U.S. past ‘miracle’ stage in Olympic hockey (except vs. Canada)

Photo credit: AP

SOCHI, Russia – This seems to be the Olympics when everyone around United States hockey officially got sick of the Miracle on Ice. Well, it was inevitable. With the Olympics being in Russia, with famed Russian goaltender Vladislav Tretiak (who was pulled in the Miracle) lighting the torch, with my generation reaching the age of cloying nostalgia and with the U.S. men’s team looking for its first Olympics hockey gold since that 1980 team, everything pointed to overkill.*

*Which I happily participated in.

Thing is, hockey in America is nothing like it was in 1980. This was the point the U.S. hockey team kept hammering. Everything has changed. Now, professional hockey players are at the Olympic. Now, the U.S. team has some of the best players in the world. Now, the U.S. team has speed and size and depth that is the envy of almost every hockey-playing country in the world. When the U.S. team played Russia this time around, it was the Americans who were favored, and the Americans who played the villains when they got a favorable call and won in a gritty shootout.

So, yes, everybody was ready to move on from the constant reminders about a bunch of college hockey players who won a gold medal 34 years ago.

Trouble is, to get people to stop talking about the Miracle on Ice, you have to stop losing one-goal games to Canada when it matters most.

VIDEO: Highlights from Canada’s 1-0 win

The U.S. did lose another one-goal game to Canada in an Olympic semifinal Friday … this after the U.S. women one day earlier lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game … this after the U.S. men lost a crushing one-goal game to Canada in the gold medal game in Vancouver, one of the most famous hockey games ever played.

To be fair, the United States’ 1-0 loss to Canada was different from the others. It felt cleaner and did not leave much room for regret. That’s because the Canadians pretty thoroughly outplayed the Americans. Was it not for some head-stand saves from Jonathan Quick – “our best player tonight,”  U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said – the score easily could have been 3-0 or 4-0.

Meanwhile the “0” on the American end of the score was more or less locked in. It is hard to imagine a team playing more suffocating defense than Canada played Friday. The U.S. power play was rendered all but useless. And other than a couple of moderate chances early and Paul Stansny’s point-blank shots in front in the second period, the U.S. rarely even threatened to score.

VIDEO: U.S. can’t find an empty net in final minute

The game was played at a high level—the speed on the ice was mesmerizing — and it was entertaining in its own way. But it really was quite a let-down from the famous gold medal game of four years ago. Well, for one thing that was a gold-medal match, while this was a semifinal just to see who would play Sweden for gold. That was a quirk in the seeding, and it definitely altered some of the emotion.*

Photo credit: AP

Then there was the quiet. Here you had the two best hockey teams on earth – two of the most talented hockey teams ever put together – and it was so eerily quiet in the Bolshoy Ice Palace. Every now and again, a hearty soul would try to start up a U-S-A chant or beg the Canadians to finish one of their numerous goal-scoring chances and then it would dissolve into stillness.

Much of the time, the arena was quiet enough to read bedtime stories aloud.

So strange … but then maybe not. No event at these Olympics brought so much pain to the host country as hockey. The Russian hockey team lost to the U.S. in the aforementioned shootout that was, for many Americans, the emotional peak of these Olympics and was for Russian fans the very symbol of fraud. A goal-ahead goal by the Russians was nullified because the cage of the net was slightly off its mooring. Russians who even conceded the point that the net WAS off still believed that U.S. goalie Jonathan Quick had been the one to knock it off. Angry fans demonstrated in Moscow. Television networks replayed the disallowed goal again and again.

Then, more disconcerting, the Russian team disappeared in a 3-1 quarterfinal loss to Finland that featured no controversy and also no life from a gifted collection of Russian players who never quite came together.

So, it is logical that there simply wasn’t much enthusiasm left for the sport. Tack on the Russians’ famous reticence – something that various non-Russian figure skaters noticed during their soundless programs – and what you had was a striking lack of energy and volume. We grow so used to the biggest sporting events being loud and the tension being almost tangible.

But Friday, early in the second period, Canada’s Jay Bouwmeester – a tough defenseman not necessarily known for his playmaking abilities – slapped a pass that Jamie Benn deflected over Quick to give Canada that 1-0 lead. And then the rest of the game just kind of melted away almost unnoticed. Those sounds you associate with a close and important hockey game – the roars for developing chances, the groans when shots slip wide, the gasps when the winning team narrowly escapes – were largely nonexistent. It was a bit like being in a Vegas casino with no clocks. Time just gushes away.

VIDEO: Jamie Benn’s shot the only goal

In any case, the U.S. never came especially close to tying the game, and Canada came very close to extending the lead and it was clear, on this day anyway, that there’s still a gap between Canadian and American hockey. Maybe this is as it should be considering how intently Canadian life revolves around the sport (some 80 percent of Canada watched at least part of the 2010 gold medal game).

But it is a blow for a United States still trying to move past the Miracle on Ice. Bylsma made the point after the game that U.S. hockey is at a place now where it hardly needs a miracle to win a gold medal. He’s right, of course. All the U.S. really needs is a couple more goals against Canada. Thing is, that’s the proving to be about as elusive as miracles.

Video: Cam Talbot was very angry with T.J. Oshie

Leave a comment

Cam Talbot had another strong game for the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night by stopping 34 of the 35 Washington Capitals shots he faced in a 4-1 win, improving his season save percentage to a robust .927.

