We are underway. For the next 2 weeks the hockey world is focused on Sochi and Canada will look to defend the gold medal in Men’s hockey.
Perhaps the biggest decision heading into this year’s event will be who will start in net for the Canadians. Many Maple Leaf fans will cringe when I say this but I think the goaltender that can give Team Canada the best shot at gold is Carey Price. While we can debate about experience, talent, and numbers until the cows come home, there is one key ingredient no one is talking about. Price simply has performed better with less talent around him than Roberto Luongo.
In the last 10 games, with many of their key players on the shelf, Luongo hasn’t been able to help Vancouver get out of their funk. It would have helped his cause for the starting job if he was able to steal Saturday’s game against the Leafs. But he couldn’t hold the lead and, to add insult to injury, the winning goals were scored by Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk, two Toronto players that will be playing for the U.S. in Sochi. Price, on the other hand, has been standing on his head, part of the reason the Habs have won 3 straight heading into the break. Yes, the Canadiens do have other Olympians on the roster (Max Pacioretty, PK Subban, & Tomas Plekanic to name a few) but the overall talent does not match up with the Canucks’ when everyone is healthy. Like Jonathan Bernier, Price has been successful despite the team getting regularly outshot by their opponents. And I can assure you he will be facing a lot of shots in this tournament.
There are a couple of other factors to take note. In the two Olympics that Canada won gold, the projected starter at the beginning of the tournament ended up being on the bench for the gold medal game (Curtis Joseph in 2002, Martin Brodeur in 2010). Also, Canada did not go undefeated in any of the Olympic hockey tournaments that NHL players participated in. They will lose a game but the key is when. Canada ran the table during the preliminary round in 1998 only to lose to the Czech Republic in a shootout in the semi-final round. In contrast, a lot of people got worried when Canada were beaten by the U.S. during the preliminaries in 2010. We know what happened 7 days later.