February 24 – Day 136 – Olympic midnight

Settle in and watch all 14 of today’s games. You owe it to yourself.

As I write, the Czech Republic and Canada are playing for the bronze medal at the Olympics. That game started at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time.

Back in North America, the NHL has scheduled a dozen tilts this fine Saturday, starting with Philadelphia at Ottawa (NHLN/TVAS) at 2 p.m. At 4 p.m., Colorado at Calgary is the next matinee scheduled, followed by the New York Islanders at New Jersey to clean up the day slate. The usual starting time of 7 p.m. brings seven puck drops (Winnipeg at Dallas [SN1/SN360], Boston at Toronto [SN], Tampa Bay at Montréal [CITY/TVAS], Carolina at Detroit, Pittsburgh at Florida, Buffalo at Washington and Chicago at Columbus [NHLN]), followed by Anaheim at Arizona an hour later. Finally, tonight’s nightcap – Edmonton at Los Angeles (CITY/SN/SN360) – is slated for 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Last but not least, Olympic gold is up for grabs between the OAR and Germany at 11:10 Eastern time at Gangneung Hockey Centre.

Of quite a list of games, there’s more than a few that are worthy of our attention.

  • Czech Republic vs. Canada: For a Canadian team without its NHL players, bronze has to be considered a success.
  • New York at New Jersey: Patrik Elias was an excellent Devil for 20 years. Tonight, his 26 sweater will be lifted to the Prudential Center rafters alongside Martin Brodeur‘s 30, Ken Daneyko‘s 3, Scott Niedermayer‘s 27 and Scott Stevens‘ 4.
  • Boston at Toronto: Original Six action between teams separated by only one point in the standings? Sign me up.
  • Chicago at Columbus: Brandon Saad makes his return to Nationwide Arena tonight after being traded back to the Windy City this offseason.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: Old rivalries die hard, right?
  • OAR vs. Germany: It’s the favorites against what could be one of the best Cinderella stories of all time. Who wins the medal they want tonight?

Almost all of the games listed above have the potential to be excellent, but there’s obviously only one clear choice for today’s featured matchup.

 

I said something similar in my OAR vs. the Czech Republic semifinal preview, but it bears repeating: no team has been as impressive at the 4-0-0-1 Olympics than the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Of course, what should we expect from a team consisting of players from three of the best teams in the world’s second-best league?

Красная Машина – The Red Machine – so dominant is its imposing offense. The OAR are managing a ridiculous 4.6 goals per game through their first five games, well above Finland’s second-best effort of 3.2 goals per game.

While almost every skater on the OAR’s roster is capable of finding the scorecard, four in particular have stood out above the rest. F Nikita Gusev leads the way with 2-6-8 totals in five showings, followed by F Ilya Kovalchuk (5-2-7), F Pavel Datsyuk (0-5-5) and F Kirill Kaprizov (4-1-5). All four players are distributed through the Machine’s top two lines.

Of course, one of the bonuses of having such an impressive attack is that it limits the opponent’s opportunities. In addition to averaging the most goals, the OAR are also limiting opponents shots on goal to only 21.6 – the second-fewest of any team in South Korea.

Not that he needs all that much help, that keeps the workload off G Vasili Koshechkin. Having allowed only five goals all tournament, he’s posted an impressive .951 save percentage and 1.08 GAA.

While almost everyone had predicted the OAR to qualify for tonight’s gold medal game, no one expected the 1-3-0-2 Germans to advance this far. Germany has never won either a silver or gold at the Olympics, meaning this will easily be its best performance at the tournament regardless of this game unfolds.

Unfortunately for Träger der Adler – The Eagle Carriers – the odds are not stacked in their favor. Not only is the OAR going to be the most imposing team Germany has faced, but the Germans’ stats simply don’t stack up in comparison.

Let’s start on offense, where Germany’s 2.33 goals per game is sixth-worst of any team in the tournament. No German skater has been more impressive than F Patrick Hager, who’s 3-3-6 totals through six games are easily the best marks of any player on the team.

Meanwhile, considering the Eagle Carriers have allowed a fifth-worst 26.83 shots on goal per game, the defensive end has totally relied on the efforts of G Danny aus den Birken.

If an MVP award is distributed at the Olympics, aus den Birken is certainly the most deserving German considering his .904 save percentage and 2.54 GAA. Though those numbers pale in comparison to Koshechkin’s marks, he’s been able to provide the biggest, most important saves for Germany to keep it alive in this tournament.

Germany’s unprecedented run to the top of this Olympic tournament has been fun to watch, and I’m certainly pulling for the Eagle Carriers in tonight’s game. However, I don’t see them pulling off the massive upset against the OAR.


Midnight has yet to strike in PyeongChang, as Germany – the Olympics’ Cinderella story – advanced to the gold medal game by beating Canada 4-3 at Gangneung Hockey Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Though hockey is a game divided into thirds, this semifinal was a tale of two halves. Germany dominated the first half, as they had a 3-0 advantage through the first 28 minutes.

Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it was a result of some very undisciplined play by the Canadians. With 6:41 remaining in the frame, F Linden Vey earned himself a seat in the penalty box for high sticking, and that infraction was compounded by the Canadian bench also being assessed a delay of game penalty (served by F Rene Bourque). As a result, Germany earned itself a 50-second five-on-three power play once F Felix Schutz was released from the penalty box (boarding). F Brooks Macek (F Dominik Kahun) needed only 14 seconds of that advantage to beat G Kevin Poulin, setting the score at 1-0.

Where Germany really turned on the jets was in the second period, as they posted an imposing three goals in the frame. First up was F Matthias Plachta (F Patrick Hager), scoring only 3:21 into the period to give the Germans a two-goal advantage. That tally was followed only 3:28 later by F Frank Mauer (F Marcel Goc and F David Wolf), setting the score at 3-0. Canada finally got on the scoreboard at the 8:17 mark of the period courtesy of a F Gilbert Brule (D Chris Lee and D Maxim Noreau) power play goal, but the Germans answered right back only 4:14 later when Hager (Plachta and Schutz) registered a power play goal of his own.

Though Hager’s goal was the last of the second period, there was one final major event in the frame. Only 28 seconds after Hager set the score at 4-1, Brule was ejected from the game for checking to the head and neck area.

There’s a difference between winning a period and dominating a period. Germany won the first two periods, but – even with three goals – I wouldn’t say it dominated either frame.

On the other hand, Canada absolutely dominated the third period. Not only did they fire 15 shots on goal – the most of either team in any period – but the Canadians also limited Germany to only one shot against Poulin.

One.

With that in mind, perhaps its no surprise Team Canada fought its way back into this game, starting with M Robinson’s (C Thomas and M Raymond) tally 2:42 into the frame. The next scoring opportunity of the frame belonged to Germany, as Kahun was tripped by C Goloubef while attempting a shot 39 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Robinson. Fortunately for Canada, Poulin stood tall to keep the score at 4-2, meaning F Derek Roy‘s (Lee and Noreau) power play goal at the 9:42 mark of the game pulled it back within a goal.

But the remaining 10:18 belonged to G Danny aus den Birken. No matter how many shots the Canadians fired, he would not yield the game-tying goal to earn the victory for Germany.

Aus den Birken earned the victory after saving 28-of-31 shots faced (.903 save percentage), leaving the loss to Poulin, who saved 11-of-15 (.733).

With that victory, Germany has already clinched its best finish at any Olympic tournament, as the Eagle Carriers are ensured at least silver by qualifying for the gold medal game. As stated above, they play for the Olympic title tonight at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time against the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

Additionally, the 73-46-17 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have recaptured a 21-point advantage over the road teams.