SOCHI, Russia — Another step, maybe even two for Canada, but the question still lingers whether they can get to the level they’ll need to beat the best here at the Olympics.
Canada now has two regulation wins and an overtime victory after beating Finland in extra time Sunday to end the preliminary portion of the tournament. Defenceman Drew Doughty scored both of Canada’s goals and now has four in the tournament to lead his team.
Canada advances to the quarterfinals and next plays Wednesday against the winner of Switzerland and Latvia.
The Canadians were strong defensively allowing the Finns very few scoring chances but once again failed to generate a lot of their own offensive opportunities.
On one hand, Canada hasn’t lost a game yet at these Olympics. But their opposition to date has ranged from awful to middle of the road. Then Finns offered the stiffest challenge to date but they’re a banged up club with little scoring punch relying mainly on the brilliance of goalie Tuuka Rask and a strict adherence to team defence.
How Canada will fare against the high octane teams at this tournament such as Sweden, Russia or the U.S. is still the hanging question.
Head coach Mike Babcock was more than a little testy in the post-game press conference going on a mini-rant with his first answer of the session after being asked what he thought of his group’s overall team game.
"You know, it’s interesting. Every time I’ve come to Europe and coached a team, whether it be in ‘97, the world junior, or ‘04, the world championship, or this time, no one ever seems to be happy with us. And I think we’re competing like crazy, so I’m way happier than people that are sitting 200 feet away," stated Babcock. "It’s a hard game. The European game is interesting; it’s all about defence, the end zone is smaller … they get out on your D so quick, the dynamic D we have don’t get to shoot any pucks; they play man on man and they’re on you like glue, and it’s hard, and you have to be committed to doing it.
"And the other things that happens for the NHL player, and probably for you in the media, is the respect you have for the opposition — you say, well he doesn’t play in the NHL. They’re playing for their country, and they play hard. And they make it hard on you. So we’ve just got to keep getting better."
Babcock, however, in the course of answering a question about the effectiveness of his team’s defensive play did admit his team needed to find a way to generate more scoring opportunities.
"We don’t give up much. I didn’t think we gave up much tonight. But when you look up at the score, they’ve got to be happy too," he said. "I mean, it’s 1-1. We had the puck the whole second period and it took us forever to get a shot on goal, and the scoring chances by our count were 2-2. So we have the puck the whole, we have to find a way to generate offence better than that."
Canadian right wing Jeff Carter, who was again excellent on Canada’s best line of the night featuring Jonathan Toews at centre and Patrick Marleau on the other side, said he thought his group showed improvement over their first two games.
"That was a good test for us and it got us going in the right direction. We knew coming in that they weren’t all going to be easy games like the first two and this game drilled into us that we’re into the big ones now and it’s going to be tough," said Carter. "We’ve gotten better every game and that’s our goal. We have to keep going. There are still a couple more gears to go."
Carter was asked about the prospect of playing the best teams in the tournament in the elimination games and whether Canada would need to be better.
"Absolutely. We’re happy with the way things are going but he have to find some more," he said.