Enjoy your last Friday before the NHL trade deadline! Hopefully your boss doesn’t trade you across the country this weekend.
We start the day in South Korea at the Olympics, as there’s one remaining semifinal in the men’s tournament to be played. Dropping the puck at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time, Canada and Germany will be squaring off for their chance to qualify for the gold medal game.
Back in the lands of the NHL, we have five games on the NHL schedule – one of which I’ll be in attendance at. The action starts at 7 p.m. with Minnesota at the New York Rangers (NHLN), followed half an hour later by Pittsburgh at Carolina (TVAS). Staggered starts seems to be the theme tonight, as Winnipeg at St. Louis is slated to start at 8 p.m., while San Jose at Chicago waits 30 minutes before dropping the puck. Unfortunately, Vancouver at Vegas bucks our half-hour trend, as that tilt waits until 10:30 p.m. before closing out the night’s action. All times Eastern.
What games have my attention? I thought you’d never ask!
- Canada vs. Germany: The chance to play for a gold medal is tantalizingly close for these teams, but only one will get the chance to compete for the most desired prize.
- Pittsburgh at Carolina: This game literally will have my attention since it will be happening right in front of me. Watch for me and my dad on TVAS, Canadians!
While it would be fun to do a preview of the game I’ll be at, I’m sure it goes without saying that the Olympic semifinal is far more pressing.
Not to give away my pick, but the clear favorite in this game is 3-0-1-0 Canada. The Canadians took second place in Group A after tilts against Switzerland (5-1), the Czech Republic (3-2 shootout loss) and South Korea (4-0), followed by beating Finland in a tight 1-0 quarterfinals matchup.
Entering semifinal play (as will be the case for all statistical rankings in this preview), no team has had more success on the defensive end than Team Canada. Not only is their defense allowing a third-best 22.5 shots against per game (second-best among the four semifinalists), but G Ben Scrivens has also been solid, posting a .929 save percentage for a 1.61 GAA.
Mix those impressive together and you get a team that has allowed only one goal against per game, tops in South Korea.
Of course, Team Canada has more to offer than simply a strong defense. The team with the leafs on their sweaters have averaged an impressive three goals per game, the (t)third-most of any team at the Olympic Games and (t)second among the semifinalists.
While an impressive 15 different Canadians have found their way onto the scorecard, two NHL veterans have stood above the rest: D Maxim Noreau (2-3-5 totals) and F Derek Roy (0-5-5). Both are averaging more than a point per game, and pairing their success with production from almost every skater makes every Canadian line a threat to score.
Meanwhile, 0-3-0-2 Germany is the Cinderella story of this Olympic tournament, as it finished a lowly third place in Group C after tilts against Finland (5-2 loss), Sweden (1-0 loss) and Norway (2-1 SO).
However, the group stage has no bearing on how a team can perform in the playoffs, and Head Coach Marco Sturm has done an excellent job of getting his team to believe just that. Träger der Adler – The Eagle Carriers – have beaten Switzerland (2-1 OT) and Sweden (4-3 OT) – the tournament’s top seed following the group stage – to qualify for the semifinals and ensure the chance to compete for their first Olympic medal since West Germany took bronze at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
Similar to Team Canada, Germany’s expertise in its first five games has been on the defensive end. The Eagle Carriers’ defense has allowed 26 shots against per game (sixth-worst among all Olympic teams, worst of the semifinalists), a manageable number for G Danny aus den Birken who’s posted a .904 save percentage and 2.43 GAA.
Putting those numbers together, the Germans have allowed only 2.2 goals against per game, the sixth-worst of any team in the Olympics and worst of the four semifinalists.
On the offensive end, the similarities in style between the Canadians and Germans continue, as 15 different skaters have registered at least a point. Of those, F Patrick Hager has been their biggest star with his team-leading 2-2-4 totals.
The Germans and Canadians last tangled on May 18, 2017 at the 2017 IIHF World Championships in Cologne, Germany. Canada’s defense was on full display in that game, limiting the Germans to only 20 shots on goal while the Canadians fired a whopping 50 at G Philipp Grubauer of the Washington Capitals. Grubauer performed well, but Winnipeg’s F Mark Scheifele and Carolina’s F Jeff Skinner were able to sneak a goal apiece past him to earn a slim 2-1 quarterfinals victory for Canada (Yannic Seidenberg scored Germany’s lone goal with 6:39 remaining in regulation) en route to a silver medal.
You’ll notice all but one player listed in that recap has an NHL team associated with his name. The fact that those players – and not Seidenberg – are preoccupied in North America is a major story in this game.
While doing our Olympic preview in a recent DtFR podcast, I pointed out that Germany has achieved a #8 world ranking from the IIHF without the luxury of multiple players from the top professional league in the world.
It is my opinion that this fact, which is usually to the Germans’ detriment, has become an advantage.
How could that be?
All of Team USA and Team Canada’s biggest stars are stuck in the NHL. The same can be said for a majority of the best Russians, Finns and Swedes. Meanwhile, Germany (and, perhaps unsurprisingly, fellow semifinalist Czech Republic) has fielded almost entirely its usual roster. Undoubtedly, that consistency and the chemistry associated with it is a major reason for Germany’s run to the semifinalists.
But is that continuity enough to beat the Canadians?
I certainly think this is going to be the more competitive of the two semifinal matchups, but the talent on Canada’s roster looks like it still exceeds that of the Germans. As such, I think Canada squeaks by Germany for the chance to win its third-consecutive gold.