So if you’re Canada head coach Mike Babcock, what do you do now? You ignored incumbency and the sentimental pick (as well you should’ve) and started Carey Price over Roberto Luongo in your team’s first preliminary game. Price stopped 19 of 20 shots in a 3-1 win over Norway and looked OK. But in your second game you gave the nod to the goalie that led you to Gold in 2010 on home ice in Vancouver and Luongo stopped 23 shots for a shutout and a 6-0 Canada win over Austria.
Now your team has a chance to go 3-0 in the preliminary round to earn a bye and an automatic spot in the quarterfinals of the medal round. But your next opponent is no cupcake. Instead you’ll be facing off against Finland, who heading into Saturday’s slate of games is the highest scoring team thus far with 14 goals in two games. And don’t forget that while the Finns may be lighting the lamp at will right now, they’re even scarier between the pipes with the formidable duo of Tuukka Rask and Kari Lehtonen. So with goals likely tough to come by against Finland, you will need to make it similarly hard to score for the Finns. So do you go with Price who has been the better goalie this season or Luongo who has the experience in win or go home type games that will be the setting after this next game?
I know I’m glad I’m not in Mike Babcock’s shoes right now because with two great goalies like that to choose from, there will be plenty of second-guessing if things go awry. But if I was to choose, I’m going with Luongo in this game if not for the sole sake that he has the big game experience, then for the fact that he looked slightly like the better goalie and something tells me, the embattled Canucks goalie is looking at this tournament as his last chance to prove the skeptics wrong. Let’s face it, the Canucks aren’t winning the Stanley Cup, let alone maybe even a playoff round anytime soon and chances are with his contract and age, there won’t be any teams lining up to trade for Luongo. So leading his country to the promised land again is likely his last chance to bury the memories of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals and all that followed it.
Now that being said, if Luongo shows any signs of TD Garden Lu then I’d yank him without hesitation!
–Another Montreal Canadien whose spot in the Canada lineup is in question is defenseman P.K. Subban. Subban saw his first Olympic action on Friday logging 11:46 of relatively quiet ice time. Now that can be a very good thing when a defenseman goes unnoticed but as Hockey Night In Canada analyst Elliotte Friedman pointed out on TSN 690 and “Melnick In The Afternoon” on Friday, Subban is expected to boost the power play with his laser shot and he didn’t let that shot off when he had the chance against Austria instead electing to pass. While Dan Hamhuis wasn’t anything special against Norway, Subban didn’t solidify his spot against Austria. However, if given the chance again, Subban likely won’t disappoint as he has a knack for playing well in big games and in the clutch.
–Sweden is quickly becoming the feel good story of this tournament. After entering the Olympics already without Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen, the Swedes lost the services of Henrik Zetterberg on Friday who had to opt out of the tournament with what was described as a very painful herniated disc. But the Swedes rallied around their fallen teammate and won a very hard fought game 1-0 over Switzerland. By the way, if the Swiss could find a way to score, they too could be a feel good or in their case Cinderella story.
–Is Jaromir Jagr the Peter Pan of hockey? The future hall of famer – who turns 42 Saturday — scored his second goal of the tournament in a 4-2 win over Latvia to get the Czechs into the win column and just seems to get better and as Pierre Lebrun of ESPN.com pointed out funnier with age. Happy Birthday Jaromir!
–Finally USA and Russia square off Saturday in what is the most anticipated match of the preliminary round and there’s probably going to be plenty said about the 1980 Miracle On Ice if there isn’t already. It wouldn’t be surprising if this little fellow was in the USA dressing room before the game either. But my choice for pre-game motivation for USA would be Rocky 4. Here’s hoping Dan Bylsma fed his team Philly cheese steaks and showed this classic sports film Friday night!