After a few weeks of hard-nosed country-to-country tilts, the Olympic hockey has finally come to a conclusion.
And for two Pittsburgh Penguins’ players, it’s one they’ll cherish, perhaps, a lot more than the others.
Pens and Team Canada’ captain Sidney Crosby, along with Chris Kunitz, both helped their home country take home the elusive gold medal, making it back-to-back first place rankings for Canada.
Crosby, who scored the team’s second goal of the game, collected his second gold medal, and Kunitz his first, along with a goal of his own in Canada’s 3-0 victory over Team Sweden. They both only mustered one shot, so when they did, they capitalized.
Here’s how each Pens’ player performed overall:
Forward Sidney Crosby – six games, three points (1G, 2A), plus-4 rating, 11 shots
Forward Chris Kunitz – six games, one goal, plus-2 rating, 8 shots
Defenseman Olli Maatta – six games, five points (3G, 2A), plus-1 rating, 13 shots
Forward Jussi Jokinen – six games, five points (2G, 3A), plus-4 rating, 14 shots
Forward Evgeni Malkin – five games, three points (1G, 2A), plus-2 rating, 20 shots
Defenseman Paul Martin – six games, plus-2 rating, 2 shots
Defenseman Brooks Orpik – six games, one assist, plus-2 rating, 3 shots
Both Crosby and Kunitz got off to rocky starts, however, excelled at the most convenient time for not only Canada, but for Pittsburgh.
Crosby, before reaching the gold medal game had only recorded two assists, sparking perplexity, considering, well, he’s Sidney Crosby. It wasn’t like he hadn’t generated quality scoring chances, because he was, it just didn’t reflect on the scoresheet.
Witnessing his breakaway goal against Sweden, beating Henrik Lundqvist, was not only relieving, but timely, given his inevitable return to Pittsburgh. Leaving the tournament on a high-note is great for the Pens, and the same goes for Kunitz, who debatably had a rougher go than Crosby.
Assuring a spot on Canada’s roster and placed alongside Crosby via the top-line, Kunitz’ expectations were higher than how he performed. Demoted to the fourth-line at one point – per Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - Kunitz looked uncomfortable, and in his defense, seemed unfamiliar with everybody else’s styles. Understandably, he was skating with Crosby, but in my opinion, Kunitz produces as number-87 does.
Nevertheless, Kunitz kept plugging away, and it showed in the game against the U.S. when he created a number of scoring opportunities. Getting in USA’ goaltender Jonathan Quick’s grill and causing havoc in the goal-crease, Kunitz, as the tournament progressed, proved his critics wrong. And, like Crosby, scoring that goal against Sweden couldn’t have come at a better time, heading back to the Pens.
The most impressive Pens’ player was without question Olli Maatta, who continued to defy the odds. He doesn’t perform like a teenager in the slightest, and it’s extremely unexpected.
Yes, he tied with his fellow countryman and Pens’ teammate Jussi Jokinen for most points amongst Pittsburgh’ affiliates, but he did it on defense. What’s incredible about Maatta is nothing seems to faze him. Most kids entering one of the highest levels of play would visibly be a little timid, however, Maatta carried over the same poise that’s gotten him through the NHL so far.
Pens’ general manager Ray Shero really got himself a find in this youngster.
And let’s not let Maatta’s excellent play overshadow Jokinen’s, who had a great tournament as well.
Pelting a total of 14 shots and registering five points, Jokinen was just as-active-as Maatta. Although he may have not been Finland’s biggest producer – because I feel like that title goes to Teemu Selanne – I think Jokinen was definitely one of their top-5 players during the tournament.
Jokinen and Maatta each performed exceptional for Finland, and were catalysts to their country’s bronze medal achievement. Both are coming back to the NHL feeling pretty good.
However, not every Pens’ participant had a positive outcome.
Going undefeated through the preliminaries, Pens and Team USA’ head coach Dan Bylsma saw his team go spiraling downward.
Suffering a difficult 1-0 defeat to Canada in the semifinals, Bylsma’s squad barely showed up for their bronze medal match against Finland, and left the tournament empty-handed. Which is truly a shame, considering how well they had played up until that point.
Potting 19 goals through their first four contests, the U.S., bizarrely enough, couldn’t muster a single goal in their next two games. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have their chances, given the fact they had seven power plays, two penalty shots, and 58 biscuit heaters.
You can point the finger at any scapegoat you want, but the U.S. just flat out lost. And to add to Bylsma’s misery, he’ll be without Paul Martin when he returns to Pittsburgh, after he reportedly injured his hand in their quarterfinal matchup – per Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Now without Letang and Martin for a considerable amount of time, Bylsma’s got some work to do on his lineup card.
One final note – Evgeni Malkin fired six more shots than the next Pens’ player, but came up blank.
It wouldn’t be fair to say Malkin underperformed, because the whole Russian team was overwhelmingly disappointing. That, and Malkin had his line shifted around on multiple occasions, so perhaps his rhythm was off.
Am I worried about him once he returns to the states? Sure. But not really.
I mean if you’re ultimately concerned for Malkin, then that should go for everyone, given the fact they’ve been enduring long flights and playing grueling matchups.
Do I expect some of them to feel a little sluggish upon returning? It’s certainly possible, and not farfetched to ponder. However, there’s plenty of other questions that draw my attention.
What will happen at the trade deadline? Is Beau Bennett going to perform? How will the Pens’ defense stack up down the stretch? Will Tomas Vokoun eventually be reinserted, and what will happen to Jeff Zatkoff?
There’s a lot more pressing issues to be curious about.
To sum up the Olympics – congratulations go to Crosby, Jokinen, Kunitz, and Maatta for a job well done.
For the rest, come back motivated as ever.
Now let’s get them all back into the fold, and chase this chalice.