The preliminaries are over.
For Pens and Team USA’ head coach Dan Bylsma, it was a fantastic start, as he went undefeated in group play, and his American collective achieved the second-seed for the elimination rounds. Allowing a total of four goals through the three contests, Bylsma’s squad potted a total of 14, which ranked second behind Team Finland (15).
They will now await the winner between the Czech Repulic and Slovakia – who they mashed 7-1 in their opening game of the preliminaries.
Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Team Canada were able to fend off teammates’ Jussi Jokinen and Olli Maatta’s Finnish club 2-1 in overtime, securing the three-seed. Despite the loss, Jokinen and Maatta’s country still managed a first-round bye, notching the fourth-seed, and will have a high probability of playing Evgeni Malkin’s country, Team Russia, who grabbed the fifth.
Here’s a look at how each Pens’ participant did overall during the preliminaries:
Forward Sidney Crosby – two points (2A), plus-2 rating, five shots
Forward Chris Kunitz – even rating, four shots
Defenseman Olli Maatta – four points (2G,2A), plus-2 rating, four shots
Forward Jussi Jokinen – three points (1G,2A) plus-2 rating, nine shots
Forward Evgeni Malkin – three points (1G,2A), plus-2 rating, 14 shots
Defenseman Paul Martin – plus-1 rating, one shot
Defenseman Brooks Orpik – one assist, plus-3 rating, one shot
Maatta came out on top for all Pens’ scorers with four points, but the more important thing was he escaped unscathed during his country’s game against Canada on Sunday.
Taking a high-stick underneath his visor around the eye area, courtesy of Canada’ forward Rick Nash, Maatta sequentially left to the locker room, leaving myself, and I’m sure the rest of the Pittsburgh’ faithful, holding their breath. Fortunately, the young Finn was able to return, allowing us to exhale.
Already devastated with a mass amount of injuries this season, and considering the uncertainty of Kris Letang’s return, the loss of Maatta would have just about put the cherry on top. Thankfully, he’s alright.
Another note to take away from Sunday’s final games is the offensive disappearance of Malkin. Logging three points in the opener against Slovenia, Malkin didn’t post a tally after that, however, not to single him out, neither did any Russian skater really – except if your name is Pavel Datsyuk. Despite failing to log a point, Malkin is still creating chances for his club. Firing 14 shots, the most of any Pens’ affiliate, Malkin is due to score. And given his team squares off against Team Norway, it shouldn’t take him long before he finds the back of the net.
Though, if you’re talking invisibility, Kunitz is a prime candidate for that. Where has he been? Tied for 11th in scoring among NHL’ skaters, Kunitz has had an awfully tough time generating anything for Canada. Originally slotted alongside Crosby, Kunitz has mustered just four shots and failed to record a point, which has demoted him to the fourth-line. In watching his game, he seems uncomfortable. I don’t know, just something about the way he’s skating makes me squint my eyes and tilt my head as if it’s utterly puzzling, considering he’s much better than how he’s playing right now.
I’m even more inclined to say that for the elimination rounds, Kunitz’ slot in the lineup could be in jeopardy. Not saying it’s definite, but it just looks that way, given head coach Mike Babcock’s decision to drop him to the fourth-line. Even though I’m pulling for the U.S., I’m still rooting for the guy. He’s a Penguin. Hopefully he can at least garner something. I’d hate to see him go pointless. And I’m confident he will get on the stat-sheet.
Kunitz’ lack of production isn’t the only perplexing observation, it’s also Crosby’s inability to score. Now, of course, we all have to believe he’ll snap out of it. But the funk he’s in is certainly bewildering, given his offensive prowess. I mean, Orpik almost has as many points as him. Not taking anything away from Orpik, but he’s not a scorer. Still, Crosby can only be contained for so long. So, assume he’s going to start producing one-way-or-another.
The upcoming elimination rounds are intriguing in a number of ways, and should make for exciting theater. In all likelihood, should Canada and the U.S. advance, they’ll ultimately meet in the semifinals, making it a rematch between the two gold medal game finalists from 2010. And, as I mentioned before, the inevitable game between Finland and Russia should also be thrilling. One of the best defensive teams against one of the best offensive teams – it’ll be a nail-biter for sure.
But here comes the moment of truth folks. Will the U.S. capture gold? Will Canada repeat? Or will a dark-horse emerge victorious?