Along with backstopping the Oilers to their sixth win in seven games to open the season, the team’s best start since a guy by the name of Wayne Gretzky played for them, he was also involved in some rough stuff in the second period when he went old school on Capitals forward T.J. Oshie for charging into his crease and cross-checking him.

Talbot’s response (as seen in the video above) was an attempt to feed Oshie his blocker pad.

The end result of that exchange was Oshie getting a two-minute minor for cross-checking and Talbot getting a two-minute minor for roughing. The NHL’s roughing rule gives officials the opportunity to eject a goalkeeper if they feel there was an attempt to injure an opponent by punching them with their glove or blocker pad.

Obviously in this case the officials determined there was no such intent on Talbot’s part, so he remained in the game to help keep the Oilers’ surprising start rolling along.

The Oilers are off to their best start since the Gretzky era

EDMONTON, AB - OCTOBER 12:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates a goal against the Calgary Flames on October 12, 2016 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

The Edmonton Oilers just keep on winning.

Thanks to their 4-1 win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night, the Oilers are now 6-1-0 through their first seven games, have the best record in the Western Conference, and the second best record in the NHL behind only the Montreal Canadiens.

To find the last time the Oilers won six of their first seven games, you have to go all the way back to the 1985-86 season when Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, and Paul Coffey still played for them and their dynasty was just starting to take shape.

Their best start since then was a 5-1-1 start during the 2000-01 season.

The recipe on Wednesday was similar to the one we have seen from the Oilers in every game this season. Cam Talbot gave them capable goaltending in net, while Connor McDavid dominated at times and added a couple of more points.

With his two assists in the win, including an incredible display of speed to set up Patrick Maroon‘s goal early in the third period, the second-year superstar is back in sole possession of the NHL’s scoring lead with 11 points, moving one point ahead of Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews.

Benoit Pouliot also scored a pair of goals on Wednesday giving him four on the year, while Milan Lucic added his third goal of the season.

Alex Ovechkin scored the lone Capitals goal, extending his current goal-scoring streak to four.

The big question now is whether or not the Oilers can sustain this and are for real. Their schedule to this point hasn’t been too daunting based on last year’s standings, but of the two playoff teams from a year ago that they have faced (St. Louis and Washington) they have beaten by a combined score of 7-2.

They have some real talent up front, and if Talbot can continue to give them strong goaltending that is going to be a pleasant change from what they have had in recent years.

The biggest issue is whether or not the defense can hold up over the course of the season because they do give up a ton of shots and have been on the wrong end of the shot charts more often than not so far. That is not usually a great sign for future performance. But whether they maintain this early season success or start to regress back toward where they were expected to be, two things are very clear early on: They do look like a much improved hockey team, and they are really fun to watch.

McDavid has a lot to do with both improvements.

Rangers storm back, crush Bruins


For the first half of Wednesday’s game in New York, everything was going pretty great for the Boston Bruins.

They not only had a two-goal lead, but rookie goalie Zane McIntyre was playing extremely well in his first NHL start as he filled in for injured veterans Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin.

And then everything kind of fell apart for him and the Bruins defense.

The Rangers stormed back for five consecutive goals on their way to a 5-2 win, handing the Bruins their fourth loss in seven games to start the season, and their second lopsided loss in a row.

This game was always going to be a struggle for Boston given the injury situation both in goal and up front (David Backes was also sidelined for this game) and the fact it was their second game in as many days.

But even though he gave up five goals on 29 shots, including one on a Kevin Hayes bank-shot from below the goal line, it is tough to put too much of this on the rookie McIntyre.

This loss was a total team effort.

The Bruins got into penalty trouble in the second period and the defense in front of their rookie was simply not good enough, something that is going to continue to be an issue for the rest of the season until the front office addresses the personnel.

That defense turned out to be a brutal matchup against a Rangers team that has some great forward depth and the floodgates finally started to open for them in the second half of the game.

Rick Nash opened the scoring for New York with a power play goal midway through the second period, and then added an assist later in the game to help put it out of reach when he set up rookie forward Jimmy Vesey for his fourth goal of the season.

Brandon Pirri, one of the many bargain free agent additions the Rangers made to their forward group over the summer, also added a pair of goals including the game-winner in the second period to break the 2-2 tie.

The Bruins have now lost three games in a row and have been outscored by a 15-4 margin.

Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf out with upper body injury

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Ryan Getzlaf #15 of the Anaheim Ducks awaits a face off against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on April 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. the Ducks defeated the Avalanche 5-3. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf was banged up in his team’s overtime loss to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night and it is bad enough to keep him out of the lineup entirely on Wednesday when they host the Nashville Predators.

The Ducks announced the news just before puck drop on Wednesday.

Getzlaf played only 10 minutes on Tuesday night before exiting the game.

The Ducks are also playing without goaltender Jonathan Bernier who was also injured on Tuesday, resulting in the team calling up Dustin Tokarski for Wednesday’s game. Tokarski will serve as the backup for John Gibson.

Getzlaf is definitely the bigger loss here for the Ducks on Wednesday, not only because Gibson was likely to start this game anyway, but because Getzlaf is one of their absolute best players.

Still one of the NHL’s top playmakers, Getzlaf has eight points (one goal, seven assists) in the Ducks’ first seven games. That includes a three assist game against the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday.