Update: John Tavares is done for the year with a torn MCL. I discuss the impact below but I’ll reiterate that this is good for basically no one on Long Island and really this sucks for everyone in hockey. I swear it seems no one in this sport is bulletproof.
Yeesh… that was a doozy of a game between Canada and Latvia. Full credit to the Latvians for elevating their game. Sure, you can count their chances on one hand but they were dangerous and tough to play against. Carey Price didn't see much action but did his best Ken Dryden impersonation staying sharp and stepping up when called upon. A lesser goalie probably let's Latvia steal that one.
Ted Nolan is getting a ton of credit for inspiring his troops but I think this is a little over the top. First, Latvia went 0-3 in the medal round (although they were frisky there too). More importantly, if Nolan's such a good coach, why isn't he getting this kind of effort out of his NHL club this season?
I'm playing devil's advocate here a bit. I do think Nolan is a good coach. The Sabres have undoubtedly been a better, at least stingier team under his tutelage but I think he's getting a bit too much credit for the Latvian effort yesterday. I mean, they were outshot by 41. FORTY-FREAKING-ONE!
I was more impressed with the goalie, Kristers Gudlevskis, than I was with anything else the Latvians were doing.
Nolan deserves some credit but I think it's dangerous to overreact to one game. I think if you play that as a seven-game series the Latvians get swept with that being the closest game. Well coached? Yeah sure but that was a wild outcome on the fringes of what you'd expect in a match between these two. I think that Nolan's getting more credit than he's due because he's a familiar face.
Gudlevskis was so freaking hot in goal for Latvia that he actually overheated. I've never seen that before. It wasn't long after the trainers had to come out that Canada finally broke the tie on a bomb from Shea Weber. I've no doubt that exhaustion was a factor.
One thing we know is that this kid can play. And it was a great showcase for him going up against his general manager's team. Steve Yzerman obviously knew that Gudlevskis had talent before this game but maybe this was enough to earn the next call up ahead of Cedric Desjardins.
Of course, just like with Nolan, you don't want to overreact to one game from Gudlevskis. He got lit up by Sweden in his only other appearance in these Olympics and his numbers at the AHL level – 2.69 GAA, 0.900 Save% in 22 games – have only been okay though he was lights out in 11 games in the ECHL.
I tend to figure Gudlevskis is a couple years away and with Andrei Vasilevski in the system on top of Ben Bishop breaking out this season I would put it at extremely unlikely we see Gudlevskis emerge at the NHL level any time soon.
But with Bishop struggling with injuries recently and Anders Lindback proving himself essentially useless the door could open. Still, if I'm in a keeper league and by some miracle that league is deep enough where I own Gudlevskis I am shopping the crap out of him after this performance.
A lot of panic in Canada after this one but I'm not too shaken. The Americans are obviously a stiff challenge but they aren't unbeatable and I don't think that Canada has played as poorly as the scores of their games reflect. Sure, scoring has been an issue but so far they've played four games in which the opponent has packed it in and hung on for much of those games. Yeah, the Finland and Latvia games were scary but you can't say that Canada wasn't dictating play in either contest.
The game against the Americans will be completely different. This is a team that can drive play on their own. That's a scary thought because Canada has yet to face an opponent like that but what it will do is open up more opportunities for their counterattack. If you want to see Canada's forwards get some scoring done, this will be the game.
The only thing that concerns me is that this here feels like the real Gold Medal game. Sure, Finland and Sweden (competing in the other Semi) could easily win it all but both have been decimated by injuries. Give those two their full complement of top players and I'd have no criticisms as structured now both have are deficient the talent necessary.
I will say that this final four is, to me, the best four in the tournament. Russia was weak sauce on the back end and they really only had two loaded lines up front. Just not enough talent, plain and simple. Finland didn't beat them exactly according to the script I laid out in yesterday's ramblings but it was pretty darn close.
You've got to feel for the Russians because you know how much this meant to them. Pavel Datsyuk's quote after the game was just totally depressing. But this was a fatally flawed team and their end result was far from surprising.
I just wonder what kind of impact this has the Russian players coming back to the NHL.
People love to throw out the theory that Alex Ovechkin fell off a cliff after the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 but he scored eight goals and 20 points in 18 games down the stretch and had another five goals and 10 points in a disappointing first round exit during those playoffs. His next two seasons stunk but he didn't really fall off because of the Olympics.
I'd be more concerned about Semyon Varlamov who curiously got the call against Finland after Sergei Bobrovsky shutout Norway the previous day. If Varlamov was their guy they probably should have been riding him the whole way but that's just me.
Varlamov gave up all three goals to Finland before getting ousted in favour of Bobrovsky. And he looked pretty shaky the whole while. Why do the Russians always seem to have puzzling goalie tactics?
Of course, Varlamov returns home to papa Patrick Roy, who has worked wonders with Varlamov's confidence, so who knows what's to come?
Oh yeah, one reason to panic for Canada is the loss of John Tavares, who went down with a knee injury and is out for the remainder of the Olympics. No word on the severity but let's assume he misses at least a couple of weeks. That hurts everyone on Long Island except perhaps Ryan Strome who I figure gets called up. But Kyle Okposo, Thomas Vanek, Lubomir Visnovsky and Frans Nielsen are all taking a hit.
Maybe Brock Nelson steps into the top line role instead of Strome straight from the farm. The Islanders definitely need to find a way to get Nelson into their top six in the future. He likely gets there as a winger and could do so as early as this season if Vanek is dealt for nothing helping the pro roster. It's actually more likely that Nelson forces his way into a top-six role because he's that good.
While we're on the subject, you really need to check out the Undisclosed Injury blog that dives deep on NHL injuries. The latest update discusses how potentially devastating Tavares' injury might be. We'll know more when he's re-evaluated later today.
Other injury news:
Mats Zuccarello has a broken hand but isn't expected to miss much time.
NHL.com has more injury updates on players who were injured heading into the Olympics. You can expect the returns of Steven Stamkos, Mikko Koivu, Marian Gaborik and Valtteri Filppula when NHL play resumes.
Justin Bourne with seven thoughts on Canada-Latvia:
While it doesn't necessarily mean much against a seriously weaker opponent, I thought Patrick Marleau was Canada's best forward. He had five shots in 15 minutes of ice, controlled the play in the offensive zone, and seemed to be one of the few Canadians who was helping generate real opportunities, not useless shots.
Grantland was a bit presumptuous with this post but it has come true. Canada vs. USA the great frenemies battle of 2014.
Harrison Mooney thinks the NHL should adopt the "Oshie rule" for the shootout. I have a better idea – take the shootout out back and put it down like the diseased animal that it is. And if you could take out its sick mule of a cousin "the loser point" that would be great too.
The Hockey Writers discuss rising stars in Sochi Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin:
Rookie Valeri Nichushkin was rumored to be a healthy scratch before Russia's opening game against Slovenia. He ended up playing in both of Russia's first two games, and is expected to skate in the third. More than that, Nichushkin made his presence felt so far, especially in the first game. He scored a very familiar-looking goal, using his speed to fly down the wing, his size to charge the net and fend off defenders and his hands to perfectly place his shot. He ended the game with 10:29 in ice time, three shots and an even plus/minus, and continued his strong play in the next two games.
Yup. A couple of beauties.
Coyotes prospect Brandon Gormley was called up yesterday. Five for Howling tells us what to expect.
Make sure you check out Brendan Ross's Midterm 2014 NHL Draft Preview, complete with mock draft and prospect profiles.
This profile on Dan Bylsma is pretty awesome.
You can follow me on Twitter @SteveLaidlaw.