As hard as it might be to believe, the Olympic men’s hockey tournament is practically here. And there have been a few encouraging signs of late for those rooting on Team Canada in Vancouver.
One of the best came via a breakthrough week from Jarome Iginla, who was tops among Canadian Olympians with three goals and seven points in four games. The Calgary Flames captain had been locked in a nasty goal-scoring drought since receiving his third Games invite.
While coach Mike Babcock and executive director Steve Yzerman haven’t publicly laid out roles for each player, it wouldn’t be surprising if Iginla was given a spot on a scoring line.
The Olympic format calls for all games tied after overtime to be decided in a shootout. Team Canada has lost two of the three shootouts its played in Olympic competition – getting beaten in the gold-medal game by Sweden in 1994 before losing to the Czech Republic in the semifinals four years later.
Sidney Crosby leads the NHL in shootout scoring percentage this season, having converted on six of his seven attempts. The Pittsburgh Penguins star had his third game-deciding shootout goal on Sunday afternoon against Detroit.
Other Team Canada players with decent shootout records this season include Jonathan Toews (five goals on eight tries), Rick Nash (four of 10) and Ryan Getzlaf (three of seven).
Marc-Andre Fleury currently has the best record among NHL goalies in the tiebreaker – having stopped 14 of 15 attempts and built a 5-0 record – but he isn’t expected to see much action for Team Canada at the Olympics. Likely starter Martin Brodeur has been similarly strong with a 6-2 record after allowing seven goals on 26 shots.
Crosby also continues to score at a better rate than he has at any other point in his NHL career. Last week, he got goal No. 34 – putting him three behind Team Canada teammate Patrick Marleau’s league-leading total. Marleau had another two goals in two games last week.
Eric Staal also continued his hot run, putting up three goals and five points in three games. The Carolina Hurricanes captain recently built a five-game goal-scoring streak.
Team Canada’s youngest player has also been producing since earning an Olympic invite. Twenty-year-old defenceman Drew Doughty scored two goals and four points in four games for the Los Angeles Kings.
One potential area of concern for Yzerman’s management team could be the continued absence of San Jose Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle. An upper-body injury was only expected to keep him out for a few days, but he’s now sat out four games.
Boyle has been skating, but doesn’t feel 100 per cent yet.
“If I could go, I’d be playing,” he told the San Jose Mercury News last week.
The Sharks have seven games remaining before the NHL’s Olympic break starts on Feb. 14.
Canada opens the tournament two days later against Norway and hopes to find itself playing well enough that it will be one of the two teams vying for gold on Feb. 28. It’s bound to be a busy month.