Feb 262010
 

If you’ve even had a glance at highlights of Men’s Olympic Hockey, you’ve probably developed an opinion on how the tournament has gone so far.

Some of you were likely concerned – whether it was a tough first period against Norway, a scare against Switzerland where it took a shootout to win, and then a near complete FAIL in losing to the US. In fact, you probably felt that a Hockey Congress needed to be convened to figure out what ailed the sport in Canada.

Then there were others that pointed out that Team Canada is like fine wine, that it gets better with age and simply needed time to breath. You preached faith and devotion, knowing that at some point in time Canada would open up a can of whoop-what-what and take a few names.

And then there is me – the guy who thinks it comes down to Grant Fuhr, goaltending, and whether or not we could get that “one” save.

For those of you not old enough to remember the halcyon days of the 1980s Edmonton Oilers, they were a young team that had quite a bit of firepower in an age where the team that actually scored the most goals won – key word, goals. Although Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, Anderson and others put up the points, there were a number of other teams in the league who had players that could do the same thing. So what was it that gave the Oil success? Goaltending.

Now we’re not talking about the goaltending we’re used to today. We’re talking about the flop around, pad stacker, red-light variety. So how does this come into play? Well, the Oilers had a guy by the name of Grant Fuhr who could make that one “great” save which allowed the team in front of him to maintain pressure and momentum. True the final score might be 6-5 or 5-3, but by making that one “great” save, he gave his team a chance to win.

So how does this have anything to do with Team Canada you ask?

If there were one consistent issue for debate, it’s been the position between the pipes. The rightly celebrated Martin Brodeur was anointed the number one keeper by the start of the tournament and relieved Roberto Luongo of his duties after the first game against Norway. But things didn’t go too smoothly for Marty. First there was some suspect goaltending in regulation against Switzerland where he couldn’t provide that “great” save until the shootout – where he stopped all three to redeem himself. And then there was that shocker against the US where he had trouble determining that baseball is not a demonstration sport in the 2010 Winter Games and again, couldn’t provide that “great” save when called upon. So after some deliberation, the decision was made to have Louie head back to the blue paint.

And the team took off.

Now I agree that a win against Germany isn’t something we should run to the streets to cheer about, but what about that slobberknocker against Russia? Here you had a Canadian team taking it to the opposition without having to expend even more energy playing catch-up because they had a guy who could provide that one “great” save. Roberto wasn’t perfect in either game, but he gave the team some belief that when it counted, he’d come up big. Case in point was the Malkin breakaway – Louie made that one “great” save.

It’s obviously Louie’s time to shine for the remainder of the Olympic Games and how he goes, the team will go. But if anything has been discovered is that with the firepower that Canada possesses, all the team will need is someone who practices the Grant Fuhr method to Goaltending.

And provide that one extra save, one “great” save.

Feb 222010
 

I supported picking Brodeur as the starting goalie despite enough reasons to justify Luongo being put in net, so at this point I don’t even feel slightly bad about tearing Brodeur a new one. Throw every cliche you can at the game and it’ll in all likelihood make sense. The one I like right now is “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” Last night Team Canada played a heck of a game. They were for the most part all over the American team, but Brodeur let them down.

I thought Brodeur’s puck handling was going to be to his advantage and yesterday he proved it was to his detriment. Brodeur plays the puck like a defenseman, and when he’s on the Devils his blue line know to go out when he handles the puck, not collapse to the net. One of the key things is that the blue line doesn’t know Marty’s style of play, but that doesn’t excuse the nonsense we saw from him in net last night. I have never seen a goalie go down on so many shots, and flop around like I saw Brodeur last night. Not even Dominik Hasek has had a game where he’s flopped around in net as much as Brodeur did.

Brodeur’s puck handling was ridiculous at best and it all culminated in his baseball bat, derek-jeter-ground-out swing that cost Canada the goal. That robbed us of momentum, that basically sealed the deal. With that in mind though it was clear from the beginning. His poor decision making and puck-handling less than 30 seconds into the game cost us the game’s first goal and from there it went down hill.

With that being said everyone’s calling for Luongo. Brodeur had his chance, and I thought even against the Swiss he had a shaky game at best. I still believe Luongo knows this ice better than anyone, regardless of opponent he posted a shutout against Norway, and he looked solid. My worry is that without the trapezoid he’ll play the puck into even more awkward situations than he already does on the Canucks, but at this point anything is better than Brodeur.

