Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Other Matchup

Tonight the Canadians and the Russians meet in the long anticipated Olympic men’s ice hockey matchup. It is taking place sooner than most might have thought, but it doesn’t diminish the importance of the contest – whoever wins will become the gold medal favorite (with all due respect to Team USA and Team Sweden).

Most of those watching might view this as the next installment of the Alex Ovechkin-vs.-Sidney Crosby wars. We’re thinking that this is about something else, about two other people. The Russians are perhaps the most explosive offensive team in this tournament. Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexander Semin. These are among the most dynamic and prolific talents in the sport. The fault line on this contest might not be Crosby/Ovechkin as much as it is the Russian forwards/Canadian defense.

It is with this team and this kind of offensive talent in mind that the Team Canada defense, we suspect, was constructed the way it was. Chris Pronger, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Keith Seabrook, Drew Doughty, Scott Niedermayer, Dan Boyle. The six players out of this group who dress tonight are going to have to be good in their own end to keep Ovechkin and Company out of Roberto Luongo’s way and off the score sheet.  They are going to have help make those Russian forwards play defense to try and keep play out of their own end.

Team Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman said a couple of weeks ago...

I just think the defence we put together can generate offence almost to the same level as Mike [Green], and yet be stronger in other areas. We just thought the seven that we chose are a better fit for us.

This is the reason Mike Green is watching at home instead of skating on Canada Hockey Place ice. This is the reason Yzerman went in another direction.

Tonight will showcase Crosby and Ovechkin, but this about Green and Yzerman, too, and whether decisions made in late December were the right ones for the games in February.

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