Presuming you're just waking up, Team Canada is playing their final game of the preliminary round at noon (EST, 9 am PST). They'll face their stiffest test of the tournament in Team Suomi; but, we should probably mention that Finland is so bruised and battered that Jarkko Immonen is going to center their top-line.


With the extent of Finland's injuries and their lack of depth on the blue-line; I really wouldn't be shocked if a team like, say,  Switzerland (which has been dynamite at the Games, despite a non-existent offense) managed to defeat them in an elimination round...

 

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But enough about Finland, we all know what you really want to talk about: Team Canada's lineup. 

 

Team Canada's coaching staff answered the prayers of a nations worth of Armchair general managers: Chris Kunitz will start Sunday's game against Finland on the fourth line. Canada's fourth-line - featured Patrice Bergeron, Jonathan Tavares and Jamie Benn - has arguably been Canada's best at the tournament so far, but they'll be broken up. Benn and Bergeron are going to start with game on the top-line with Sidney Crosby, who has been dynamite in the tournament despite a lack of production, while Rick Nash will join Tavares and Kunitz on the fourth.

 

Splitting up Nash and Jonathan Toews is a bit of a surprise, those two memorably cominbed to power Canada at the 2010 games (along with Mike Richards). But they haven't been that involved offensively through the first two games of the tournament. So Toews will play with Jeff Carter and Patrick "hard-minutes" Marleau.

 

That leaves the Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry line that cycled so well against the permissive Austrian defenders intact. Pumped about that, actually. Perry, Getzlaf and Duchene control the puck down low outrageously well. What Getzlaf and Perry do with size (and skill), Duchene does with his shiftiness and speed.

 

I'd actually suggest to you that there's no one better in hockey when it comes to protecting the puck and operating down low, out of Gretzky's office, at the moment. I'll be curious to see if Duchene, Getzlaf and Perry can continue to rack up zone time against a Finnish defense that should be much better then the one they faced on Friday.

 

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So P.K. Subban, reigning Norris winner, will be a healthy scratch on Sunday. Justin Bourne laid out nicely why that's a mistake and I think he nails it.

 

Canada has the "safer" guys (M.E. Vlasic, Dan Hamhuis, Jay Bouwmeester) and they know what they'll get out of those three. So why not see what Subban can do, alongside say Alex Pietrangelo or Drew Doughty, before the stakes are raised exponentially in the elimination round?

 

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I still think the door is wide open for Subban to play a big role at this tournament. If one of the "safe" players makes a mistake today presumably they'll feel a lot less safe when the coaching staff is making decisions for Wednesday's game. Not that a group of smart guys like Claude Julien, Mike Babcock and Ken Hitchcock are going to let one bounce unduly influence decision making...

 

The same basic rule applies to Roberto Luongo, who I'm a bit surprised isn't starting based on the way Canada has historically handled their starting goaltenders. As I recall, CuJo, Brodeur, arguably Roy, Dryden had to lose the job. Luongo, however, has won six in a row for Team Canada at the Olympics, and looked more comfortable than Price did in their respective preliminary round starts this week.

 

Price has been better than Luongo over the past 2000 shots or so, however. Despite Luongo's considerably more imperssive track record of performance, at Luongo's age I'm probably willing to accept that Price is the marginally better netminder at this point in their respective careers. I really don't think Canada would have made a mistake going either way.

 

And who knows if Price can hold the net. If he struggles against Finland, Luongo will could re-emerge as Canada's starter in the elimination round. Ask Cory Schneider how easy it is to take Luongo's job (of course: Luongo's contract doesn't factor into Olympic decision making...).

 

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The Russians are going with Semyon Varlamov against Slovakia, with Sergei Bobrovsky returning to the bench. I don't get it, honestly. I thought Bobrovsky was really good against the United States and I thought Varlamov had a poor game against a much weaker opponent in Slovenia...

 

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I'm pretty surprised by how poorly Slovakia has played at this tournament. It's not like they out-chanced the Slovenian minnow by a wide margin and lost on a funny bounce. Slovenia was the better team against a club with Marian Hossa, Zdeno Chara a.k.a the best defenseman on planet earth and 11 other NHL players. 

