Monday, February 22, 2010

Slur Marty Brodeur!

Last night, the United States plunged our northern neighbor into one of those funks you love to watch them wallow in. “Woe Canada!” screams the Vancouver Sun. The CBC is inviting a whole bemused nation to weigh in to the question: what is wrong with Canada hockey? Sadly, the answer largely seems to be to slur the classy Marty Brodeur!

Sure, Ryan Miller outplayed Brodeur in the nets. But I thought Miller played well- not superb. He made some great stops- but good NHL goalies do that. But some of Canada’s goals weren’t exactly great ones. For example, Crosby’s big marker with three minutes to go wasn’t exactly a “good goal”.

I will point out that the United States has some good defensemen who played darn well. Canada got bunches of shots- but they scored zero goals of the skill type. By that I mean those “start at your own blue line, make five passes, tap it in skill goals” or “breakdowns leading to odd man rushes” or “one guy goes end to end because you cannot control his brilliant talent”. Canada has a huge capability to generate those free scores- but no one could shake loose all night.

But yes, you can’t argue with Miller’s 42 saves.

However, the United States found something they else could do besides blindly hoping Miller stole the game. The United States still could not make plays or skate with Canada- but they could bang with them- particularly the USA wingers versus Canada’s defense. Frankly, the one thing the Americans could categorically do last night was stand in front of Brodeur with impunity. Except for the late empty net goal, all of the US goals were screened or deflected in close.

I think Canada might have the wrong defense corps here? I have no ice time stats- but Pronger and Neidermeyer don’t seem dominant physically. In fact, they don’t seem to play much. Doughty, Keith and Weber are simply not crease clearers in that Pronger world-class mode.

The Americans turned the one attribute they have- an ability to bang, get rooted- into repeated goals- a formula Canada had no luck solving. No one consistently could get the American forwards out from in front. As the second period evolved, the Americans became committed to throwing it in and literally standing around within fifteen feet of Brodeur waiting for good things to happen. It did not reverse Canada’s dominance- but it meant more of the game was played out of the US end.

That approach bled over to the power play as well. Canada’s obviously has more potential on their power play than the US ever will. But in this short tournament, with little time for introductions and practice, maybe the more primitive American approach- wind up and fire toward all the loitering American forwards- has more merit?

And yes it helped, in the third, that Canada took bad penalties, looked tentative playing from behind under clock pressure and allowed said American late power-play goal. It is funny how the two teams have such different international culture. The Americans always play like something good is about to happen (see Salt Lake 2002). Conversely, Canada plays like everyone thinks they’re a bad shift away from having Mike Richards take their place on a regular line.

As the number one seed, the USA now gets a real winnable quarterfinal game outside the Big Six. This sets the Americans up to medal. In the two later medal round games, they’ll only need to win once to get something- and can’t play both Russia and Canada (they play each other in the other side of the quarterfinal draw). And any medal is a good result for this young USA team built with an eye on Russia in 2014.