Ice Hockey - Winter Olympics Day 14 - United States v Canada

Five challenges for Canada, which still has a job to do

8 Comments

1. Get refocused, and don’t be too confident

Not to take anything away from Friday’s big win over the United States, but that’s in the past. Sunday is the focus now.

The Swedes have flown largely under the radar this tournament, but after an uneven start and the loss of Henrik Zetterberg, they seem to be hitting their stride just in time. Like Canada, they still haven’t lost a game.

“We weren’t one of the favorites to make the finals, but we believed in ourselves, and it’s a great feeling to be here now,” said Daniel Alfredsson after beating Finland in the semifinals.

Alfredsson must not have read many pre-Olympic predictions, because a lot of people did, in fact, pick his team to make the finals. Even without Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin, the Swedes are still plenty dangerous up front, and their blue line is matched in depth and talent only by the Canadians. And, of course, they’ve got…

2. Henrik Lundqvist

Remember when he was struggling with the Rangers? Yeah, he’s not struggling anymore. Lundqvist came into the Olympics playing well, and he’s stayed hot in Sochi. Only six shots have beaten him in five games, for a 1.20 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

If not for Lundqvist, the Swedes may very well have lost to Switzerland in the preliminaries. The one goal he did allow versus the Finns wasn’t a good one, but otherwise he was perfect.

“I gave up a tough one there,” he said. “I definitely thought it was an icing so I kind of relaxed and I just made a bad move.”

But, “If you take away that one goal I feel like I played a really solid game, I did the things I need to do.”

3. Start burying some chances

source:  This goes hand-in-hand with point No. 2. Despite all the goal-scoring forwards the Canadians brought with them to Sochi, only four have actually scored. Jeff Carter has three, Jame Benn two, and Patrick Sharp and Ryan Getzlaf each have one.

Against the Americans — just like against the Norwegians, Latvians, and Finns — Canada had lots of shots and not many goals. Granted, Jonathan Quick was a big part of that, but that doesn’t change the fact that Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Corey Perry, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Toews, Rick Nash, and Patrice Bergeron have yet to bury one this tournament.

Now, clearly, the most important thing for Canada is defense. Mike Babcock has said time and again that his team’s only job is to score one more than the opposition. So far it’s done that. But shutting out the Swedes won’t be easy. In part because…

4. Stay out of the box

Sweden’s power play has been deadly, scoring seven times on 19 chances. Defenseman Erik Karlsson has three of those seven PP goals, including the game-winner versus Finland, a blast from the point that beat Kari Lehtonen.

Canada has been fairly disciplined to this point, going shorthanded 16 times in five games. But Sweden has the kind of skilled players that tend to draw penalties, and the Swedes as a whole should possess the puck more than some of the sides Canada has faced so far.

“Our coach (Par Marts) keeps telling us ‘go for it, go for it, go for it’ even when we feel we shouldn’t be going for it sometimes,” said Lundqvist. “He encourages our players to use their skill. As long as we use the puck well it’s good for us.”

5. The big ice

What, you thought you’d heard the last of the big-ice factor? Sorry, but when a country hasn’t won Olympic gold outside of North America since 1952, it’s a factor until it bumps the slump. Especially against Sweden, the defending world champs and the last winner of Olympic gold on the big ice, eight years ago in Turin.

“They’re incredibly stingy defensively; they’re hard to play against,” Matt Duchene said of the Swedes, per NHL.com. “They like to slow the game down, they like to re-group. They almost play the game like soccer on this big ice. It’s a chess match, it’s going to be a chess match. I have a great appreciation for Swedish hockey after playing in that league and playing against them last year in the [world championship] and other times.”

Strome saga continues, will be a healthy scratch for Game 3

Ryan Strome, Johnny Boychuk
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ryan Strome‘s tough year just got a little bit tougher.

After seemingly re-establishing himself in the Islanders lineup, Strome will be a healthy scratch for tonight’s Game 3 against the Lightning.

