SOCHI, Russia -- Can a luxury be a problem?
When it was decided Olympic rosters would expand to 25 players for Sochi, you sure didn't hear anybody complain.
Adding two more players to all Olympic rosters from the Vancouver Games four years ago seemed like the perfect idea, spawned from the long travel NHLers had in store to get to Sochi and the solution to injury replacements being on site, not called in from across the ocean.
Except when you're Team Canada, having those two extra bodies around is leading to some not-so-obvious roster decisions.
Decisions of luxury, to be sure, but nevertheless decisions that require some delicate thought.
For example, when Patrick Sharp gets back into the lineup for Sunday's game with Finland, who comes out?
Jeff Carter seemed headed to the press box after dropping from Sidney Crosby's top line in Game 1 to the 13th forward spot for Game 2 against Austria on Friday night. Then he ruined everything by scoring a hat trick in a 6-0 rout.
OK, it was against Austria, but you can't sit a guy after a hat trick; there's a special rule or code about that in some 100-year-old hockey book somewhere to be sure.
So then whom?
Chris Kunitz hasn't done much in two Olympic games, but do you pull the plug that quickly on his Penguins partnership with Crosby? That seems awfully early to do so.
I mean, does anybody really deserve to sit at this point? The answer is no.
Decisions, decisions ... the kind Team Canada didn't have to bother with in Vancouver four years ago, when 23-man rosters meant the same players dressed every night. There was no hand-wringing over who sits or not.
"I'm glad I'm not making those decisions," forward Patrice Bergeron said. "I'm just here to give it my all on every single shift and not get preoccupied with anything else."
You won't find a player who wishes to be in Babcock's shoes right now.
"He's in a tough spot," said winger Jamie Benn, who has been good through two games. "Everyone is working hard and pushing each other to get into the lineup. That's what is so great about this team, we're a competitive group but we're trying to win together and that's the biggest thing."
Oh, you can be assured Sweden wishes it could be handed the "problem" that Canada has right now, as the Swedes are depleted by injuries and down to 24 players.
But even though it's a good problem, having all these talented and healthy players to choose from, it's still a problem. It's a decision to make. It invites second-guessing that simply was not in the equation four years ago.
"It's way harder, it's ridiculous actually," Babcock said bluntly after Friday's game. "You tell an athlete who competed hard and did things right that he's not playing. That's no fun. If you're [Sharp] for example, you're a high-, high-end player. I grab him when he's walking in today to tell him that he's not playing and he doesn't ask me why. It's good he doesn't ask me why because I've got no reason why.
"That's not something I look forward to at all. These are good men, good people that are giving their time to represent Canada. It's got to be hard on them."
Watching from the stands in the biggest tournament of their lives, when you're an All-Star player in the NHL, it's just so foreign for all these players.
"It's tough. It's tough to be out," Martin St. Louis said. "I think your only friend in this situation is being positive. You just get ready to earn your next opportunity and run with it. That's all you can ask from yourself."
Case in point, St. Louis has gone from not being named to the original roster Jan. 7, to sliding in as a replacement, barely making the opening game lineup as the 13th forward, then skating Friday night on Crosby's top line. Impressive indeed.
Team Canada made it clear to St. Louis and all of its players before the tournament that nobody was assured of playing every night, ensuring there were no false hopes or broken promises.
So it's not about worrying about players' egos here. But it's about trying to find the right lineup combination that's going to free-flow into the medal round.
Four years ago, it was self-contained, the changes revolved around players moving up and down the lineup, but everyone always dressing.
Now you're adding two extra bodies to that chemistry experiment. I would suggest the sooner the better that Canada chooses its fixed lineup and stops rotating players in and out.
Still, the goal of using the two opening games to come together and improve from Thursday's first period to the final period Friday was accomplished with the second game a much crisper performance.
"We played well. We played with a lot of speed," captain Crosby said. "I think it was just kind of a continuation of the second and third yesterday. That's the way we want to play, and we got some success playing like that."
Added Bergeron: "I think today you saw our team's evolution continue to progress period by period. I think it's what we want right now."
In the meantime, Babcock and the coaching staff are charged with delicate roster decisions in the name of perfecting a chemistry experiment with very little time to get it right.
No easy games from here on out.
"This tournament, in my opinion, is about getting better each and every game," Babcock said. "And as long as we can do that, we'll have an opportunity. There's great teams here. It's a fine, fine line. I tell people this all the time, whether it's a Stanley Cup or a bantam triple-A championship, or an Olympic gold medal, you've got to line up the moon and the stars going into it. It just doesn't happen.
"All we can do is continue to work on our execution and our preparation and giving everyone the best opportunity to succeed. That's what we're going to do."