Monday, February 17, 2014

Juggling Is For Clowns

All this gnashing of teeth over Sidney Crosby's inability to put a bucketload of points on the board or find linemates he has "chemistry" with needs to be dialed back. This tournament is incredibly low scoring period all across the board. Alexander Ovechkin has all of two points. Pavel Datsyuk just two, Marian Hossa has one, Zach Parise none.  It happens and, there's plenty of tournament left for some of these guys so . . . let's just all take a deep breath.

Of the five Olympic men's hockey tournaments played since the NHL came aboard, this has arguably been the lowest scoring (and dullest). Fully 44 percent of the group stage games have ended up in games of four goals or less total (not counting shootout goals). That's so much beyond the '98 and '02 Olympics where just two of the 12 games played in the group stage were THAT low scoring. Even the last "big ice" tournament of Torino 2006 saw an a total of 30 percent (nine out of 30) of the group stage games with four goals or less.

The bigger problem is Mike Babcock and the coaching staff. Coming in they said they had a plan. They're going with Carey Price it looks like as their #1 goalie and, despite a Roberto Luongo shutout vs. Austria, Team Canada is sticking to the plan as Price started the crucial game vs. Finland. 

They seem to have set the defensive pairs as we thought to some degree--the two St. Louis guys (Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester), Duncan Keith with Shea Weber and Drew Doughty with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. It was thought Keith and Doughty would be paired up but seems like the switch is working for Doughty given he's channeling Paul Coffey in the goal charts.

So, what is up with the forwards?

If, unlike in World/Canada Cups you do not have a proper training camp and exhibition games to try things out, and the Team Canada brass chose players who play on the same line for their NHL club teams (i.e., Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry) then keep those guys together and just rotate in and out the other wingers that fill out those three pairings. Only then can we determine whether chemistry has been achieved.

But benching Kunitz for not making Crosby light it up made no sense. Ditto sitting out Sharp. Then rotating Sharp and Kunitz with John Tavares and Rick Nash in the last game was just plain odd and didn't work at all.

It's overthinking the whole process. Honestly, I think Babcock, just like in 2010 loves to tinker, and also because Canada has not been scoring at a rate like USA or Finland has he's feeling the pressure to pull some offence out of a magic hat. Yet Team USA are basically riding one hot line of Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski and James vam Riemsdyk. Notice anything there, Canada? Yes, Kessel and JVR play on the same line with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Pull some line combos out of this hat, Babs

Hey, Canada has won all three of their group games anyway thanks to a D that has figured out that larger ice means more room to attack, but have some faith in the "plan" you had coming in. Play the Pens, Hawks and Ducks pairs together and don't keep splitting the former two up all the time when one period or one shift doesn't go right.

Also, if Jeff Carter gets a hat trick with less than nine minutes of ice time, and Kessel gets a hat trick in less than 13 minutes of ice time, it's not the ice time that is the problem for all these "stars."

Honestly, since 1976, Canada has played in 11 best vs. best tournaments and suddenly ice time is an issue? These guys are all pros. Many of them have played on winning international teams. They know how to adapt to less ice time. Give them some credit.

Have a look at 2010's top four scoring forwards ice time through the tournament:
Jonathan Toews 13:26, 13:13, 14:26, 11:48, 15:50, 16:30, 17:19
Sidney Crosby     15:30, 19:50, 17:23, 14:43, 17:34, 16:42, 16:52
Jarome Iginla        9:48, DNP, 14:16, 13:06, 15:41, 15:46, 15:04
Ryan Getzlaf       12:49, 15:45, 14:05, 13:48, 10:41, 13:00, 17:52

Now the last time on the clocks there was the Final which lasted 67:40 total playing time so hence the bit of a boost. Anyway, it's not like any of these stars cracked the 20-minute mark in any game during the tournament.

In fact, Getzlaf's biggest game points-wise was the QF vs. Russia where he got 1G 2A in just 10:41 of action.

So could we please all just get off this "they're not getting enough ice time like they do in the NHL" jag. It didn't hurt them in Vancouver, and it's not the difference maker in Sochi.

If you want the forwards to start scoring, then stop the constant line juggling. In fact, in Vancouver after Babs stopped diddling around and settled on Rick Nash-Toews-Mike Richards for the last three games and kept them together, only then did Canada start to roll.

The problem is tinkering works only when it works. Babcock may tinker just as much as in 2010 and it may not work but wasn't the selection process of picking linemates on their own teams done to speed this chemistry issue up?

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