Phew! Canada slips past pesky Norwegians in Olympic opener 0
It’s always one of the telling developments for Canada in Olympic hockey tournaments.
Like they used to analyze pictures taken here in Russia at official events to ascertain who was rising and who was falling at the Kremlin, how much players are playing and who they’re playing with is the real proof of their worth to Team Canada and its hopes of defending gold.
In Canada’s 3-1 win over Norway in their opening game of the Olympics Thursday, it was a player who wasn’t invited to the summer orientation camp — Jamie Benn — who might have been Canada’s best forward.
And he played the least, just eight minutes and 52 seconds, but had a big impact: the 24-year-old from Victoria, B.C., drew a penalty that led to Canadian defenceman Shea Weber’s goal during the delayed penalty call — a goal that seemed to loosen the collars and soften the hands of the Canadians.
It was Benn himself who completed a passing play that grew out of Canada relaxing a bit and letting their skill take over. He took a pass from Patrice Bergeron, who had a good night, too, and lifted a shot over the shoulder of Norwegian goaltender Lars Haugen to make it 2-0 with five minutes left in the second.
“I thought we tried hard but didn’t execute. I don’t know if we had nerves,” coach Mike Babcock said of Canada’s uneven start. “(Norway) competed like crazy. They made it hard on us.”
It will be interesting to see how things shake out Friday when Canada faces Austria in the second game of the preliminary round. Austria got ripped 8-4 by Finland in their opener Thursday.
Babcock and his staff are in the early stages of finding out exactly what they’ve got here.
Babcock said when scratching forward Matt Duchene and defenceman P.K. Subban for the game against Norway that they would be in the lineup against Austria (and Mike Smith will back up Roberto Luongo in goal).
Maybe that’s the right amount of ice time for Benn. Maybe not. Can he come up with another good game Friday? If he does, it will be hard to deny him a greater role.
That’s the fun part — seeing what happens Friday against Austria and what it means as the tournament moves along.
“I think the first period was a little bit of a feeling-out process, kind of get some chemistry with your new linemates, but I thought after the first we played a great team game and found a way to win,” Benn said.
Babcock loved what he got from the bottom four forwards — Benn played mostly with John Tavares and Patrice Bergeron with Martin St. Louis rotating in.
“They were outstanding. Two played on the power play, two played on the penalty kill and then they filled in all over the place. I thought they were really good and were one of our better lines, to tell you the truth. I thought Bergeron had a real strong game, Tavares had a real strong game, Benn was moving and St. Louis played all over. Those four guys, for me, played well.”
Said Bergeron: “We felt good. I felt good with them, even playing wing I felt comfortable. We have to talk, well, we did that. We’ve got to keep talking even more to improve the chemistry. They’re great players. It makes it easy to play with them.”
Babcock and the players have said they will be a work in progress.
The coach said his team had 24 scoring chances but not enough of the second-chance variety, an indication people weren’t getting to the net well enough. That will be a big point addressed going into the game against Austria.
“I like the things we did, and it’s important to go on,” Tavares said. “I think we can do a little better job of getting some bodies to the net, of getting some more chances on the original shots that we take. Just keep adjusting to the style of play, the bigger rink, and keep getting better.”
There was progress Thursday night from the first period to the end.
“We excepted that, kind of a bad first period. We knew we weren’t going to be perfect,” said defenceman Drew Doughty, who scored Canada’s third goal with a dynamic move to the net.
“But the most important thing is we got better as each period went on and that’s what we were looking for.”
Players’ values to the cause rise and fall like stocks on the market. Benn’s rose the most Thursday.
The bottom of Canada’s forward group found its game quickly.
Truth is, your stock market is always best when the blue chippers are doing well.
If Canada is going to continue to improve, the next step is the top six need to bring more Friday against Austria.