On Thursday in Sochi, Canada opened the Olympic hockey tournament with Norway again, with its lone NHL player. It was scoreless after 20 minutes in 2010; it was scoreless after 20 minutes here. It was 3-0 after two periods in 2010; it was 2-0 after two periods here.
Canada won 8-0 in 2010, and that, this time, was not duplicated, as Canada couldn't do more than win 3-1 in front of 10,261 at the Bolshoy Ice Dome.
Something else hasn't changed in four years: There's only so much you can learn from these games. What we did see: Canada got better. In the first period they looked like strangers, which is largely correct. Passes weren't strung together; there was a lot of dump-and-chase hockey, and a lot of work that didn't result in much of anything. Norway didn't play scared.
But Canada found a formula in the second, dominating the puck. They out-shot Norway 14-2 over 20 minutes, and Norway's two shots came on a dump-in, and on a rolling puck that Carey Price just covered up.
Canada, meanwhile, opened the scoring on a perfect point thunderbolt from Shea Weber at the 6:20 mark, and nearly scored again when Drew Doughty hit a post, and Patrick Sharp just missed an open net on the rebound.
The best sequence of the night, though, showed some potential. Doughty hit Patrice Bergeron with a long breakout pass, and Bergeron whipped it across to a charging Jamie Benn, and Benn beat Lars Haugen high. It covered maybe 150 feet in maybe three seconds, and Canada led 2-0. It felt comfortable.
Norway, however, did something they couldn't do in 2010: Score. With Duncan Keith in the box for holding to stop a 2-on-1 late in the second, Mathis Olimb wheeled out from behind the net and his shot caught a piece of Norway's Patrick Thoresen, a piece of Price, and then all of the netting. 2-1, 22 seconds into the third.
It didn't last, but it was a sort of shock. In response, Doughty stepped around Per-Age Skroder, found a patch of open ice in the slot, and carefully backhanded the puck past Haugen. Norway was within a goal for one minute and 25 seconds, and Canada was comfortable enough. Not dominant, though. That wasn't the same.
Canada started with the lines it had worked on in practice: Chris Kunitz and Jeff Carter with Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews with Patrick Sharp and Rick Nash, Ryan Getzlaf with Corey Perry and Patrick Marleau, and John Tavares with Patrice Bergeron and Jamie Benn, along with Martin St. Louis. The defence pairs, to start, were Duncan Keith and Shea Weber, Drew Doughty and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo, with Dan Hamhuis as the seventh defenceman. As head coach Mike Babcoack had said before the game, "How much patience do I have with combinations? . . . I don't know. I'm just going to watch. I'm going to watch."
What he saw was a Norway team that tried to muck the game out and managed it, despite being badly outshot. The game had its ugly moments, too; Chris Kunitz took a brainless boarding penalty while Canada was on a power play late in the third, while Norway's Ole-Kristian Tollefsen ran around looking for big hits.
And in the end, Canada was left with a victory, and probably a list of things to worry about, a lot or a little. What it meant, they're going to find out.
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