Head coach Jack Capuano will drop Strome in favor of Josh Bailey, who returns from a two-game absence due to injury.

“I try to be a good team guy and I don’t want to draw any negative attention to myself,” Strome continued, per Newsday.

The fifth overall pick in 2011, Strome endured a difficult campaign that included a three-week stint in the AHL.

Those difficulties have carried over to the postseason. After playing the first four games of New York’s opening-round playoff series against the Panthers, Strome was dropped for Games 5 and 6 — but Bailey was hurt in the clincher, meaning Strome drew back in for the opening two games of the Bolts series.

It’s hard to say what exactly got him scratched. In Game 1, he assisted on both of Shane Prince‘s goals, helping the Isles to a 5-3 win — despite fairly limited ice time (12:26, third-lowest among forwards.)

In Game 2, his numbers weren’t as good — no points, two shots on goal, minus-1 rating, 35.9 Corsi — but his ice time jumped to 17:59, easily his biggest of the postseason.

The decision to park Strome probably isn’t about numbers. Following the Game 2 loss, Capuano said the Isles were “a little soft,” which has been one of the complaints about Strome’s game this year.

In fact, the 22-year-old alluded to it today.

“Last series [the message was] I needed to be a little harder to play against,” Strome said. “Points don’t always tell the whole story. I’m always confident in my game, but unfortunately I don’t make the decisions.

“I have to live with it.”

Boudreau wants a new job right away, and it sure looks like he’ll get one

Anaheim Ducks v Vancouver Canucks
Getty Images
5 Comments

Bruce Boudreau doesn’t like being unemployed.

“I’ve always worked,” Boudreau said this week, per the O.C. Register. “Since I was 17 years old, there was never a time I never had a job. In the hockey jobs when I’ve gotten fired, I’ve tried to get back into work right away.”

You don’t say.

Back in 2011, Boudreau was out of a job for 48 hours when — after getting fired by the Caps on a Monday — Anaheim hired him that Wednesday.

Now he’s looking at a similar situation.

Last Friday, Boudreau was fired after Anaheim’s disappointing opening-round playoff exit to Nashville.

Today, the Ottawa Sun reported the Senators have officially received permission to speak with Boudreau about their vacant head coaching gig.

Oh, and guess what else happened today? Calgary fired Bob Hartley, just one year after Hartley captured the Jack Adams as NHL coach of the year.

Almost immediately, Boudreau was floated as a potential replacement in Calgary — or, depending how you look at it, part of the reason GM Brad Treliving decided to turf Hartley.

There’s another team believed to be interested in Boudreau’s services as well — Minnesota.

Sportsnet reported that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher reached out to Anaheim about interviewing Boudreau. But the Minnesota situation seems to be on hold, until all discussions have wrapped with interim bench boss John Torchetti.

There’s little surprise teams are clamoring to get Boudreau on board.

Playoff failures aside, his resume is stacked. He won eight division titles in nine years with Washington and Anaheim, boasts a 409-192-80 career record, and won the 2008 Jack Adams Award.

In firing Boudreau, Ducks GM Bob Murray lauded him as a “good coach” and “very passionate hockey guy.” Boudreau’s also earned the reputation as a player’s coach, largely because of his communication skills — he comes by that “Gabby” nickname honestly — and open door policy.

“He was a friend, you could talk to him at any point and time,” Corey Perry said following Boudreau’s dismissal, per the Ducks website. “The door was always open. He coached this team, and I can’t say enough about him.

“He did a lot for my game.”

So yeah, all signs certainly point to Boudreau being back behind a bench next year.

Unless he’s not.

The coaching world is fluid, and constantly changing. Ottawa’s got a lengthy list of candidates aside from Boudreau, Minnesota could easily stick with Torchetti and, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie, Calgary’s decision to turf Hartley wasn’t about who’s available, but rather about getting a new voice behind the bench.

So it’s probably too early to say what the Flames want to do next.

