Time for rest of Canada's Olympic men's hockey team to step up

Drew Doughty has been Canada's best player thus far at the Sochi Olympics, but it's a sign others...

Drew Doughty has been Canada's best player thus far at the Sochi Olympics, but it's a sign others need to pick things up. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

Steve Simmons, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:26 PM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - Three games into the Olympic hockey tournament and we really don’t know what Team Canada is or isn’t.

They aren’t scoring much and they aren’t giving up many goals.

They control the puck but they actually generate little offence.

They show great speed, as do all the great teams here at the Olympics, but seem to be lacking an intangible Canadian trait, passion.

They can’t score but seem all right not dressing last year’s scoring champion, Martin St. Louis, and last year’s Norris Trophy winner, P.K. Subban, whose game is all about offence.

They are winning and looking somewhat like they’re playing not to lose.

And if you don’t think Team Canada is just a little off-centre, consider this: Drew Doughty, a defenceman, has scored four goals in three Olympic games and Sidney Crosby, the NHL’s leading scorer, has yet to score. And the games will get harder from here on in as the playoff round approaches.

In praise of Doughty, this much is evident: He has been Canada’s best player in Sochi. He has been the player who most understands and utilizes his skill on the big ice. He has been the one player who put the Team Canada jersey on and instantly elevated his level of play.

He has done it — now it’s time for others to follow suit, including Crosby, best known for the winning overtime goal four years ago but now, for the second Olympics in a row, he has just been another player for Team Canada.

He’s been ordinary. And the notion coming into the tournament that the Canadian advantage of bringing pairs to the Olympics has really been no advantage at all.

Crosby isn’t playing with Chris Kunitz anymore, and Kunitz probably shouldn’t be dressing for Team Canada.

Ryan Getzalf and Corey Perry, who have carried Anaheim to first overall in the NHL, have barely been visible.

Jonathan Toews isn’t playing with Patrick Sharp anymore — although Toews’ line with Jeff Carter and Patrick Marleau was Canada’s most dominant against Finland.

And at the post-win press conference Sunday, coach Mike Babcock got a little bit testy when asked about the state of his team. And then he contradicted himself. Which is in keeping with what Team Canada is right now, something of a hockey contradiction.

“Every time I come to Europe and coach a team, whether it be in ’97 world juniors or ’04 at the world championship or now, this time, no one ever seems to be happy with us. I think we’re competing great. I’m way happier than the people who are sitting 200 feet away,” he said.

And then he said he wouldn’t stand pat with the lineup from Sunday.

“We’re going to make lineup changes for sure,” said Babcock. “We’re going to grind this game up and we’re going to look at it together as a staff. We’re going to look at our next opponent. We’re going to find a way to win. We’re going to use whatever group helps us win next game.”

Babcock did make an important coaching decision that essentially won the game for Canada. In overtime, he moved Doughty from his usual spot on right defence to left defence. He teamed him with Shea Weber on the blue-line.

A few seconds later, the game was over.

Babcock had done little line shuffling during most of the Finland game. Even in the third period of a tie game, he kept throwing his lines out, one after the other. It wans’t until the final minute of regulation time that he had Crosby on the ice with Toews and Patrice Bergeron.

He waited too long for creativity but in 4-on-4 overtime it was a coaching decision that led to the winning goal.

Doughty is scoring, partly because he is immensely talented and partly because the defensive posture of teams in this tournament covers the front of the net and leaves the point men open.

And if that’s the case, you wonder: Why isn’t Subban in the lineup?

Team Canada has three days to make those decisions.

“We just have to keep getting better,” said Babcock. “That’s our goal. We’ve said that from the get-go. Get better each and every game.”

And somehow, by being more desperate, more physical, by trying to be less perfect, they can and will get better. But Team Canada is in something of a challenging position. In the playoff round, they play the winner of Switzerland and Latvia. Assuming they win — and let’s allow them that much — it will mean they would have played Austria, Norway, probably Switzerland and an undermanned Finnish team, before likely playing Team USA.

The best part of that matchup for Canada: It’s NHL vs NHL.

“Ready or not, it’s time to be ready,” said Toews. The players know it. Now it’s time to do it.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve


Photos