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February 26, 2010

Who's Up For More Hockey? Canada v. Slovakia

Snowy night in the northeast and not much news, so Canada-Slovakia for the right to play the US in the Olympic game. 9:35 eastern on CNBC.

Canada just had it's heartbroken when their womens curling team failed to close the deal (twice!) against the snowbacks from Sweden. Can it happen again? Mike Milbury says they have a chance, however small, which is funny since he's not exactly a fan of euro-hockey. Jeremy Roenick on the other hand say no way, no how.

FWIW- I'm in the JR camp.

Slovakia's kind of thin beyond Marian Gaborik, Pavol Demitra, Marian Hossa, and Zedeno Chara

Oh, if you don't like hockey, congrats. The ONT should be along any minute now for your enjoyment.

One other hockey note...turns out Sean Avery is on Twitter, what could go wrong? So is Marian Gabarik and Brendan Shanahan.

Here's tmi3rd's breakdown of tonight's game...

On the other side, Slovakia got past Sweden with superior team speed. Sweden was consistently scoring three goals a game, but an aging Swedish defense just couldn't quite contain Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra in particular. Jaroslav Halak has been very solid in net, and the Slovakian defense have some serious size on defense.

They will face Canada at 9:30 Eastern. Presumably, it'll be on one of the NBC cable networks.

Canada came out of the gate with their hair on fire, and quite cheerfully ran the Russians out of the barn in the first period. The game plan clearly indicated that they would hit Alexander Ovechkin back first, and the Russians came out flatter than a board. They were unprepared for the Canadian intensity (difficult to understand) and Evgeni Nabokov picked this game to utterly disintegrate. Three or four goals were completely stoppable by Nabokov, and the majority of Canadian goals came off of face-palmingly bad errors by the Russian defense.

It was said before the tournament that the Russian Achilles' heel would be their blueline, and this was borne out against Canada. It is also worth noting that their first line didn't backcheck for anything... the Russians didn't make a goaltending change until being down 6-1. With 9:58 gone in the second period, the score was 7-2.

Roberto Luongo had a few very nice saves, and did not make the kind of puckhandling mistakes that Martin Brodeur made against the US. He was beaten twice over the glove- surprising from a butterfly goaltender, and particularly on Maxim Afinogenov's goal in the second period. Long-distance shots through traffic beat Luongo in this game- worth noting for the future.

Can Slovakia beat Canada? It's unlikely but totally possible. Certainly, if Canada comes out with the same level of desperate intensity that they did against Russia, they're the best in the world. But don't lose sight of the fact that Slovakia's got huge defensemen who can clear traffic out, a goaltender who can steal the game for you, and a whole lot of scoring punch and speed. The Slovaks will need to make Canadian forwards pay a price every time they cross the blue line, and punish the Canadian defense (who have shown vulnerability) every time they touch the puck. And, of course, Halak will have to steal the game for the Slovaks.

For Canada, they're going to have to blunt the speedy Slovak attack at the blue line. Slovakia can score off the rush, or set Marian Gaborik up to snipe away. Their defense was much more part of the rush against Russia, and that worked well for them. It would be a disaster for Canada, however, if the defensemen pinch and aren't properly covered on the backline... the Slovak speed would be fatal.

The only prediction you'll get out of me is a Canadian win over Slovakia

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posted by DrewM. at 09:25 PM

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