Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Game 2: Canada-Russia Super Series - Keep your head up, Cherepanov!

On Monday, Team Canada overcame an early 2-0 goal deficit against Team Russia to win the game by a score of 4-2. How did Canada fare in the second game of the Canada-Russia Super Series? Was Jonathan Bernier of the Lewiston MAINEiacs as solid a goaltender as Mason? Did Canada learn how to stay out of the penalty box? And could the Canadians manage to capitalize on the power play?

I guess things clicked once again on Team Canada’s bench, as they won Game 2 by a score of 3-0.

Visibility was certainly an issue in this game, as the high humidity in the arena created a thick fog. All they needed was a bat flying around…Nevertheless, it didn’t seem like the players were hindered by the conditions.

Bernier is a terrific goalie for Lewiston, no doubt about that, but I was a touch concerned because he hadn’t played since suffering a high ankle sprain during the Memorial Cup playoffs. His right leg seemed to bother him a bit in practice, but his performance today shows that he was ready to play. He wasn’t very busy in the first period, with only 4 shots on goal, but he did make a number of really great saves in the game. He offered very few rebounds, and he remained calm while the players around him were exploding. Considering he earned a shut out in the fog, wow.

I mentioned on Monday that I wanted Canada to create more chances in their own end because the Russians had about 40 shots on goal in Game 1. Looks like I got my wish today. Team Canada frustrated the Russians with their constant puck pressure, and they had many quality chances. The thing that I like is that it wasn’t just one or two guys who were great on offence, it was at least half of the team. Players like Tavares, Turris, Legein, Perron, Marchand, and Gagner all played a skillful game. And Perron’s goal in the dying minutes of the 3rd period is worthy of the highlight reel – like Kyle Wellwood’s goal in the World Juniors in Halifax. Simply amazing. If it wasn’t for the Russian goaltender Bobrovsky playing so well, this game could have easily been 8-0.

I was a bit worried about Canada’s power play, but they managed to get that going, thanks to a first period goal by Kyle Turris. Now if only they could get a few more.

As far as defence goes, Canada has definitely gotten better. Doughty’s vision and passing ability makes him a great player that should be a high draft pick next summer, and he partners very well with Alzner. The other D-men are also playing very well and keeping the Russians in check.

All players are becoming more and more defensively responsible, which is no surprise considering Brent Sutter is behind the bench. Turnovers were not a problem today, as players are starting to chip the pucks in deep to avoid turning it over in the neutral zone – Tavares is one player who has gotten much better in this department.

Penalty killing? Not a problem. Canada took less penalties this time around, with 10 (one being a 10-minute misconduct for Marchand), and there were less undisciplined penalties.

Three words describe the physical presence of Canada on the ice: oh…my…goodness. Brandon Sutter, who is 6-foot-3 and only 170 lbs, really laid the body on the Russians to stop them dead in their tracks. He caught Cherepanov with his head down and just crunched him on open ice, and repeated this action later in the game with another Russian player. The atmosphere between the teams is definitely getting nasty. The Russians are angry and frustrated and I expect it to get worse as the series moves to Omsk on Friday.

A word about the Russians: their play seemed to be a bit disorganized for most of the game. Cherepanov was definitely more visible today, and he had a few good shifts, but he also made a number of lazy plays that led to turnovers. I know that the Russians have a really good team, but I just haven’t seen them play really well for an extended period of time. If they’re smart, they’ll keep Bobrovsky in goal.

What did Canada do right? Just about everything…

What to work on for Friday’s game – not icing the puck. When Canada dumps the puck in before going for a line change, they have to be careful to take that extra step. The linesmen virtually have magnifying glasses when it comes to making icing calls.

Brent Sutter and his coaching staff should also work with the players to make sure that they don’t get over-confident in this series. A cocky attitude could really flip the momentum back to the Russians.

My stars of the game:
* David Perron
** Jonathan Bernier
*** Stefan Legein

Face-off for Game 3 is Friday at 9AM AT on Rogers Sportsnet.

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