Unlike this morning, Wednesday afternoon’s games went as planned. Well, almost. There was that whole thing where Latvia, led by inhuman goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis, scared the living hell out of Canadian Hockey Twitter for 55 minutes of rego hockey. But the US put away the Czechs with a strong, evenly distributed scoring effort, and that was pretty cool.
The wins by America and America’s stupid hat set up a rematch of the 2010 Vancouver finals for Friday at noon. It’s going to be absolutely unbearable; I need you to start rationing your anti-anxiety drugs now.
But first: let’s delve into the recap.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Canada has scored 13 goals on 168 shots. That’s a sub-par 7.7%% shooting percentage. That’s definitely below where they want to be, and it’s absolutely below the shooting talent of that roster. We know these things. What we don’t know is how the Canadians could “shoot better” or if they can do it in their next two games. If teams could reliably improve shooting percentages, they’d all be doing it always. But they haven’t, so we’re still stuck in a blender of hot goalies and slumping shooters.
Enter Kristers Gudlevskis, hot goalie and the undisputed star of the day. Gudlevskis stopped 55 of 57 shots on Wednesday, a 96.49% save percentage in a losing effort, a ridiculous shot total by the Canadians. Out of 880 games in the NHL system for this year, I see two that had that many shots: a shutout by the Oilers over the Sharks, and a 65-minute barnburner between the Senators and the Islanders. Gudlevskis did a remarkable thing. And though goalies can get hot without it meaning much, I gotta think Steve Yzerman is gonna extend Gudlevskis’ contract in Tampa on the basis of this game alone. I bet we’ll see him in the bigs before long.
Breaking Canada’s scoring torpor was Shea Weber, though perhaps we should credit Jonathan Teows for taking that late swing on Gudlevskis on the sequence right before.
Then there was the no-goal/no-whistle earlier on. The Canadians were liable to stage their own version of Russia’s anti-ref protest after this one:
The puck got past Gudlevskis (that name, jeez, every time I have to check the spelling– I’m using this mnemonic: “god loves skiis?”), but a Latvian defender came up with a brilliant tactic to help out: cover the puck with his glove in the crease. You Can’t Do That. It should have been a penalty shot. It was not. The outrage on C.H.T. was palpable. The bezoar swelled.
Although Canada freaked out, they still pulled out the victory. They were, after all, the better team– even if they’re underperforming (though not as much as some people say). The question going forward is in two parts, and the second part is Shakespearean: 1) Who is gonna score? and 2) Wherefore art thou, Sidney Crosby?
Actually playing a good team today were the Americans, who did more of that depth scoring thing that has worked out so well for them so far. The US pulled out an early lead and held onto it throughout. I suspect that lead protection was the reason shots were so close (25 to 23), though I have seen otherwise smart people declare America a weak possession team that is winning due to high shooting percentages. The 20% they got on Wednesday certainly might draw some down that path, but I’m not so sure. I guess we’ll find out on Friday.
And to be fair, this win had more to do with Ondrej Pavelec in net than anything the Americans did. With some live bounces off the boards, the US feasted on unlikely shots that Pavelec couldn’t square to or chip shots that he was couldn’t face due to his pre-existing plans to lay belly-down on the ice like a beached whale.
Every goal looked like this (via Blackburn):
Bouncy boards, bad angle, nothing but net– except for when it banks off Ondrej’s pads or his skates or the storm cloud that follows him everywhere he goes.
Big ups to Oiler Ales Hemsky of the Czech Republic for getting two goals past Jonathan Quick, the second of which was a scary freaking skill shot. Without those two goals, this would’ve looked far more one-sided than it was. Despite all their flaws (age, goaltending, Jaromir Jagr), the CZE are a good team who played a good game. The question on my mind– another one that will be answered on Friday– is this: what does the US play like when they don’t have the lead and their opponent is better?
Just kidding. I don’t want to see what the US looks like when they don’t have the lead. Friday oughtta be one of those elimination-game blowouts where the outcome is in question only for a couple minutes.
When I say oughtta, I mean it in a subjunctive, this-is-how-the-world-should-be kind of way. Not in a predictive, I’m-not-actually-talking-out-my-rear-end-right-now way. USA vs Canada is going to be the most intense hockey game we’ve seen since the last time we saw USA vs Canada playing in the Olympics.
I don’t want to talk about that game.
Instead, let’s discuss another match between two other teams. Those teams are USA and Canada– ladies edition. Quick: change all the uniforms to pink and put some condescending glitter and junk on it. The North American women make up two fantastic and fun-to-watch teams. They have dominated Sochi, and they’re set to meet on Thursday at noon. It’s going to be a bloodbath. I’m rooting for Amanda’s brother’s sister.
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