Canada is a ruthless machine, cutting a swath through everything in its path and giving its opponents nothing.
When Team Canada and Team USA meet Tuesday night for their second games in the World Cup of Hockey, it will pit a team that hasn’t given up a goal in best-on-best competition in 224 minutes and 19 seconds against one that hasn’t scored a goal in 197 minutes and 59 seconds.
This is starting to get ridiculous.
“I’ve coached at a number of these events now and the team that loses today usually gets better tomorrow,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock after a 6-0 win over the Czech Republic. “And the team that wins today usually gets a little fatter tomorrow.”
If that’s the case, the Americans should be hoping for a full scale ballooning of the Canadian team in the next couple of days. Because if this is how Canada is going to play the rest of the tournament, perhaps the only thing separating them from another championship is a lack of discipline in the buffet line.
Perhaps it’s putting too much emphasis on a game between arguably the best and worst teams in this tournament, but (and hum this to a familiar Christmas tune) it’s beginning to look a lot like Sochi. Canada is a ruthless machine, cutting a swath through everything in its path and giving its opponents nothing. And when there is the rare breakdown, as there was early in the game Saturday night, it has the best goaltender in the world there to stop it.
For those of you keeping score at home, Canada has not allowed a goal in best-on-best play since the quarterfinal of the Sochi Olympics against Latvia. The last guy to score a goal on Carey Price in international competition is a guy by the name of Lauris Darzins, who scored 32 goals over two seasons with the Kelowna Rockets in the Western League back in the day. In fact, a couple of them might have even been against Price. Perhaps it’s not too late for Team Europe to call him in on an emergency basis.
In Sochi, you could count the number of goals Canada gave up on one hand and still have two fingers left over to flash a peace sign. There are 12 players, including Price, from that squad on this World Cup team and the mandate is the same. You cannot just win games. You must crush your opponent’s spirit.
“It’s not just me,” Price said. “Hockey Canada is really…we play really defensive hockey. We make it very difficult to score goals. Just look at the roster, I mean there are championship players on this team and there’s a reason why they’re champions. They play the game the right way and they’re on the right side of the puck at the right time. It’s a Hockey Canada staple that we make it difficult to score. It’s a real pleasure to play behind a team like that.”
Of course, Canada was no slouch when it came to producing offense, either. But it was the defensive play that was so astounding. Even when leading by an unconverted touchdown late in the game, Canada was playing as though it was a tied playoff game. Sidney Crosby, who scored a goal and two assists and looked as dangerous as he’s ever been, was tracking the puck all night long, backchecking with reckless abandon, chasing down loose pucks and generally looking even better than the player that won the Conn Smythe Trophy with the Pittsburgh Penguins last spring.
“I thought the way that we battled to the last second was a great statement for our team,” Patrice Bergeron said. “That’s the way we’ve got to play, not just offensively, but especially on the backcheck and the back pressure so we can actually go right back on the attack.”
If Canada continues to be the juggernaut that it has been dating back to Sochi, nothing will matter. The Finns can come at them with their lionhearted best, and it won’t make a difference. The Swedes can throw all their great defensemen and their wonderfully skilled forwards and it won’t matter. The North American kids can take their gummy vitamins and try to skate circles around them. The Americans, who seemed to think Canada was the only team in the tournament, can take runs all night at them and Brandon Dubinsky can hound Crosby. And it won’t matter.
None of it will matter. Unless the Canadian team gets a little too greedy at the buffet line.