||02-21-2010 06:59 PM
Sun Feb 21, 2010 2:22 pm EST
The Hockey Story: Super Sunday of grudge matches
By Greg Wyshynski
The Hockey Story sets the scene and the storylines for the day's Olympic ice hockey action, in a handy and easy-to-follow numerical format.
1. Canadians fight for pride, bye
The buzz around the city for the U.S. vs. Canada preliminary game (7:40 p.m. EST/4:40 p.m. PST; TV: MSNBC at 7 p.m. EST, wow!) is deafening. Fans chanting in the streets during bar crawls. Red jerseys in every restaurant, retailer, and form of mass transit. Even the cabbie over to Hockey Place was talking about "Sidee Crobee" and what he needed to do against the Americans.
For Crosby, it's a third game in the tournament with a fourth winger: Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers, playing with Crosby and Rick Nash. But one huge advantage the Canadians have over the Americans is two static scoring lines: The San Jose Sharks' trio of Marleau-Thornton-Heatley and the Ducks/Hurricanes hybrid of Perry-Getzlaf-Staal.
On the line for Canada: a bye into the medal-round quarterfinals, which is important for rest and in a tournament that has scary parity. But more important: not letting down fans who aren't going to be soothed by "It's only a preliminary game" when bragging rights are on the line.
2. The USA's only defense against Canada
Goalie Ryan Miller is, without question, the most important player on the ice for the U.S. Some say he'll have to be perfect to beat Canada. We say that it's more important for the Americans' top two lines to get rolling. Jamie Langenbrunner was moved up with his New Jersey teammate Zach Parise and center Paul Stastny; Patrick Kane was relocated to a line with Ryan Kesler and Bobby Ryan. It's not about scoring; it's about offensive pressure and puck possession, both of which the U.S. lacked in previous games with their top lines. It's the key to victory, if victory is even an option.
3. Russia scrambles its stars
Canada and the U.S. aren't the only teams mixing lines: Russia has moved Pavel Datsyuk away from the "Alexes" to a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Maxim Afinogenov. Evgeni Malkin, who played with those wingers, lines up with Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals. We'll see how they fit when the Russians face rival Czech Republic (3 p.m. EST/noon PST, US TV: NBC, seriously).
Mike Richards and Sidney Crosby? Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin? Dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.
4. Czech the depth
Czech Republic has had a strong tournament, but much of the scoring has been top-heavy with its star players. The Czechs may actually have better depth at forward than the Russians, and need to exploit that advantage when the big Russian weapons are on the bench.
5. The battle for Group C
The winner of this group will be decided in the Sweden/Finland grudge match (midnight EST/9 p.m. PST; US TV: MSNBC). Finland has put some goals on the board (10) against lesser foes like Belarus and Germany, while the Swedes have yet to get their lines rolling. But the difference could come between the pipes: Henrik Lundqvist started Game 1, rested, and is back for the Swedes here. He's the backbone of a team that simply knows how to win. Finland isn't hanging five goals on him this time.