CANADAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! THEY DID IT! THE GOALTENDING CRISIS TURNED INTO GOALTENDING DOMINANCE! SIDNEY CROSBY CAME ALIVE WHEN HE NEEDED TO AGAIN! CHRIS KUNITZ DID SOMETHING! *coughs* sorry. I, like millions of others, are on a high after that amazing shutout win this morning.
I mean, I know that while all of Canada was getting the champagne ready, Torontonians saw a three goal lead for the team with the Maple Leaf on their chest. They also saw ten minutes on the clock, and yellow on the other team’s jerseys, and stayed nervous until time expired. But in hindsight, I don’t know what we were worrying about. Patrice Bergeron was on our side this time. Nothing was going to happen.
But beyond the glory of the Nation of the majority of the fanbase, Leafs Nation also had a lot at stake. Three players left Toronto for Sochi in hopes of making their team proud. Nikolai Kulemin was part of a Russian team looking to win on home ice. They flamed out spectacularly and didn’t win a medal. Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk were summoned to take care of unfinished business for the United States, who after powering through the round robin and quarter finals, spent two games flaming out spectacularly and got destroyed in the Bronze Medal match by Finland. But the teams are irrelevant to us. How did the players do?
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The hope for Kulemin was that he would be able to use the break from Toronto to gain a bit of offensive confidence, but the Russians seemed to find the same qualities in him that we do here in North America. Kulemin was assigned to a shutdown role with Artem Anisimov and Vladamir Tarasenko (eventually swapped with Alexander Semin).
The result is a total lack of offensive contribution, but an overall good tournament on his part. The Russians didn’t allow a single goal while he was on the ice at even strength, and only gave up two against on the penalty kill. There was no hesitation to use him in big games either, getting his most ice time when playing against the Finns.
James Van Riemsdyk
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The American Duo had a very impressive Olympics overall. Dan Bylsma was wise and kept them together, and assigned Joe Pavelski to play in between them. Pavelski adapted his play style from a shoot-first to pass-first mentality to make it work, something closer to Tyler Bozak’s.
That sheds a bit of light as to why Bozak is playing where he is; even if not talented enough to be a top end centre, he stays out of the way, gets his wingers the puck, and occasionally sneaks into a position to help out when necessary. Of course, you’d prefer somebody who makes more of an impact in his place, but if better players feel the need to adapt his style to play with his linemates, he must be doing something right.
van Riemsdyk’s performance had him at a point per game over the course of the tournament, in the same ways as usual; a mixture of going to the net, and finding Kessel. His Bronze Medal game was hampered by a shot to the throat, but he’s okay and won’t miss any time.
Kessel, on the other hand was on a completely other world. Every time he touched the puck, he was a legitimate threat to score. This was even the case in the game against Canada; something that can’t be said by anybody else on that team. His Natural Hat Trick against Slovenia? Probably the best individual performance of the tournament. The IIHF agreed with his dominance, and named him best forward of the tournament.
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Technically, Leo isn’t coming back to play with the Leafs. At least not yet; word on the street (and from his mouth) is that he wants to be back in the NHL, and the general consensus is that he really likes Toronto and would like to come back here if given the opportunity. The Olympics were his chance to show what he’s capable of, and the Finns opted for defensive crazy super-pest Komarov instead of producing crazy super-pest KHL Komarov. On a line with Jori Lehtera and Antti Pihlstrom, his goal was to get out there frequently, piss off as many people as possible, and you know, try to score if he had the chance.
Boy, was he effective. Hits weren’t being tracked officially, but he threw the body as much as possible and was constantly in front of the net, annoying whatever goaltender was his victim. Every team fell for it, taking penalties and getting distracted by his antics. It was one of the underlying reasons why Finland was so successful this year.
..so, new deal in the summer, yes? Yes. You know, for the people.
Everybody involved with the Leafs organization was given a role by their national teams, and fulfilled them in spectacular fashion. Phil Kessel showed the world that he’s more than just very good, but one of the world’s elite talents. Everybody stayed healthy, and nobody got in the way of Canada winning the gold.
All in all, this might be the best possible outcome for the Leafs. Now lets see how they play in Thursday.