evening, despite struggling to a 12-14-1 mark on the road so far this year.

Alexandre Burrows potted his team leading 26th goal of the year, while Ryan Kesler and Jannik Hansen each scored to pave the way for the Canucks.

Hansen's short-handed effort late in the 2nd period turned out to be a backbreaker.

Roberto Luongo made 31 saves for his 51st career shutout, putting him into sole place of #2 on the active list.

Florida trades Moore to Montreal

The Florida Panthers have traded forward Dominic Moore to the Canadiens for a 2011 2nd round draft pick. Moore has been a disappointment so far this year, with eight goals and nine assists and a minus seven in 48 games played. The 29 year old makes $1.1 million and is set to become a Ufa after this season.
This trade is surprising for the Canadiens who already have several centers on the roster, including Gomez, Plekanec, Metropolit, and Lapierre, as well as prospect Tom Pyatt who has played well in a recent call up. This move makes me think that more trades are coming for the Canadiens, possibly even before Fridays trade freeze. A 2nd round pick is a lot to give up, lets see how this plays out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NHL Daily Picks

Thursday's Picks:

Sabres @ Hurricanes
Capitals @ Senators
Sharks @ Red Wings
Bruins @ Lightning
Canucks @ Panthers
Stars @ Flames
Oilers @ Kings

Overall Record 15-5 (75%)

NHL Daily Picks

Today's Picks:

Philadelphia @ New Jersey
Nashville @ New York Rangers
San Jose @ Columbus
Washington @ Montreal
New York Islanders @ Pittsburgh
Phoenix @ Minnesota
Atlanta @ Colorado
Edmonton @ Anaheim

Overall Record - 9-3

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thrashers trade G Kari Lehtonen to Stars

The Atlanta Thrashers have pulled the trigger once again. TSN is reporting that they have traded enigmatic goaltender Kari Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars in exchange for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 4th Round draft pick.

Puckwatch's Take:
Atlanta gains something they can use, a good young defenseman, while they forfeit a goaltender who had a lot of pressure on him but was never able to become the goaltender he was supposed to be, thanks in large part to injuries. Without a doubt, the emergence of Ondrej Pavelec provides the Thrashers with an abundance of goaltending talent that gave way to this trade.

Dallas on the other hand has a few more questions to answer. This move may spell the end of Marty Turco's time in "Big D". Turco has struggled this year, so much so that the former Canadian Olympian has never been mentioned in the same breath as the top 5-10 Canadian goalies all year. Interestingly, Alex Auld had been getting a lot of playing time lately, this may not be a vote of confidence in him either.

Look for both Dallas and Atlanta to continue trading as the NHL trade deadline approaches.

Monday, February 8, 2010

NHL Daily Picks

As a new feature, Puckwatch will make nightly picks. Tonight Puckwatch unofficially picked all winners! Season Record 5-0.

Let's try our luck for tomorrows games. Projected winners are highlighted in bold.

Tuesday's games:
Bruins @ Sabres
Panthers @ Hurricanes
Predators @ Islanders
Flames @ Senators
Canucks @ Lightning
Red Wings @ Blues
Stars @ Blackhawks

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Trades / Trade Rumours

Here is a collection of some of the buzz from around the league this weekend...

Washington Capitals are reportedly interested in Alex Ponikarovsky.

Chicago Blackhawks & Phoenix Coyotes are interested in Anaheim's D James Wisniewski

Edmonton Oilers may be looking to deal Ethan Moreau to an Eastern Conference team.


San Jose acquired defenseman Niclas Wallin and a fifth-round pick in the 2010 draft from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2010 draft.

Detroit traded forward Ville Leino to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen and a 2011 fifth round draft pick.

HIGHLIGHTS - Canucks 3, Bruins 2 F/SO - February 6th, 2010

The Vancouver Canucks stole two points from Boston on Saturday morning, extending the Bruins losing streak to 10.

The Canucks received inspired performances from a few players, including Roberto Luongo, Pavol Demitra, Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Kovalchuk traded to Devils

Ilya Kovalchuk is now a member of the New Jersey Devils. Following months of speculation, the star winger for the Atlanta Thrashers was dealt to the Devils after he and Atlanta GM Don Waddell were unable to come to terms on a contract extension to keep him in Atlanta.

As TSN reports, the deal sends Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela to New Jersey in exchange for promising talent including defenseman Johnny Oduya, forward Nicklas Bergfors, prospect forward Patrice Cormier, and a 1st round draft pick, as well as a swap of second round picks.

It is interesting that New Jersey, headed my Lou Lamiarello and Jacques Lemaire would be interested in acquiring such a high priced offensive player (for such a conservative duo). The Devils will be forced to pay top dollar to retain their asset past this year, and there is a risk he will return to Russia and join the KHL.

It is definitely a gamble. There are many what if's. What if Kovalchuk gets injured during the Olympics? Pittsburgh had a similar scare when they overpaid for Marian Hossa a couple of years ago. Hossa was injured and missed virtually the remainder of the regular season before joining the Penguins again in time for the playoffs.

Talk of Kovalchuk joining many other teams made no sense, as they were already loaded with offensive minded forwards, or financially strapped. In New Jersey's case, at least Kovalchuk is a good fit for what they need. Time will tell if the deal was a wise move.

Attached below is a top 10 of Kovalchuk's contributions to the Atlanta Thrashers.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kovalchuk Sweepstakes Begin

TSN's Bob Mackenzie is reporting that the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes have begun. Mackenzie writes that there may be as many at seven teams pushing very hard for the services of the talented Russian.

Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Phildaelphia, and possibly Calgary are all apparently interested. Any who wouldn't be?

Aside from what MacKenzie says, any team at the top of the conference would like to add a piece to put them over the top, just as the Penguins tried with Marian Hossa two years ago - also from Atlanta.

Many teams on the bubble may take a run at grabbing Kovalchuk via trade. Considering that Atlanta GM Don Waddell is seeking talent 'now' rather than a bunch of draft picks and prospects, it certainly makes it interesting to see where he will end up. Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles all have depth, and youth in spades. However, because Chicago and Los Angeles are playing so well right now, why would you disrupt the chemistry and interrupt that great development of a young team with Kovalchuk's presence, especially if it is just for the remainder of a season?

Stay tuned in the coming days as PuckWatch reports on rumours, and reports on who is likely on the move, and what some of the contenders should be looking for.