Ugly Canadian win raises questions

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency



VANCOUVER — All the noise and all the excitement of GM Place Thursday night cannot hide the fact there are now questions about the composition and demeanor of Team Canada.

Sidney Crosby’s shootout goal may have been a turnaround moment for a Canadian team that was on the verge of putting itself in great peril in the Olympic hockey tournament in only its second game, but there is much to answer for now.

But at least coach Mike Babcock didn’t pull a Marc Crawford. At least he was game enough to use his offensive jewel, Crosby, not once but twice in the quirky Olympic shootout format, providing Canada with a dubious 3-2 victory over Switzerland in what was supposed to be one of those early-round gimme Games.

In victory, Team Canada exposed itself, warts and all. In victory — and this wasn’t supposed to happen, if at all, than this soon — Canada looked imminently beatable against an opponent with less than a handful of NHL players.

Where Crawford sat Wayne Gretzky in the famous shootout of Nagano in 1998, Babcock went to Crosby first, and then again for the fourth and final Team Canada shooter.

The only goal either team scored after 65 minutes of tied hockey, Canada gets the win: It also gets to wonder how it let this happen. How it let a 2-0 lead get away. How it couldn’t score more. How it gave up so many turnovers and weak plays with the puck. How some of the problems that cost Canada a medal in Turin four years ago seemed evident Thursday night with the fans screaming loudly and passionately, even when there wasn’t that much to scream about.

They smiled and they celebrated after the victory — but if Team Canada is to have any hopes of winning gold, competiting with the best in the world, getting back to the Olympic podium, they can’t play this kind of hockey. They can’t continually put the puck in bad situations. And they need more from a defence that was advertised to present more.

Go back four years and understand how Canada came away without a medal in Turin. One, they couldn’t score. Two, they had great difficulty moving the puck from defence to offence. Both of those things were to have been corrected with the selection of this team,

Just not Thursday night. Not against Switzerland. Not against Jonas Hiller, the great NHL goaltender. Not evident.

A Drew Doughty pinch — and this is what kid defencemen do — cost Canada its first goal against.

A Chris Pronger brain cramp — and this is what Pronger does in between his usual brilliance — cost them the second goal.

And the way Brent Seabrook coughed up the puck in the back end, they were lucky it didn’t cost a third or a fourth goal against.

That was the defensive trouble. Just as much of a problem, maybe more, was how ineptly the puck moved from defence to offence, or how often the outlet passes went astray. This wasn’t the Swedish wake-up call of 2002. This wasn’t being blind-sided by an opopnent of equal skill. This was beating yourself and ending up with a win. And for Switzerland, this was potentially their best moment of the tournament gone awry.

Crosby scored in the shootout. None of the four Swiss shooters could beat Martin Brodeur, which may be important for the veteran goalie. By the second period, and outside the arena, fans were already chanting “Lou, Lou” for Roberto Luongo, the local hero, after Brodeur had given up two more goals than Luongo managed in his first start. Now comes the question: Who starts against Team USA?

Is it Brodeur, who was great when he had to be Thursday night?

Or is Luongo, who has started one game and supplied one shutout?

This is a good problem for Babcock. The rest may be challenging. But at least he made one right call, considering Canadian history. He used the right shooter in the shootout and now lives undefeated for yet another day.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

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