Team Canada opened up the Olympic hockey tournament with a bang tonight, pounding Norway 8-0 to move to 1-0 in the round robin.
The Canadians looked a little disjointed in the first period, and couldn’t manage to mount a sustained attack against Norway, who seemed content to clog up the neutral zone, and try to frustrate the Canadian players with tough board play. However, though the Norwegians played a tight first period it was clear that nerves were a factor as well, with both Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf missing wide open nets. Canada also failed to cash in on two powerplay chances, and fans were shocked to see a 0-0 score at the end of the first, conjuring memories of 4 years ago in Turin when Canada’s anemic offense saw them bounced from the tournament far too early. I’ll have to admit I was a little nervous myself, particularly in light of the 9-0 Canada win prediction I’d made earlier in the day.
Those who were worried soon discovered their fears were unfounded. Canada was a completely different team in the second period, owning the puck and putting increased pressure on the rapidly tiring Norwegians. Mike Babcock discovered a little magic, moving Jarome Iginla to the top line with Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash. The move payed immediate dividends as Iginla finally snapped the scoreless tie with a one-time blast off a feed from Crosby.
Dany Heatley would make it 2-0 a couple of minutes later, tipping a Chris Pronger slapshot neatly past Norwegian goaltender Pat Grotnes.
The dagger to Norway’s heart came in the second half of the frame. They failed to score on a 48 second 5 on 3 powerplay, and to make matters worse Mike Richards jammed a puck in from the side of the net to stake Canada to a 3-0 lead.
The third period was no contest with Canada’s skill really coming to the forefront as they started to “go Globetrotters” on the beleaguered Norway team. Ryan Getzlaf scored on a delayed penalty seconds after somehow hitting the post with a wide open net. Heatley potted his second of the game with a wicked short side slapshot. Jarome Iginla made it 6-0 finishing off a beautiful passing play with Crosby and Nash. The onslaught would continue as Corey Perry, who’d look dangerous all night, finally managed to light the lamp, tucking in a rebound off an Eric Staal rush. Iginla capped off the third period outburst with his third goal of the game, and hats rained down as the scoreboard changed to read Canada: 8, Norway: 0.
Roberto Luongo was rarely tested in the contest, though was sharp on a couple of good Norwegian chances. He struggled a little bit playing the puck, and with the trapezoid rule out of play that may play a factor if Luongo gets another start.
All in all it was a good start for the Canadian squad who got better with each period played. With the instant chemistry of Crosby, Iginla and Nash, Canada boasts three lines that are already proving they can play well together. The San Jose Sharks trio of Thornton, Heatley and Marleau have obvious familiarity with each other, and Eric Staal looked equally comfortable playing with the two Anaheim Ducks, Getzlaf and Perry. Mike Richards, Jonathan Toews, Brenden Morrow and Patrice Bergeron all looked reasonably good out there, but with the constant shuffling between them never had the chance to find the same chemistry that the other lines had.
Norway will move on to play Team USA on Thursday. They will likely be trying to emulate the Swiss and just attempt to avoid getting blown out too badly.
Next up for Team Canada is Switzerland on Thursday at 4:30 PST. The Swiss played a strong game earlier today, holding a powerful USA squad to just 3 goals in a 3-1 loss. Canada will be looking for a wider margin of victory, and a tight game would be a step backwards in a tournament where the goal is to improve with every game. They’ll want to continue to build their momentum with an eye toward their February 21st match-up against arch-rival Americans, and for the medal round beyond that.