Crosby's line shifting, defensive lapses, tightness more to blame
February 23, 2010 10:00 AM
Ryan Remiorz/Associated Press
Canada goaltender Martin Brodeur gave up four goals in the 5-3 loss to the U.S. Sunday.
By Dejan Kovacevic Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- You know that friend you occasionally drag with you to Mellon Arena, the one who really does not know hockey all that well?
This is the one who says, anytime the Penguins lose, "It's the goalie's fault."
Well, welcome to Canada, cradle of the game, where most everyone seems to have applied that overly simplistic analysis to what ails their national team at these Olympics.
Martin Brodeur, winningest goaltender in NHL history: It's your fault.
Never mind that the gold-medal favorite Canada has been exposed with all kinds of other issues in ending the preliminary round with a sixth seed and having to face Germany in a qualification-round game today. And never mind that, if Brodeur's performance is dissected, he really has not performed that badly. No, the push since the final horn of the 5-3 loss Sunday night to the United States has been to replace Brodeur with Roberto Luongo.
Follow your favorite Penguins players to the Winter Olympics. The countdown has begun!
And, sure enough, coach Mike Babcock informed his goaltenders after Canada's practice Monday night that Luongo will start against Germany. Brodeur will be the backup, and Marc-Andre Fleury will continue not to dress.
It just might be that Luongo, buoyed by playing in front of the fans of the Vancouver Canucks, will be the savior. But maybe not, in light of at least three other pressing matters for Canada:
1. Find Crosby a Kunitz
Sidney Crosby was Canada's best forward through two games but mostly struggled in the loss to the United States despite his late goal: He generated little offense, posted a minus-3 and inadvertently deflected one of the Americans' goals past Brodeur.
His right winger, Rick Nash, has been quite good, but Babcock surprisingly decided at practice Monday to take Nash off that line. The new unit: Crosby, Jarome Iginla and Eric Staal. This after Babcock already tried three other left wingers with Crosby and Nash: Patrice Bergeron, Iginla, Bergeron again, then Mike Richards.
Maybe general manager Steve Yzerman should have weighed the importance of Canada adding a player in the mold of Chris Kunitz, odd as that might sound. Even though Kunitz does not score much -- and he very seldom did during the Penguins' championship run -- he takes care of other matters for Crosby, from defense to grinding to simply sending the puck his way.
Either that, or the Canadians should take a cue from the Russians and load up one ultra-line.
2. Play better D
Chris Pronger might have been the only Canadian player to bring it up Sunday: Their much vaunted defense was awful.
Despite their 45-22 edge in shots and domination in territorial play, one curious trend Sunday was that, on those few times the U.S. team would venture into Canada's zone, there almost always was a quality scoring chance.
"We had a lot of lapses," Pronger said. "And that's unacceptable."
That also was not Brodeur's fault.
3. Pressure? Please
The word "pressure" is spoken so often in Canada as it relates to the nation's athletes, it is a wonder the participants' heads do not burst during the Olympic opening ceremonies. Still, rather than dismiss this element or downplay it, Babcock has expressed angst over it. So have some of his players.
At the other end of that spectrum, the U.S. kids appear to be having a blast, perhaps because they realize there are more serious problems facing society than 12 skaters chasing a small slice of vulcanized rubber.
This was what American forward Patrick Kane had to say Sunday about being the tournament's top seed now: "This is a lifetime opportunity for a lot of us, and we're going to have fun with it."
As for Brodeur ...
In his two games, he has given up six goals on 45 shots for a highly unattractive save percentage of .867. There have been superb saves in there, including breakaway stops Sunday on the Americans' Dustin Brown and Bobby Ryan. But, as Tom Barrasso once pointedly said, "It's not the saves you make. It's the goals you give up."
OK, these are the goals Brodeur has allowed: Against Switzerland, there was a pinpoint top-shelf slap shot and another goal that ricocheted in off the skate of Canada teammate Patrick Marleau. Brodeur also bailed out the Canadians in the shootout by stopping all four attempts. Against the United States, two goals were largely his fault, which is two too many in a big game. But another came on a deflection by Jamie Langenbrunner, the other deflected by teammate Crosby.
Here is a fact: Canada's only regulation victory at these Olympics came against a Norway team with zero NHL players, and its shootout victory vs. Switzerland came against a roster with two NHL players.
No, Brodeur has not been the fortress one is used to seeing with the New Jersey Devils. But this is all his fault with two goals in two games that could be pinned on him?