2010 Winter Olympics: Canada Vs. Slovakia, Highlights and Analysis

February 27th, 2010 No Comments

Heading into tonight’s match both Canada and Slovakia watched Team USA slay Finland in what amounted to a good old fashioned butt-kicking, 6-1 USA final.

Team USA did an excellent job establishing pressure down low in the Finnish zone early and often, as well as taking advantage of the pathetic play from goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff—who looked abysmal all afternoon.

For many, seeing the United States in the gold medal game will be a surprise, but team USA were full value for their win and remain the only team in the tournament that are undefeated.

Canada (who lost 5-3 to the American’s on Super Sunday), would love nothing more than getting an opportunity to get a shot at redemption by beating the Slovaks tonight, thus earning a birth to the gold medal game where team USA will be waiting for them with open arms.

There is no doubt in my mind that Canada is not looking past Slovakia. Blessed with great goaltending from Jaroslav Halak and littered with NHL stars such as Zdeno Chara, Marian Gaborik, Marian Hossa and many others, Slovakia is a team to be reckoned with and a legitimate threat to Canada’s gold medal aspirations.

Fortunately for Canada they are coming into tonight’s game feeling confident and having finally established some much needed chemistry on both their forward lines and defensive pairings.

Slovakia should be able to effectively challenge the Canadians down low, but probably won’t, instead optioning to play a defense-first system that will rely on turnovers and power play opportunities to create offense— essentially trap hockey.

Slovakia had to work a lot harder to beat Sweden than Canada did in beating the Russians Wednesday night. While I will admit that the day off and adrenaline should be enough to get Slovakia through tonight’s game we may see a tired Slovak team this evening, which should play into Canada’s game plan of hammering the Slovakian players at every opportunity.

Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Shea Weber have easily been Canada’s best players thus far, they will have to continue to be dominant if Canada is to be successful.

Sidney Crosby has taken a lot of flack for his lack of scoring at the Olympics. Not one to take criticism lightly, expect Crosby to rise to the occasion tonight—I for one, expect to be dazzled.

Games Notes and Highlights:

As expected, the Slovaks came out playing “not to lose”, rarely trying to establish pressure in Canada’s zone, instead, sitting three (sometimes four) players back while putting fourth a limited forecheck—a strategy that wreaked of the game against Switzerland.

Canada struggles early to penetrate Slovakia’s defense, but does manage to get the odd chance. Clearly, Canada has come out a little flat; perhaps a case of nerves?

Early on I find myself asking why Canada has chosen to take Eric Staal off the line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry? Brendan Morrow has missed two great chances, chances Staal may very well have buried.

With the crowd quieted ten minutes into the game, Canada starts to establish great pressure in the Slovak zone. Putting a greater emphasis on taking the body.

Finally, at 13:30 of the period, Canadian defenseman Shea Weber threw a puck at that net that Patrick Marleau got his stick on, which caused the puck to change direction, eluding Slovakian goaltender Jaroslav Halak in the process.

The play was reviewed for a possible high-stick, but the original call stood up— 1-0 Canada—would the floodgates open?

Moments later, Canadian defenseman Chris Pronger (who has been oft criticized at these games, fired a puck at the net, which went off Brendan Morrow who was screening Halak in front of the Slovakian net. Canada’s second goal comes just 1:47 after first blood—and just like that, you could feel the pressure is off Canada’s shoulders, looking good in the early goings.

Despite not scoring until the later goings, Canada dominated the entire period, out-chancing Slovakia by a decisive margin (11-0) and out shooting the Slovaks by a margin of 10-4. Of note, there were no power plays in the period, a very disciplined game from both sides.

Canada came out a little sloppy in the second period, resulting in Slovakia getting some pressure in Canada’s zone, forcing Drew Doughty to take a hooking penalty just 1:29 in.

Chicago Blackhawk teammates Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews combined to do a great job of thwarting the Slovakian power play, which was unsuccessful.

Roberto Luongo was tested often in the early going of the period, but he stood tall, playing with confidence and poise. Overall, Canada just seems to play a much calmer game with Luongo in the nets, something that should bode well for them in the gold medal game versus the American’s on Sunday.

With Canada pressing, Slovakian defenseman Zdeno Chara took a roughing penalty at 6:08 in the period. Slovakia came into tonight’s game with the best penalty kill in the tournament and they proved why once again, keeping Canada off the scoreboard with a successful penalty kill.

Canada and Slovakia exchanged scoring opportunities throughout the second period, with Canada getting the majority for the better chances. Halak was impressive in net for the Slovaks, keeping Canada off the scoreboard and, in the process, keeping Slovakia in the game.

Sidney Crosby put a beautiful pass across ice with just under six minutes to go in the period, a pass that Eric Staal failed to deposit into the back of the Slovakian net. It was just one example of Crosby’s strong play tonight—he may not be on the scorecard, but he is bringing it.

Canada continued to press and their hard work paid off with another power play opportunity when Richard Zednik took a penalty for holding the stick at 16:34 of the second.

With Canada now on the power play and Brendan Morrow stationed in front of Halak, Corey Perry shot the puck on net which resulted in a huge rebound that Ryan Getzlaf deposited into the Slovakian net with authority, 3-0 Canada—all of Canada could smell the rematch with the States in the gold medal game!

With less than two minutes to go in the second, Roberto Luongo (who, despite one goal against was solid all night) made some spectacular saves at the other end, specifically a great save on Ziggy Palffy. The crowd yelped out the now familiar chant of “LOU”, in appreciation for his solid goaltending efforts.

Canada once again dominated the period, outshooting the Slovaks by a margin of 11-5. Canada had now outshot Slovakia by a count of 21-9, leading 3-0 after two periods.

Roberto Luongo got unlucky when Lubomir Visnovsky jammed the puck past him at the side of the net at 11:35 of the third period, 3-1 Canada, Slovakia was on the board.

Slovakia would add another goal when Michal Handzus scored at 15:07—Canada had allowed Slovakia to get into the exact situation they were hoping for, a one goal game, late in the third period.

Patrice Bergeron was flat out beaten on the play and shouldn’t have been out there in the first place. Why is a player that has barely played all tournament long on the ice in this, the most important game of the Olympics with five minutes to go?

Canada was able to overcome a late charge by the suddenly offensively potent Slovakian squad—who gave Canada everything they had in the final minute of play, narrowly missing the tying goal when Luongo made an incredible save on Pavol Demitra in the dying seconds.

In the end, Canada would emerge victorious, defeating Slovakia by a final score of ——.

So, after a tough loss to the Americans in the early goings before bouncing back and smashing both Germany and Russia, Canada and the United States will now brace themselves for a much anticipated rematch, a game that will surely not disappoint.

For more Olympic and NHL coverage check out my website at www.theslapshot.com (Your source for post-to-post hockey coverage).

AND…For the Gold Medal Game Breakdown, check out my fellow Bleacher Report contributor (Louis Pisano) and I (Use Link) at  www.morencysports.com for our show “GET THE PUCK OUT”—6:00 pm-7:00 pm, ***LIVE Saturday Night!!!!!!!*****

We’ll be taking calls all night long, phone in and voice your opinion at 1-866-964-5710

Will Canada get revenge over the United States or will Team USA reign supreme?????

Until next time,

Peace!

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