Walking into this game you had to think Team Canada was the favourite. By far. They have incredible offensive skills, and an all-star goalie.
Team Europe is naturally cast as David, looking for Goliath’s weakness. The problem is, away from the net, Team Europe has weaknesses of their own, especially right now with Marian Gaborik out injured.
However, Team Canada never fails to make sure their games have a bit of drama; some tension, which, in the end, is what makes their games so interesting to watch. Remember last week’s game against Russia, and that moment after Kuznetsov scored? We were all thinking “maybe they could actually lose this one,” but, as usual, they come back and win.
While Team Europe never had the lead in this game, they still created enough tension for us all to briefly wonder “could this be one of those games Team Canada screws up and winds up losing?”
First impressions last the longest, until there are actual goals on the board. Team Europe did make a great first impression. The shot on Price, only a few seconds in to the game, while simultaneously drawing a penalty off Brad Marchand was quite a statement, but the energy fizzled from there through the remainder of the first period.
Team Europe looked unsure of how to approach an attack, so their shots were often from way outside, which Price could easily stop. They also looked slow; both in speed, and reaction to what was happening on the ice. That was evident in the lead up to the two goals in the first period.
Bergeron and Marchand started their breakaway about even with defenders Niederreiter and Seidenberg, but by the time Marchand reaches the net and shoots in the puck they were too far back to do anything. The speed of those two is incredible.
Marchand from Bergeron pic.twitter.com/OOqtTk9ss2— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 28, 2016
You have to give credit to Halak for repositioning himself to Marchand’s side, but because Marchand roofed it, it was too late for him to completely adjust to block it. It’s an excellent read of the circumstances by Marchand.
On the Stamkos goal, it was the slow reaction time to evaluate what was happening on the ice that cost Team Europe.
Stamkos from Getzlaf [and Chara] pic.twitter.com/l7Fo4286iB— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 28, 2016
Sekera and Nielsen are well positioned in front of the net for the approach of Getzlaf, but they are oblivious to Stamkos coming at them from the opposite side behind them until it’s too late. You can actually see Nielsen turning his head around at the last second, realising what is about to happen.
Chara has to be embarassed by getting robbed of the puck by Getzlaf like that. He looked bad all night, outside of the one penalty kill where he was his usual best.
The Crosby line was stellar, as you would expect. They controlled the puck, they controlled the flow of the game, they controlled Team Europe. They are at a level such that Team Europe can hope to only contain them until they are too tired, and forced to switch off.
Team Europe was giving all four Canada lines scoring chances by making some big gaffes.
You don't leave any forward of Team Canada uncovered in that position. That's Zuccarello and Rieder flanking Perry. Staring at what was happening down behind the net for several seconds, and slowly drifting away from him, they were totally unprepared for what was about to happen. When the puck popped out on a perfect pass right to Perry’s stick they scrambled to do something, anything, but were too late and too far away to stop him from getting off a very solid shot on Halak.
His shot didn’t go in, but, surely a lesson was learned, right? Surely that same mistake won’t be repeated by those same players later in the game, right?
I do not intend to cast Team Europe as incompetent. They made it this far in the tournament because they have skill, both from their rookies and veterans. In the second period they finally demonstrated that.
In the three act play that is a Team Canada game you are introduced to the heroes in the first act, then watch them struggle through the second act, just enough that it makes you anxious about what could possibly happen in the third act.
One of the highlights for Team Europe in the second period came at about 5 minutes in. There was a great attack by the line of Niederreiter, Draisaitl and Boedker. They sustained it for a solid 30 seconds, taking many shots and collecting the rebounds. It was the first time in the game you actually saw Team Canada scrambling, trying to figure out what to do about some young guys buzzing all around them.
It reminded me of watching Team North America play, except, this line had an adult chaperon. It was interesting to see how he was shoved off into the corner, banging his stick on the ice, and yelling several times to draw attention to himself. None of the forwards bothered with him through the whole sequence. Instead they made the plays themselves.
Unfortunately that group of forwards are like glass cannons. They have a powerful offence, but once they use that up they are shattered in pieces and you can skate right through them.
There was also some great offensive plays from Europe’s top line, one of which lead to their first and only goal. Everything about this play from the setup by Kopitar, to the way Tatar dances around Crosby is amazing.
Tatar goal pic.twitter.com/0Wy8bqgFwY— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 28, 2016
Crosby perfectly fills the role of “Team Canada Act 2” looking dejected, and, knowing what we do of him, he probably really did feel awful at that point. He hates not just losing, but every single goal against.
This brings us to Act 3: the redemption of our heroes.
This act is often boring because we know what the ending will be. They win.
In Act 3 Team Canada completes the journey: the long, LONG, journey of safe hockey. To quote Katya “Watching elite players dump and chase is boring as hell.”
There weren’t even any penalties in the third period, meaning Team Canada maintains its perfect 100% penalty killing record, and Team Europe maintains its 0% power play record.
The final goal is by Bergeron, and it’s a great goal. He gets it because he’s left uncovered... right in the center in front of the net... while Zuccarello and Rieder are busy watching what’s happening behind the net.
Bergeron goal, 3-1 Canada pic.twitter.com/vrRY2weYUt— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 28, 2016
I feel like I have seen that happen before. I wonder where?
Anyway, Canada wins the first game in the best of three series 3-1. The next game is Thursday, once again at 8PM EDT. It will probably be the last if Europe makes the same mistakes they did tonight.