 

Losing Lubomir Visnovsky and Marian Gaborik obviously hurt Slovakia significantly, but having Slovenia control the flow of play against you? Barely even makes sense.

Slovakia is going to have a rough time against a very deep, very impressive Russian side on Sunday. Could a team that played for a Bronze Medal and took Canada right to the brink in Vancouver fail to win a single game in Sochi?

 

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On the Russian team: that fourth-line is really good. KHLers Alexander Popov and Vladimir Tarashenko have been surprisingly involved offensively for the host side, and Valeri Nichushkin just does Valeri Nichushkin things. What are Valeri Nichushkin things, you ask? Putting his head down and going to the net like a mad man, and winning puck battles. Combine Russia's solid fourth line with their dynamite third group (Anisimov, Tarasenko, Kulemin) and that wicked top-six and man, they're absolutely a contender in this tournament.

 

Obviously they didn't get by the USA on Saturday -  what a game that was, man - but I thought they controlled play and were the better even-strength team. I didn't expect that going into the game, I'll admit, and I think the Russians showed something in that contest despite taking the loss.

 

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The United States, meanwhile, impressed on the power-play (which had been the only stagnant part of their game in the opening 7-1 victory over Slovakia). Patrick Kane on the power-play feeding Joe Pavelski cross-seam was precisely the sort of skill goal that Team USA hasn't been capable of in decades past. This team is a serious contender now though, and that's a pretty great thing for hockey as a whole.

 

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In the game that already occurred this morning - Austria! Norway! Hockey! - Michael Grabner extended his tournament goal scoring lead, managing a couple tallies and two assists against Norge. 

 

I have a lot of respect for the way Austria opens it up, and tries to counter punch and generate chances against way deeper, better teams. So I was kind of glad to see them get a win over a bunkering national team like Norge.

 

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What to expect from Slovenia when they face the U.S.A. on Sunday? Well expect Anze Kopitar to log a tonne of minutes (he played nearly 27 against Slovakia on Saturday), and look out for second Ziga Jeglic who plays in the Finnish professional league and has been very dangerous for Slovenia in the tournament thus far. Jeglic followed up on a two goal performance against Russia on Thursday with a whale of a game against Slovakia's depth defenders. He didn't score but he was all over the place...

 

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I love the Olympics and Olympic hockey. It's like eating steak for two weeks for hockey fans. But I wouldn't weep if this was the last time NHLers played at the Games.

 

I miss hockey being on at night during the Olympics, frankly. I'm waking up early for work but, like, it sucks - for fans, for the growth of the game in North America etc. - to have a game as good as USA v. Russia on at 7:30 am in the East Coast.

 

We've also seen teams get decimated by injuries at this tournament - just look at Sweden or Finland's injury situation - which is the major reason that the World Cup (played usually in September before the season starts, and when players are more likely to be healthy) is a better potential showcase event for the sport.

 

Yeah the World Cup of Hockey isn't the Olympics, but there are some very serious reasons to prefer it...

 

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Thomas Drance is a News Editor at theScore.


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Comments (4)add comment

Username said:

Username
... Shame Sharp was stapled to the bench instead of Kunitz.
February 16, 2014
Votes: +1

RizzeeDizzee said:

RizzeeDizzee
... Mjnor point, but Team Russia actually has Vladimir Tarasenko (who plays for St. Louis in the NHL), and Alexey Tereschenko (who plays for Ak Bars in the KHL)
February 16, 2014
Votes: +0

simonizer said:

simonizer
... Varlamov is starting today because they are not going to play Bobrovsky in back to back games. Same as Miller starting today instead of Quick.

Pk Subban wont play as a pairing with Pietrangelo or Doughty because Babcock likes to have a right and left defencemen paired together. Weber Pietrangelo and Weber eat up all of the minutes on the right, where as Keith eats up most of the minutes on the left with the rest being shared between Hamhuis Vlacic and Bouwmeester.
February 16, 2014
Votes: +2

mojavedesert said:

mojavedesert
... I have read that Patrick Sharp is replacing Martin St Louis for Canada today. I have not seen any games. Where did St Louis fit in and where will Sharp be lining up?
February 16, 2014
Votes: +0
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