Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Achtung Babcock! Canada’s hockey coach would be wise to take Ed Tait’s advice

Here's what you do to defeat Germany and go on to win gold

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VANCOUVER -- It is as Canadian as maple syrup, as much a part of our DNA as grumbling about cold winter mornings and swatting at skeeters in the summer.

It is, of course, second-guessing everything about our Olympic hockey side, whether it be the line combinations to the starting goalie to the ongoing issue of why Joe Thornton goes MIA in the big tilts.

And so here we go in the wake of Canada's 5-3 loss to the United States that now has our lads needing a win over Germany Tuesday just to QUALIFY for the playoff round.

Call this one-man's take on five things that we'd whisper in head coach Mike Babcock's ear if we had the chance:

 

1. SMART MOVE, DUDE: MARTIN MUST SIT -- Babcock made the easiest and most important decision on Monday when he decided to sit Martin Brodeur and give Roberto Luongo the start against the Germans.

No argument that Brodeur is one of the greatest goaltenders ever to slap on a pair of pads. But in his two appearances here in Vancouver, and particularly against the Americans, he was way below average. And in our opinion option No. 2, if there is a decision after the German game, is to go with Marc-Andre Fleury. Don't laugh: Luongo has six career Stanley Cup playoff wins. Fleury has 30.

 

2. IGGY + CROSBY = GOALS -- The question of who to play on the wings with superstar Sidney Crosby continues to swirl around Team Canada. At Monday's practice Babcock moved Rick Nash off the line and promoted Jarome Iginla back to the right flank on the No. 1 unit.

Iginla shouldn't have been moved off the line in the first place. After all, he had three snipes against Norway in the opener and is exactly the kind of finisher that can find space and capitalize on the magical passes Crosby dishes out shift after shift. At Monday's practice Nash was on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry while Iginla and Eric Staal were on the wings with Crosby.

 

3. MORE SEABROOK, LESS PRONGER -- We singled out Chris Pronger as a key component in our Olympic hockey preview last week, dubbing him 'The Eraser' as the kind of player who could be an intimidating presence on the Canadian blue-line.

Oops.

Pronger may be in his fourth Olympics and having a solid season with the Philadelphia Flyers but he's been exposed by speedy forwards in this tournament and was particularly awful against the Americans.

A strange stat after three Canadian games: Pronger has played 50 minutes and 26 seconds, Brent Seabrook has exactly half that at 25:16. One of the appealing aspects of having the young and steady Seabrook on this squad was his familiarity with Duncan Keith, his defence partner with the Chicago Blackhawks and the best defenceman in the NHL this season. Easy call here: Seabrook goes back with Keith, his minutes double and Pronger's are halved.

 

4. WAKEY-WAKEY BIG JOE, HELLO CAPTAIN SERIOUS -- So we get the idea of keeping the San Jose Shark line intact because, after all, Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau have been dynamite all season long. But word has it Thornton's next appearance at these Games will be on the side of a milk carton because he's been absolutely invisible. Given he's 6-4 and 230, that's the kind of act that would make David Copperfield jealous.

Heatley is doing his thing with four goals in three games and Marleau has had his chances with a goal and three points. Thornton? One assist against Norway. In nine Olympic games including Turin he has four points. Thanks for coming out, Joe.

Here's a thought: Why is Winnipeg's Jonathan Toews wasting away on the fourth line? He has four assists in three games, including helping set up two of Heatley's goals.

 

5. SHORTEN THE BENCH -- This part isn't exactly nuclear physics: Canada's best players need to play more now that there is no room for error. And, yes, Canada must win four times in six days to capture gold and there is a danger in cutting ice time this early. To that theory we offer up this:

Pppppbbbbtttt!!!!

Munch on these numbers: Crosby is averaging about 17 minutes 30 seconds of ice time through three games -- almost four minutes less than what he plays nightly for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Getzlaf is seeing the ice for just over 14 minutes here and regularly logs almost 22 minutes in Anaheim.

It's one thing to try and develop chemistry and make sure everybody enjoys the 'Olympic experience' but the time for that sappy sentimentality is gonzo now.

No pressure or anything, coach. It's just an entire nation of hockey fanatics and second-guessers who are watching.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

 

CANADA vs. GERMANY

When: Tonight 6:30 p.m. CT.

Where: Canada Hockey Place, Vancouver

At stake: Winner earns place in the quarter-finals against Russia; loser is done.

 

SCOUTING GERMANY

Finished last in Group C (featuring Sweden, Finland and Belarus) with three losses.

Managed just three goals, giving up 12.

Lineup features six NHLers: D Christian Ehrhoff (Vancouver); D Dennis Seidenberg (Florida); D Alexander Sulzer (Nashville); F Marcel Goc (Nashville); F Marco Sturm (Boston) and G Thomas Greiss (San Jose).

Also on the German roster is Sven Butenschon, the former Brandon Wheat King who played in 140 NHL games with Pittsburgh, Edmonton, the Islanders and Canucks -- and 60 games with the Moose -- who grew up in Oak Bank and lives in Winnipeg in the off-season.

 

OTHER QUALIFYING GAMES

Switzerland vs. Belarus, 2 p.m. (winner meets the United States).

Czech Republic vs. Latvia, 9 p.m. (winner meets Finland)

Slovakia vs. Norway, 11 p.m. (winner meets Sweden).

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2010 C5

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