SOCHI, Russia -- Team Canada is either just fine as Mike Babcock has repeatedly told us throughout these Olympic Games, or they're about to hit a brick wall.
One thing is clear, Canada needs to find its scoring touch or Friday's semifinal game against the U.S. will end badly. Canada needed 57 shots on Latvia to score twice and take a 2-1 victory to advance to Friday's semifinal round. That kind of finish against a very productive U.S. squad will put a pin in Canada's gold-medal hopes.
"The puck just seems to be going in the net for (the U.S.). I've watched some of their action, and they seem to be scoring," said Canada coach Mike Babcock while answering questions about his club's inability to score following Wednesday's game. "The (Joe) Pavelski line seems to be just flying and filling the net. And we haven't had that.
"We feel we have quality players who have gotten quality opportunities, real good looks, and we haven't scored. It's my experience over time with playoff-type hockey -- this stuff happens, in the end, though, you can't usually keep the skilled guys who score and are determined and are determined down. I'm optimistic to say the least."
Sounds good and Babcock is a helluva hockey coach with a grasp on reality and what it takes to win as a Stanley Cup triumph and an Olympic gold medal will attest. But the time for talk and positive spin is over. It's time for results or it's time to play for bronze. The latter being an outcome no one in Canada wants, or to be frank, is really interested in.
Early against Latvia, it appeared Canada would break out but the inability to put the puck in the net which has plagued this team all tournament continued to be the most-talked-about trend in our country.
Only six of Canada's 22 skaters have scored in the tournament and among those who haven't are Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews. Both have been excellent defensively but the lack of production is an issue that cannot be ignored.
Babcock has bristled at times when the subject has come up but Wednesday he was less defensive and his tone, while not conciliatory, was not combative.
"I think we're doing a good job. I think we're getting better each and every game. We had good looks today," he said. "All you got to do is watch the highlights for six seconds -- we had good looks and good players. Crosby has a breakaway right away, Kunitz hits the crossbar right away. If they score, it's different."
"But for us that part doesn't matter. What matters is we had an opportunity to advance, we had an opportunity to play... You just keep doing things right, you're going to be rewarded. We had some chances. So we just thought if we kept doing it, we'd get our chances, we'd get a break, we'd score a goal. Did I want to win 7-1? Absolutely. Do I think it's better for my team that we won the way we did? For sure."
Winnipeg native Toews has been given difficult defensive assignments and has handled them to near perfection. Toews admits a goal or two would be nice as well.
"We were working hard for our chances," he said. "Their goaltender played well and they were clearing the crease. It was tough not to get frustrated. We knew we had to stay with it and it was only a matter of time.
"We've got a lot of guys that can score. Now it's just a matter of every guy looking at himself and digging deep and trying to come up with a big moment. We don't care who it is. If everyone jumps over the boards expecting to have a chance to make a difference, that's what we want. They'll go in for us. We have to believe that."
Toews, however, is all about winning games and has supreme confidence. It's one of his finest traits as a leader. The prospect of playing the Americans, scoring woes or not, had him beaming.
"It's huge," he said. "It's inevitable to have to go through the U.S. to have to win a gold medal. This is a huge moment and we have to embrace it and have fun with it."
Latvian defenceman Arturs Kulda was asked about the mindset required to beat Canada.
"All of them have two legs and two hands," he said. "They're players just like us," said Kulda.
Kulda's right. But usually Canada's hands are better than they've been so far. They better find their magic or they'll be using those hands to fight for bronze rather than gold.
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