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.

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