Boudreau, though, knows exactly what he wants to do next.

“I love the game,” Boudreau said. “I love the people involved in the game. There’s no place I’d rather be than a hockey arena.

“I just know that’s me.”

IIHF president is pessimistic that NHLers will go to the 2018 Olympics

Gary Bettman, Rene Fasel, Don Fehr
AP
Leave a comment

IIHF president Rene Fasel puts the chances of NHL participation in the 2018 Winter Olympics at just 40 percent.

Fasel’s pessimism is a result of the IOC’s decision not to cover millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the NHL players that would’ve been headed to Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“It’s always difficult to get (to) the Olympics, the games,” Fasel told the Associated Press. “And now with some problems on our side, 50-50 is very positive. I would be more 60 percent that they are not coming.”

But Fasel is not giving up. His plan now is to go “do some begging” from the national Olympic committees of the hockey-playing countries.

Just don’t count on the NHL to cover any shortfall. The owners already don’t like shutting down the league to risk their star players’ health. If there’s no Olympic participation in 2018, they won’t be devastated.

Related:

Bettman unsure if Beijing Olympics represents ‘an opportunity to grow the game in China’

Fehr: Players want to be in both Olympics, World Cup

Ovechkin will ‘definitely’ go to South Korea for 2018 Winter Olympics

For Blues, Pietrangelo is playing ‘heavy minutes,’ and a lot of them

St. Louis Blues' Alex Pietrangelo (27) skates against the Chicago Blackhawks' in an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Bill Boyce)
AP
Leave a comment

ST. LOUIS (AP) Alex Pietrangelo is used to playing a lot – especially this time of year. The St. Louis Blues linchpin defenseman plays with a high motor and appears to have no issues piling up the ice time.

Pietrangelo is fourth overall in the playoffs averaging 30 minutes, 34 seconds, including more than 35 minutes in the Blues’ overtime victory in Game 2 in Dallas on Sunday. Among the surviving eight teams, he’s at the top of the list.

“The more you play him, the better he plays,” coach Ken Hitchcock said Monday, a day ahead of Game 3 against the Stars (9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in a series knotted at a game apiece. “I think he keeps his focus razor-sharp, and when he’s like that, he’s going to help us.”

A key to Pietrangelo’s success is channeling attention deficit disorder and putting excess energy to good use. He’s constantly talking, compensating for soft-spoken defensive partner Jay Bouwmeester.

“He is go, go, go and guys sometimes wish he had a muzzle on him at times,” Backes said. “He’s a big reason why we’re still playing.”

Pietrangelo leads the rush at times and has a goal and five assists in the playoffs for a team savoring its first victory in the second round since 2002.

Several teammates believe Pietrangelo, the fourth overall pick in 2008, was the Blues’ MVP in the first round. He was instrumental in holding down Blackhawks stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

“I like having the opportunity to play on a big stage,” Pietrangelo said. “Sometimes it’s hard minutes, but I’ll take that as long as it’s going to help us.”

All of the minutes leaders still in the playoffs are defensemen, with Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang right behind Pietrangelo at 29:24 per game. The Islanders have two players getting heavy rotation, Nick Leddy (28:33) and Travis Hamonic (27:03). Nashville’s Roman Josi (27:22) and Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman (27:02) also are high on the list.

Two mainstays are watching now, Chicago’s Duncan Keith (31:27) and Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty (30:49).

Pietrangelo’s minutes stand out even more given he’s not on the first power play unit, duty that’s not usually as taxing as regular shifts.

“You have to recognize that those are heavy minutes he’s playing,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “He’s getting challenged, he’s playing against top players, he’s killing all the penalties.”

The odds of Pietrangelo getting more extremely heavy duty would seem to be high, given the Stars and Blues have met seven times with four going to overtime and one decided in a shootout. He can be a calming influence, although inside he’s going 100 mph.

“I’m still amped up, you can ask my teammates,” Pietrangelo said. “I’m always on the go.”