PITTSBURGH -- At one point during Canada’s 3-2 overtime victory over Russia in the teams’ final pre-World Cup of Hockey tune-up match, a reporter walked past, and given Canada’s play, wondered why the other teams were even bothering to play the tournament.
His point was well taken. Even though the score was just 1-0 in their favor at the time, when Canada plays as well as they were playing at that moment -- and, really, when they play as well as they did for all but a few minutes on Thursday night -- it’s hard to imagine any team in the eight-team field being able to beat them.
Indeed, this Canadian team, building off their run to gold in Sochi in 2014, have become masters at dominating close games.
They won’t necessarily blow opponents out of the water on the scoreboard, but they do it in a way that might be even more disheartening by slowly but surely squeezing the life out of opposing teams.
Take Team Russia. I imagine them to be as dangerous a team offensively as there is in the tournament. Yet they managed to deliver just 26 shots on goal.
Yes, there were moments where Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Vladimir Tarasenko had chances, but they were isolated, the exception rather than the rule. Often those chances came on power plays, perhaps one area the Canadians would like to address as they allowed a potentially devastating Russian power play seven opportunities, giving up one goal by Ovechkin on a brief 5-on-3.
One of the hallmarks of the Canadian teams that won Olympic golds in 2014 and 2010 under head coach Mike Babcock, who is once again behind the Canadian bench, has been the commitment to detail.
On Thursday night there was Ryan Getzlaf -- who would later score the overtime winner on a breakaway -- and Logan Couture blocking multiple Russian shots.
If there was an odd-man rush allowed by Canada, I don’t remember it.
And while they scored just three times thanks to an impressive night by Russian netminder and former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, there was a calm, a patience about the way the Canadians approached the game, even when the Russians took a brief 2-1 lead in the third.
In short, impressive.
Price is alright: Goalie Carey Price was only OK in Canada’s loss last Friday to Team USA. While he wasn’t overworked Wednesday, facing only 26 shots, he was sharp when he needed to be. His right pad save on an Ovechkin one-timer on a Russian power play kept the game scoreless in the first and left Ovechkin cursing on the Russian bench. He also denied Ovechkin with another right-pad save during a third-period power play and did not have a chance on Ovechkin’s tying goal on a 5-on-3. In short, never mind that Canadian goaltending controversy.
On the other side of the ice, there won’t be much discussion about who should be playing net for Team Russia if Bobrovsky keeps this up. After a couple of injury-plagued seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Bobrovsky looked Thursday like a world-beater, making 45 saves -- many of them of the highlight-reel variety. That kind of play will keep the Russians in the hunt.