Canada next plays the Germans in qualifiers. So you give Luongo the start and he wins. Guarantee this city is going to be preaching the good word according to Lu. That in itself might be the problem. Lets be honest, a half concussed, one armed Fleury could take down the winless Germans. The test comes in the game after which will be the Russians. Tuesday’s qualifier against the Germans is going to be a good indicator of how Luongo feels getting the start. Brodeur had his chance and the Germany game should be a good way to ease Luongo into this. That being said, come the quarterfinals, if Luongo’s given the start, it’s all on him to save this country’s hopes of a gold medal.

This is Luongo’s chance to prove to everyone, on the biggest stage of them all, that he can be a “big game goalie”. Don’t blow it Lu, no pressure.

Feb 182010
 

So as I get ready to take in Canada vs. Switzerland at GM… err.. Canada Hockey Place later today, I’m fortunately not posed with a problem of who to cheer for. I’m a big fan of Canada – so much so that I’ve pledged to wear a red or Canadian themed shirt (my white Canada Hockey jersey for instance) throughout the Winter Olympics. So what is that problem I speak of?

You see, I’m also a diehard Canucks fan. So it’s awesome to see the following players represent six different nations:

  • Roberto Luongo (Canada)
  • Daniel Sedin (Sweden)
  • Henrik Sedin (Sweden)
  • Ryan Kesler (U.S.)
  • Sami Salo (Finland)
  • Pavol Demitra (Slovakia)
  • Christian Ehrhoff (Germany)

But when it comes to choosing local team over the national team, how do I not go with those who have maple syrup running through their veins?

It’s great that Demo has finally found his game on the national stage, but I find myself wanting him to choke. I love the Sedins, but I hope they both get the flu and have to sit out for a couple of weeks. Kesler may be a God among men when playing at home, but here’s to hope that by wearing the US jersey means he plays like he’s been playing on the road this season.

Is this sacrilegious for a diehard Canucks fan? Maybe, but I don’t wish them any harm and hope all seven come back strong for a run to the post-season. I’m just hoping that one of them (and lets be clear, it’s the guy with the maple leaf on his chest) comes back with a gold medal, while the others simply come back with a gold medal experience.

So as I watch Canada play tonight, I’m thankful for one thing – that the Canucks didn’t sign a Swiss player this season.

*****

[Editor's note: For the duration of the Games, I think it's totally okay to call the Sedins second-liners again. - J.J.]

Jan 252010
 

Now that the Canucks last home game before the Olympics is done it’s time to look forward to those 45 days away from GM Place that includes a 14 game road trip interrupted by the Olympics for two weeks. The Canucks leave GM Place in the hands of VANOC and embark on a 14 game road trip which has a lot of fans worried because going into this road trip they currently own the second worst road record amongst any of the playoff teams in the East and West. That doesn’t paint an accurate picture though as the Canucks in their last 10 games away from home, after a terrible start on the road this year, are 6-3-1.

The Canucks main concern isn’t even going to be the first half of the trip:

Jan. 30 at Toronto
Feb. 2 at Montreal
Feb. 4 at Ottawa
Feb. 6 at Boston
Feb. 9 at Tampa Bay
Feb. 11 at Florida
Feb. 12 at Columbus
Feb. 14 at Minnesota

The first half of the trip the Canucks do a swing through Eastern Canada and if there’s one thing the Canucks have been able to do it’s devour teams in the East. When you look at the East teams the Canucks are playing they have better goal tending, and the fact that they rarely see these teams gives them the advantage because the other team’s lack of familiarity should let the Sedins run rampant.

The six of the first eight games on the road swing should be a breeze. Even if the Canucks go 6-2 through that stretch that’ll be a fantastic lead up to the two week Olympic break. The tough part is after the Olympic break. The Canucks six games after the Olympics looks like this:

March 2 at Columbus
March 3 at Detroit
March 5 at Chicago
March 7 at Nashville
March 9 at Colorado
March 10 at Phoenix

In the first eight games of the road trip the Canucks play only one, maybe two playoff teams (depending on the standings fluctuation). In the back end of the road trip, post Olympics, they’re ploughing through some of the toughest teams in the West and taking on a list of Western Conference playoff teams. They’re also hitting four teams in the Central Divsion, a division they’ve improved against lately but one that has been unkind to them all season.

