Presuming you’re just waking up, Team Canada is playing their final game of the preliminary round at noon (EST, 9 am PST). They’ll face their stiffest test of the tournament in Team Suomi; but, we should probably mention that Finland is so bruised and battered that Jarkko Immonen is going to center their top-line.
With the extent of Finland’s injuries and their lack of depth on the blue-line; I really wouldn’t be shocked if a team like, say, Switzerland (which has been dynamite at the Games, despite a non-existent offense) managed to defeat them in an elimination round…
But enough about Finland, we all know what you really want to talk about: Team Canada’s lineup.
Team Canada’s coaching staff answered the prayers of a nations worth of Armchair general managers: Chris Kunitz will start Sunday’s game against Finland on the fourth line. Canada’s fourth-line – featured Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Tavares and Jamie Benn – has arguably been Canada’s best at the tournament so far, but they’ll be broken up. Benn and Bergeron are going to start with game on the top-line with Sidney Crosby, who has been dynamite in the tournament despite a lack of production, while Rick Nash will join Tavares and Kunitz on the fourth.
Splitting up Nash and Jonathan Toews is a bit of a surprise, those two memorably cominbed to power Canada at the 2010 games (along with Mike Richards). But they haven’t been that involved offensively through the first two games of the tournament. So Toews will play with Jeff Carter and Patrick “hard-minutes” Marleau.
That leaves the Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry line that cycled so well against the permissive Austrian defenders intact. Pumped about that, actually. Perry, Getzlaf and Duchene control the puck down low outrageously well. What Getzlaf and Perry do with size (and skill), Duchene does with his shiftiness and speed.
I’d actually suggest to you that there’s no one better in hockey when it comes to protecting the puck and operating down low, out of Gretzky’s office, at the moment. I’ll be curious to see if Duchene, Getzlaf and Perry can continue to rack up zone time against a Finnish defense that should be much better then the one they faced on Friday.
So P.K. Subban, reigning Norris winner, will be a healthy scratch on Sunday. Justin Bourne laid out nicely why that’s a mistake and I think he nails it.
Canada has the “safer” guys (M.E. Vlasic, Dan Hamhuis, Jay Bouwmeester) and they know what they’ll get out of those three. So why not see what Subban can do, alongside say Alex Pietrangelo or Drew Doughty, before the stakes are raised exponentially in the elimination round?
I still think the door is wide open for Subban to play a big role at this tournament. If one of the “safe” players makes a mistake today presumably they’ll feel a lot less safe when the coaching staff is making decisions for Wednesday’s game. Not that a group of smart guys like Claude Julien, Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock are going to let one bounce unduly influence decision making…
The same basic rule applies to Roberto Luongo, who I’m a bit surprised isn’t starting based on the way Canada has historically handled their starting goaltenders. As I recall, CuJo, Brodeur, arguably Roy, Dryden had to lose the job. Luongo, however, has won six in a row for Team Canada at the Olympics, and looked more comfortable than Price did in their respective preliminary round starts this week.
Price has been better than Luongo over the past 2000 shots or so, however. Despite Luongo’s considerably more imperssive track record of performance, at Luongo’s age I’m probably willing to accept that Price is the marginally better netminder at this point in their respective careers. I really don’t think Canada would have made a mistake going either way.
And who knows if Price can hold the net. If he struggles against Finland, Luongo will could re-emerge as