Olympic Hockey: Don’t worry about Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby, Team Canada's roster.

Sidney Crosby, Team Canada. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Despite Team Canada’s best Olympic preliminary round showing with NHL players, some have decided to question the defending gold medalist Canadians after three preliminary round games in Sochi. Canada went 3-0 in round-robin play, defeating its opponents by a combined score of 11-2; the second best goals-against in the tournament, and the third most goals-scored.

The contrived biggest concerns regarding Team Canada after three preliminary round games are as follows: Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored yet, we don’t know who his line-mates are, and Team Canada hasn’t blown all its opponents to smithereens on the scoreboard. Oh no!

The fact that Crosby isn’t scoring yet in Sochi is not a problem for Team Canada, it’s a problem for everyone else. He’s Sidney Crosby. Given his body of work it is downright asinine to even consider Crosby’s scoreless exhibition round worrisome. Have a little faith in he.

Team Canada beat an inspired defensive Finnish team 2-1 yesterday. The tournament favourites needed overtime to do it, but they did it. A big game player made a big game play and Canada won the game they were supposed to win. Team Canada is a who’s who of big game players.

Stanley Cup winning Drew Doughty slipped a sneaky shot under the pad of Finland’s Tuukka Rask to secure Canada’s spot in the quarterfinals where they await the winner of a game between Switzerland and Latvia.

Who knew that by finishing 3rd the Canadians would actually inherit an easier road to the semifinals than the 2nd seeded Americans who will need to defeat the Czech Republic or Slovakia in the quarters.

The Czechs are good. Logically, the Americans should beat the Czech Republic, but I wouldn’t assume they can’t lose to Jaromir Jagr’s side. But first, the possibly possum playing Czechs have to defeat their neighbouring rivals from Slovakia.

If you’re a hockey nut, you’ve probably streamed a few Olympic men’s hockey games on CBC or NBC, depending on what side of the border you call home. Re-watch Canada’s game against Finland, if you have an hour to spare. The 2-1 final score is very flattering to the Finns, who spent most of the game in their own zone playing desperate defensive hockey. Even with Canada leading 1-0 in the second period the Finns mustered no offensive push. I understand they play this way by design but every time the Scandinavians attempted to create anything offensively they were smothered by Team Canada’s overwhelming ability to close gaps and regain possession. In fact, the whole game was a smothering. Canada smothered the Finns, plain and simple. And that’s impressive in itself because Team Finland is one of the best Olympic hockey teams in Sochi.

Finland fired 6 measly shots on goal throughout the game’s final forty minutes of regulation despite the fact they were trailing on the scoreboard for half that time. Smart strategy by a smart hockey nation. It almost worked. It didn’t work.

The Swiss – should they defeat Latvia on Tuesday – will employ the same Finnish defensive tactics against Team Canada this coming Wednesday in the quarterfinals. Canada should be able to discover a kink in the Swiss armour and claim victory. That is to say: I believe a team with Sidney Crosby, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry can crack a stifling defensive code and win 1, 2 or 3 nothing. But that’s just me.

The Swiss will allow Canada the outside of the offensive zone. They’ll collapse and protect the front of their net. They will make life tough for Crosby and his countrymen. And sometimes the team that gets outshot by a 3-1 margin finds a way to win the game. Canada could lose to the Swiss this coming Wednesday. That being said, Switzerland could lose to Latvia on Tuesday, because anything can happen. But I like Canada’s chances against these rope-a-dope European nations; I think it’s naive to assume Team Canada won’t breakthrough offensively the next time a team decides to give them the puck for 60 minutes.

At the 2006 Winter Olympics Team Canada couldn’t score against the ultra defensive European nations. This is not like that. Torino’s ’06 edition of Team Canada was shutout twice in the round-robin; you could see their demise coming from a mile away. In Sochi, Canada is a defensive juggernaut, not the offensively starved confused North American team they were eight years ago.

Everyone is anticipating a semifinal between Team USA and Team Canada; longing for it, even. As fans of hockey, we can only hope both North American nations don’t lose focus and slip up against a lesser challenger along the way to what seems like an inevitable showdown between the gold and silver medalists from four years ago in Vancouver.

Team USA is capable of beating the Canadians, assuming they first survive Zdeno Chara’s Slovakia or David Krejci and the Czech Republic in the quarters.

North America’s Olympic hockey teams are made of NHL stars and Stanley Cup heroes. Canada’s roster is more high-end but America’s is more gritty, and between the pipes, Jonathan Quick can steal the show in a one game elimination scenario. But if you’re a fan of Canadian hockey, don’t be scared. Don’t worry that Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored yet or that we don’t know who his line-mates are. The truth is, it probably doesn’t matter who flanks number 87. In fact, throughout his career it never has mattered who wings for Crosby. Furthermore, it may not even matter if Sidney Crosby scores a single goal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Team Canada don’t live and die by Crosby’s stat line; they are stacked with offensive weapons, and given the way hockey is defensively contested on the big ice, it’ll only take a couple goals to win each game. Team Canada has got a couple of goals in ’em against anyone.

Be excited if you’re a fan of Team Canada. Your team hasn’t lost a game yet and its best players haven’t peaked. Your centremen Crosby, Tavares and Getzlaf sit one, two and three in NHL scoring this season and they’ve only combined for one goal so far in Sochi. Do you expect that drought to continue?

Be excited if you’re a fan of CAN because your other centre is Jonathan Toews, the man who has captained his NHL team to two Stanley Cups since 2010.

Be excited that your defence is scoring goals because all championship teams require offence from the back end to be successful.

And be excited that some people think Team Canada isn’t playing well, because such negative scrutiny will only further motivate its players to prove everyone wrong.

Be confident if you’re a fan of Team Canada.

Be confident because you’ve seen Crosby’s golden goal, Bergeron’s heroic two-goal game seven performance in Vancouver to win the Stanley Cup, and Jonathan Toews’ 2010 Conn Smythe masterpiece.

Derive confidence from the knowledge that Team Canada’s roster contains five of the NHL’s top ten scorers and four of the top six defenceman point getters this season; a list that doesn’t even include Drew Doughty.

Then feel calm about the fact that Team Canada’s lineup is not merely made up of a couple stars surrounded by pluggers like some of its competitors in Sochi. Team Canada’s entire roster is capable of greatness, and most of them have repeatedly proven that.

However, be wary if you’re a fan of Team Canada.

If you’re a Canadian hockey supporter, be wary of one thing: Assuming Team Canada beat the Swiss or the Latvians they will likely face Team USA in the semifinals. If all goes as expected, the game against the Americans will represent the first time in Sochi that Team Canada’s opponent will come at them; force them to spend time defending without the puck; force their goaltenders to face pressure for the first time in Sochi. Canada’s somewhat easy schedule to begin its journey in Sochi has prevented it from playing under fire as a unit. That, more than anything else, could be Team Canada’s downfall. But don’t worry about Sidney Crosby.