Friday, August 31, 2007

Game 3: Canada-Russia Super Series

On Wednesday, Team Canada took a 2-0 series lead over Team Russia at the Canada-Russia Super Series. They have left Ufa for Omsk, the hometown of Russian star Alexei Cherepanov. Will Team Canada continue to play a physical game, despite the travel schedule? How will the arena’s condition in Omsk compare to that in Ufa? Will the Russians use their anger and frustration in a positive way, or will their game continue to suffer? And will Cherepanov’s absence hurt the team, or be a rallying point for the rest of the troops?

The final score of Game 3 was 6-2 for Canada, but the Canadians did not play their best game.

Today’s game featured Leland Irving in goal. The question going into the game was if he would be able to match Mason and Bernier’s strong performances. He certainly entered the game with a lot of pressure on his shoulders, and his first game at this level of competition was good overall. The two goals that he let in were not great by any means, but the Russians held a huge shot differential over the Canadians at the end of the 2nd period: 24 for Russia and only 10 for Canada. I think that Irving held his own today, and Brent Sutter will be happy with his decision to start the goalie rotation over to let all three netminders play again in the series.

Contrast this to Russia’s goaltending situation. For some reason, Semen Varlamov started in goal today, despite his poor performance in Game 1. He played 20 minutes, faced 4 shots, allowed 3 goals, and was replaced in favour of Vadim Zhelobnyuk. I somehow doubt that we’ll be seeing Varlamov again in this Super Series.

Team Canada had a very good first period and demonstrated their skill when cycling the puck in the offensive zone. As a result, they were rewarded with 3 goals in the first period, versus one shortie for the Russians.

The second period was much different, as the Russians definitely stepped up their game and played their best period of the entire Super Series. They scored again, and I thought that Canada might have been letting up a little on the gas.

The Canadians sealed their victory in the third period with three unanswered goals, the first two coming within a minute of each other. The Russian offence really appeared to fizzle and they looked tired and frustrated after Canada scored goals 4 and 5 – they lost that spark that carried them through the first two periods.

Defensively, Canada has kept it up. Drew Doughty is one amazing kid, with an awareness that is rarely seen in a young defenceman – I think Pierre McGuire might be right when he says that he could go first overall in next year’s draft. Josh Godfrey is another D-man who was very visible today after sitting out the second game, and I bet his point shot is the envy of many players. Sutter and Legein continue to impress me with their defensive play. Sutter is so great with his stick and body positioning, and you don’t need to worry about turnovers when he is on the ice.

From a physical point of view, this game was not as nasty as the previous game, but the physical tone was still very much present. Canada kept blocking shots and delivering the body checks. The Russians seemed to step it up in the first two periods, but they are running into serious injury trouble. Not only is Cherepanov out for the series, but a number of other players, including Anisimov, hurt themselves today. This makes a bad situation even worse for Team Russia.

There are a number of things that Canada did well today, but the biggest was…Special teams, special teams, and special teams: Canada was able to kill off 13 penalties, including three 2-man disadvantages, and they scored four power play goals. It can’t get much better than that.

Things that Canada needs to work on for Game 4:
- Icing the puck. They still need to take that extra step because the linesmen are using magnifying glasses down there.
- Penalties. The players are still taking way too many penalties, and they had three 2-man disadvantages in the first 2 periods today. I know that the referees are making phantom calls now and then, but this is still unacceptable. And Brad Marchand needs to keep himself in check because he received his second 10-minute misconduct in as many games. He’s an important player on the team, but he can’t do much if he’s sitting in the box.

My stars of the game:
* Claude Giroux, for finally getting a goal (from his knees, no less) after being snake-bitten for 8 periods.
** Brandon Sutter
*** Kyle Turris, cuz this kid’s amazing

Honourable mention to Stefan Legein, who scored his third goal in as many games.

Game 4 kicks off tomorrow morning at 7AM AT on TSN. Will Canada be able to sweep the games in Russia?

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