Monday, February 22, 2010

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.

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