Some random thoughts from my cocoon after almost five days of the men's Winter Olympic tournament:
-Who would have thought the US would be ranked #1 after two games (barring a four-goal Finnish win tonight against Germany)? They've certainly had a couple of workmanlike victories so far, beating Switzerland 3-1 doesn't look so ho-hum after the Swiss almost stunned Canada in two straight Olympics though, this time on home ice! Team USA wasn't quite as good as the 6-1 score against Norway and if anything was trying too hard to roll up the score, giving the Norwegians too many opportunities in the second, but put up a few goals late to pull away from a Norwegian team that's pretty much looked hapless so far.
And I'll admit I was wrong for questioning why Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan were both selected to the team, Drury despite his rep was just having such a terrible year and I thought someone like Brian Gionta, for example, deserved the nod over Callahan but taking both gives Team USA one of the best penalty-killing units in the tournament, something Brian Burke no doubt took into consideration. Especially since chemistry is an issue for teams that have just come together this week.
-O Canada, they certainly are good for melodrama aren't they? Jarome Iginla being benched provides instant controversy...and you just know the critics who want the hometown boy to start were sharpening the knives there after Roberto Luongo got a yawner of a shutout while Martin Brodeur gave up two goals (oh, the horror!) against the Swiss. Of course, Brodeur did what he usually does when the game goes to a shootout, by stonewalling four straight Swiss shooters and giving Sidney Crosby time to convert on a second penalty shot attempt, which would be just enough for the winner in the most dramatic game of the Olympics so far.
-Nothing against Jamie Langenbrunner, who is doing a fine job for Team America as well as with the Devils...but it is nice to see Patrik Elias run with the C again for the Czech Republic. He's played inspired, with three goals thus far. Despite Team USA's start, it's the Czechs who look the best of all the teams to this point. After a 3-1 win over a tough Slovakia team, the Czechs jumped out on Latvia early 4-0 but had to withstand a late surge by the underdogs after giving up a couple of goals late in the second period and wound up winning 5-2, with Elias sealing the deal on an empty-netter from his own end of the ice.
-For years I've been hearing about how Slovakia was going to be a darkhorse and really they should be with players like Zdeno Chara, Marian Gaborik, etc. However it never seemed to materialize in past Olympics. This year it might be, after a tough loss to the Czechs where two goals in the final couple minutes of the second period was the difference they stunned Russia, who was riding high after an 8-2 win over Latvia. After a 1-1 tie through overtime, Pavol Demitra got the best of Alexander Ovechkin in the sudden-death shootout and showed the Slovaks might have some teeth this year after all, especially with Jaroslav Halak continuing his good play this year.
-The other Scandinavian countries seem headed for the inevitable showdown with the group (and an automatic bye) at stake after Finland's convincing win against Belarus in their opener. For their part Belarus continued to give the Swedes headaches, especially with Henrik Lundqvist taking a seat after his opening shutout against Germany in favor of the shaky Jonas Gustavsson. Sweden nearly blew a 3-0 lead before Daniel Alfredsson finally sealed up a 4-2 win with seconds to go.
As far as the coverage goes, I have a couple of bones to pick with NBC. First of all I get wanting to show team USA in any sport (even if it is curling) over two foreign teams playing, at least in a vacuum but MSNBC, CNBC and USA Network delaying hockey coverage for curling time and again has become a running joke. However, why is curling cutting into the start of a Team USA game?! Maybe I'm wrong, but I think people would rather see some of the world's best hockey players over a sport nobody's ever heard of, prelim games or not. The curling matches seem to take five hours and there's little going on there. And it would be nice if you are going to delay the start of every game in favor of curling to put the start of the game on another of your 9324 networks and flash something at the bottom of the screen of the curling to go to this channel for coverage of the game. God forbid Dick Ebersol misses an opportunity to shoehorn a commercial in though, routinely missing faceoffs in the process.
Speaking of the coverage can we just get Jeremy Roenick and Mike Milbury in a steel-cage match and get it over with? And I love Doc Emrick, if you don't you're not a hockey fan. That said, there is such a thing as too much...when I heard he was going to be doing in the neighborhood of 28 games in 16 days I rolled my eyes. With that kind of schedule the poor guy's going to be seeing double by the end of the tournament. It's already started as he called #10 in the Czech uniform Gaborik twice (problem being Gaborik plays for the Slovakians). I mean it's bad enough he has to call two men's games per day, did they really have to have him doing a few of the women's prelim games as well before the men got there?
There are some things about the Olympic format itself I like...for instance the point system is kind of what it should be in a post-shootout world. Three for a regulation win, two for an OT/SO win, one for an OT/SO loss and zero for a regulation loss. The only reason the NHL isn't changing to that is (ha!) the sanctity of points records. So the sanctity of goalies' won-loss records or team winning streaks affected by the new rules don't count? Or having some games worth two points and others three?
Of course it's nice to see no trapezoid of doom, but the shootout format is kind of warped. After picking three shooters apiece like they do in the NHL you can basically hit reset and send Zach Parise out ten times in a row. If the game's going to come down to a skills competition at least make it a team activity. Maybe in the prelim rounds I can understand it since you don't want Canada throwing out ten All-Stars against the Swiss' ninth and tenth shooters (not that their first four were anything to write home about) but still, when you use the whole team in a shootout you get moments like Marek Malik nearly embarrassing Olaf Kolzig into retirement.
And speaking of the shootout...can someone send a memo to the Russian coach that Viktor Kozlov's actually better than his stars at the skills competition?