The other concern for the Canucks is going to be the Olympic hangover. This could work both for and against the Canucks. The Canucks are going to have 7 of their stars play throughout the two weeks and you have to imagine fatigue will kick in. The rest of the team should be nice and rested, but it’s a double edge sword if the rest just leads to a sluggish start and they take a few games to find their legs. That being said every NHL team is in the same boat so that should even the playing field and the Canucks stars will have to lead the team having been the ones that played through the two weeks off.

The thing everyone’s going to be watching the most on this trip though is going to be Henrik Sedin’s play. He leads the NHL in the points race going into this road trip, but of the 76 points he’s scored this year, 49 of them have been on home ice. That’s the most by any NHL Player this season, but means if Henrik is going to contend throughout the remainder of the season his road numbers are going to have to go up drastically. This road trip is going to define the Canucks season. It’s been said before and sounds somewhat cliché, but it plays a role in determining whether the Canucks chase a playoff spot down the stretch or sit comfortably while watching the rat race, and it’s going to determine just how good Henrik Sedin really is. Either way, with the last three games of the regular season versus NW division opponents, you can’t help but think this season is going to come down to the wire yet again.

Oct 132009
 

The Canucks are in a tough spot because they have to give their building up to the VANOC and the IOC for the Olympics and as a result go on an extended 14 game road trip before and after the Olympics. They go on a 14 game road trip because their building is booked and because the beginning of their season is so jam packed full of games right?

After the drubbing against Montreal the Canucks had three full days off before playing the Stars on Thanksgiving Sunday and then look forward to another four full days of break before playing the Flames on the road. In November they have two more three day breaks which equates to four days between games, and then have a home a home between the Avalanche that’s separated by five full days off. Six days between a home and home? December has one four day break, but that’s expected as it’s situated around Christmas, and January has another four day break, with three full days off. Right, so we were saying the Canucks schedule is packed right? No room to fit in some of those road games earlier right?

The Olympics are an emotionally draining experience. The highs, the lows, for the players on teams that don’t even make it past the group stage of hockey, they’re still going to be in the thick of things and will by no means be resting. The Canucks will likely have at least seven players representing their country at the upcoming 2010 Olympics: The Sedins and Edler for Sweden, Salo for Finland, Kesler for the United States, Christian Ehrhoff for Germany and Luongo for Canada. There’s also the chance Samuelsson will represent Sweden, and pending his health, Demitra is of the calibre that he will represent the Slovaks at the Olympics.

The Canucks could have a total of nine players participating in the 17 day spectacle. Going from a road trip, into 17 days of the greatest international sporting event the world has ever seen, back into a road trip is going to be absurd. The road trip comes close to the stretch drive which means depending where we are in the race for the division and a playoff spot, every night could turn into a must win. The emotional drain from the media in the regular season is bad enough, but to have to deal with the national medias that will be present, the emotional highs and lows of representing your country, and the success or failure of their respective country’s performances at the Olympics, it’s a big concern that we’re going to have players returning drained and fatigued. To subject them to an extended road trip in that state is just a recipe for injury. That’s to say if players like Salo and Demitra make it out of the Olympics injury free.

I don’t know who screwed this up but it’s absurd. Why not throw some of those stupid long breaks in when the Canucks don’t have their home ice. With all the extra days off the Canucks are getting right now, it would have been easy for them to drop those 14 away games to single digits at the least. Gillis stacked up on depth for a reason and my biggest worry is that that’s going to be well warranted. While the road trip doesn’t see the Canucks do a lot of lateral traveling and spend a lot of time on the east coast in the same time zone, with the fatigue snowballed, all the early starts, and a noon start in two of the games on that swing I can’t help but start to worry now. This ridiculous schedule means every game early in the season counts even more. The problem with these long breaks is that the Canucks spend the first 20 minutes trying to find their legs. They did it in the game against Dallas and in a game that was far from pretty came away with the win. If the Canucks can survive the first period they have a good shot at winning. They need all the points they can get now, because there’s no guarantees later in the season.

%d bloggers like this: