Monday, February 20, 2006

Somebody has hit the snooze button!

If Saturday’s loss to the Swiss was the alarm on the clock, one is not sure what to make of Sunday’s follow up loss to the Finns.

Team Canada has now gone over 120 minutes without a goal, has brought a rather anemic power play to the tournament and for some reason refuses to make a body check on anyone crossing their blue line. That in a nutshell is how they have come to have a 2-2 record in the preliminary round of Torino 2006.

Sunday’s game featured a first period that saw the Finnish team outplay, outshoot, outscore and most disturbing of all out hit the Canadians. For the most part they left Roberto Luongo to keep them in the game and then when opportunity provided a chance to get back into it they didn’t take advantage of it. On two consecutive power plays the Canadian squad managed only one shot on net at Finland’s goaltender Antero Nittymaki .

The Finns who took the 2-0 lead early in the game, played a defensive shell game for the bulk of the third period, lining up in the neutral zone and stopping any Canadian attack before it could even get formulated. Canada’s defensive pairings had a horrendous time of keeping the puck inside the Finn blue line, giving up that line time and time again. They were equally troubled in their own end, as they lost battles for the puck and left players wide open in the slot. The most famous image of this game that of Saku Koivu banging Chris Pronger off the puck and setting up a wide open Teemu Selanne for a goal. That pretty well gives you the flow of the play in Canada’s end of the ice.

Down Finland way, Canada was kept to mainly perimeter shots, many wide, the few opportunities for a clear shot at netted went untaken or were quickly negated by a fast moving Finnish squad that found their checks and then made sure their chances were limited.

Once again the Canadian squad slipped into individual play as opposed to forcing a team approach on the Finns. Joe Sakic or Dany Heatley would try and carry the puck as deep into the Finn end as possible only to find the play broken up at the blue line or a pass intercepted and redirected up ice.

These games for the most part don’t carry a lot of weight going into the medal round and thankfully Canada won their first two matches so the circumstances are not dire yet. But if they continue this sloppy and disjointed form of play into the medal round they won’t be finding their way to a podium. Both the Swiss and the Finns have done what many never thought could happen, they played a better Canadian style of hockey than the Canadians did. By playing the body, shutting down the attack and taking advantage of the opportunities when they arose the last 120 minutes of hockey has gone the way of Canada’s competitors.

They have one more preliminary game to get it back together before the medal round, a game Tuesday against the Czech Republic. They’ve been issued two wake up calls in Tornio; they may wish to punch in to work early from here on in. Otherwise the medal round is going to be a very short affair.

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