From The Press Box


From The Press Box is a weekly column written by FloridaPanthers.com and NHL.com writer Alain Poupart. Poupart has been covering the Panthers and the NHL for 20 years.

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Olympic Observations

U.S. team has shown great balance, Canada has been better than the scoreboard says, and why Russia came up short

Wednesday, 02.19.2014 / 5:30 PM ET / From The Press Box
By Alain Poupart  - FloridaPanthers.com
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Olympic Observations

North American hockey fans are getting the rematch they were hoping for at the Winter Olympics, but unfortunately the U.S.-Canada battle will not be for the gold medal as it was in 2010 in Vancouver.

Blame Canada for its failure to beat Finland in regulation in the last game of the preliminary round because that’s what put the Canadian and American teams in the same half of the bracket.

Really, what could have been better than a rematch of that classic 2010 final when the U.S. tied the game late before Sidney Crosby cemented his legendary status with a “golden goal” in overtime.

As it is, the game on Friday at noon (NBCSN) will decide which team will play for the gold medal on Sunday against the winner of the other semifinal between Sweden and Finland.

The U.S.-Canada semifinal matchup seemed a foregone conclusion after the preliminary round, particularly after Latvia upset Switzerland and its stingy defense in the qualification round. But Latvia gave Canada — and I mean literally the whole country — quite a scare in the quarterfinals before the Canadians finally pulled out a 2-1 victory.

In the meantime, the U.S. easily handled the Czech Republic, 5-2, in a game that basically was over after David Backes scored with 1.8 seconds left in the first period to give the Americans a 3-1 lead.

Heading into the semis, the U.S. has looked more impressive during these Olympics than Canada, mainly because it has been able to score more often. But it would be a mistake to go strictly by the scoreboard because Canada has had the upper hand in every game it has played.

For example, the only reason the Canada-Latvia game wasn’t a rout was because of Latvian goalie Kristers Gudlevskis, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect. Canada had a whopping 57-16 shot advantage in the game, but needed a Shea Weber power-play goal in the third period to finally get rid of the Latvians.

Weber has been one of the stars of the Olympics for Canada along with fellow defenseman Drew Doughty. Weber’s goal against Latvia was his third of the Olympics, while Doughty has four, including both in the 2-1 overtime victory against Finland in the preliminary round.

Between them, Doughty and Weber have accounted for more than half of Canada’s 13 goals. While their performance has been impressive, the offensive output of the forwards has been scrutinized and criticized, and nobody has been spared — including Crosby.

Again, Canada has generated chances; it just hasn’t finished very well so far.

On the other end, Canada has allowed a mere three goals in four games.

That means the U.S. shouldn’t expect to be able to score as easily as it did against the Czech Republic when the Americans were the benefits of some shaky goaltending, particularly on the Backes goal at the end of the first period.

That said, the U.S. has been solid at both ends throughout the tournament, with different heroes emerging seemingly every game. The most impressive individual performance clearly had to be T.J. Oshie’s shootout heroics in the preliminary round victory against Russia. Watching Oshie go 4-for-6 in that shootout, it was hard not to envision Panthers forward Brad Boyes being in that spot and doing the same thing.

Speaking of the Panthers, the Olympic hockey tournament clearly was a bummer after both Aleksander Barkov and Tomas Kopecky were knocked out with injuries. In Barkov’s case, he still might be able to leave Sochi with a medal if his countrymen can continue their improbable run. Think about it, even before Barkov was injured, the Finns already were without top forwards Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula and Saku Koivu.

What the Finns have is a tremendous team game and stellar goaltending, thanks to Boston Bruins star Tuukka Rask.

In their semifinal, the Finns will face a Swedish team also hurt by injuries (Henrik Zetterberg, Henrik Sedin) but also featuring an All-Star goalie (Henrik Lundqvist).

The Finns advanced to the semis by beating the host Russians, who now haven’t so much as earned a bronze medal in men’s hockey in the last three Winter Olympics. That was supposed to change this year because of Russia’s elite top-end talent (Datsyuk, Malkin, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk).

But the Russians fell short because their stars didn’t produce enough, because their defense wasn’t quite up to par with that of other countries, and because they didn’t do enough of the dirty work necessary in a tournament where the difference between teams is very small.

It’s the case with the remaining four teams, each of which easily could wind up as the gold-medal winner.

The 2010 game between the U.S. and Canada showed just how small that margin is. There’s no reason to think the rematch will be any different. From a fan standpoint, we can only hope it’s not different.

SCHEDULE

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AWAY
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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

 
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