In the border war game last night between the United States and Canada, one Red Wing stepped into the spotlight while the other had his seat get a little bit hotter.
By now, you all know the outcome of the game. The United States downed Canada 5-3, the first win over Canada since 1960. The game was close to a monumental win for the Americans and even though they were drastically outshot, Ryan Miller was strong in net and the offense made the most of the chances it got. Efficiency goes a long way as the underdog. The Americans are the underdog no more as they head into bracket play as the top overall seed, a huge advantage in their pursuit of the gold in Vancouver.
A side story, but still one that is pretty big in the minds of Red Wings fans, is how well Brian Rafalski has played in these Olympics. Rafalski netted two of the 5 goals yesterday and had an assist on another goal that hit off of Jamie Langenbreuner in front of Canada goalie (and former New Jersey teammate) Martin Brodeur. Rafalski has become a secondary source of offense for the Americans during the Olympics and the production comes somewhat unexpectedly.
Rafalski has scored 4 goals and added an assist in the three games the US has played. By comparison, he has 4 goals this year in 57 games for the Red Wings this year. Granted, two of the goals scored by Rafalski were against Norway late in a game that was practically over. But then again, the other two (and almost 3) came against perhaps one of the most talent-rich Canadian teams to take the ice. No easy achievement there.
Perhaps this increase in scoring will help boost his playing level once the NHL season resumes on March 1. Or is this just a sign of Rafalski getting a bit lucky? Either way, the fact that he is tied for the lead in goals after group play is something that I'm willing to bet nobody had picked.
Babcock's seat heating up? Continued after the jump.
There were two things that stuck out to me during group play, and both of them are negatives for Mike Babcock.
The first thing I had noticed, was the inability of the Canadian players to adapt to the defensive style that Babcock was trying to implement. Call this Mike's fault if you so wish, but there's also some other factors at play here. Every single player on this team is coming into the Olympics with a different defensive mindset based on his NHL squad's scheme. Bringing them all in with very little time to practice and things will break down a bit. Maybe in the next round, as they have more cohesiveness as a unit, they'll be able to resolve some of these issues.
The second thing that stuck out to me is the goaltending issues. Babcock had a tough decision to make there and the fan favorite ended up not paying off. I'll agree, it is hard to look at Martin Brodeur's career numbers and overlook him, especially in a spot like this and considering he was in net for the 2002 gold medal. Another thing to add in is the pressure from the Canadian fans as to how not to start Brodeur with his Hall of Fame status. But the thought that crossed my mind is how Brodeur, as of late, has really benefited from a system. He has undeniable skills, I'll give him that, but there's also a bit of unfamiliarity with the team in front of him. The Devils defensemen and forwards do the things that Marty expects them to do. Play a tight, smothering defensive game. This Canadian super team, however, seems to be focused more on going the other way and putting shots on the other net; leaving defense a far secondary thought.
Starting Robert Luongo is the solution. That's what Babcock has gone to, in fact, for the Germany game. Luongo with his athletic ability alone can handle the lack of defensive focus and win games practically by himself.