A Perfect Benn

Jeremy Wiebe February 21, 2014 7
Sochi Olympics Ice Hockey MenDavid J. Phillip/AP

There were many complaints about the lack of goals Canada has scored at the 2014 Winter Olympics. Only four Canadian forwards have scored in this tournament for Canada, and Jeff Carter scored all three of his goals against that noted hockey powerhouse, Austria. Going into the semifinal against the United States, most observers opined that players such as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry needed to find their offensive touch to get past a strong American team. They didn’t score but they didn’t have too.

Jamie Benn redirected a Jay Bouwmeester shot at the 1:41 mark of the second period, and the defence did the rest as Canada blanked the USA 1-0 to send this team to the gold medal game on Sunday, where they face Sweden. It was Benn’s second goal of the tournament, (he scored in Canada’s opener against Norway) to go with a strong overall game for the Dallas Stars winger. Benn, a native of Victoria, B.C. is enjoying a coming out party, after toiling in obscurity in Dallas for the last four seasons. Make no mistake though, Benn deserved to be on this team and he is rewarding Team Canada’s management by supplying timely goals, with great checking and strong positional play. If Benn were playing in a Canadian market, or a big US market like Philadelphia, New York or Chicago, we’d be hearing a lot more from this talented player.

But the main reason Canada will be playing for gold in Sochi is the outstanding play of the defence corps. Drew Doughty will be named MVP of this tournament if Canada secures victory on Sunday and there shouldn’t be an argument. The Los Angeles Kings blue liner was brilliant yet again for Canada, looking calm and poised while handling the puck either at his own end, or attacking the American zone. Doughty should be in the conversation as the best defenceman on the planet today, along with the likes of Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber.

Weber was excellent as well, shutting down the American forwards by using his size and his physicality. He made life miserable for the likes of Phil Kessel, Patrick Kane and James van Riemsdyk. Weber didn’t get much opportunity to use his blistering slap shot, but his defensive prowess was sufficient and necessary in this game.

Carey Price silenced his critics today, making 31 saves for the shutout. The Montreal Canadiens goalie had been criticized by some Canadian supporters by not being a prototypical number one goalie. Some thought Roberto Luongo should be the starting goalie for Canada because the Vancouver Canucks keeper was between the pipes in 2010, when Canada struck gold. But Price slammed the door on the Americans, making key saves and smartly playing the puck to his defencmen, thus nullifying the American forecheck.

For the Americans, this is another heartbreaking loss to their northern neighbours. Jonathan Quick was superb in the American net, stopping 36 out of 37 Canadian shots. The goal was not his fault, as it was a perfect tip from Benn and Quick had to cut down the angle on Bouwmeester. The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner should hold his head high, after another strong performance in a big game.

Canada now faces Sweden for the big prize. The Swedes are a strong defensive side that plays a patient game and they have an elite goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. However, injuries are hurting the Swedes at this moment. Henrik Zetterberg was sent home with a herniated disk in his back. The Swedish captain will miss 7-8 weeks of action which could also hurt the playoff chances for the Detroit Red Wings. Henrik Sedin’s absence due to a rib injury has left the Swedes with another hole up front. Like Canada, Sweden’s strength is the defence with Erik Karlsson having a wonderful tournament for Tre Krona. Expect a low-scoring, tense game on Sunday that could come down to who makes the first mistake.

Notes:

- USA will play Finland for bronze on Saturday. The Finns will be looking for their fourth medal which would be the most medals of any country in men’s hockey, since the NHL started sending their best players to the games in 1998.

- John Tavares will be lost for the rest of the season with a torn MCL and torn meniscus in his knee. Matt Duchene took his spot in the lineup and looked solid out there. Duchene possesses great speed which could be advantageous on the big ice.

- The Canada vs. Sweden matchup also assures that this will be the first time since 1984 that a team will go undefeated in men’s hockey at the Olympics. The old Soviet Union, led by goalie Vladislav Tretiak did the trick in Sarajevo. Since then, the gold medal winner has lost at least one game in the tournament until this year.

You can follow me on Twitter @jstar1973