Olympic Ponderings

These Olympic standings sure are hard to follow, but after Sunday they will be a confusing memory. Even guys with pretty fancy degrees can’t understand this stuff.

“I have read the rules,” Team USA GM Brian Burke told The Globe and Mail.  “I went to Harvard law school and I’m not sure I understand them.”

What it all comes down to is that the Big Seven (Canada, the United States, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Russia) all want to earn that second-round bye, which affords them more rest.

The catch is that there are three pools and that four teams get byes in the next round. For three teams that win their pool it will be a well-deserved break, because they will have had to beat at least one other Big Seven opponent.

The fourth team, however, will probably have to cash in on the goal differential tie breaker and that is the reasoning behind running up the score on the weaker teams such as Canada’s 8-0 win against the Norwegians or Russia’s 8-2 win against Latvia on Tuesday. If Canada or Russia finish first in their group these scores are meaningless. 

If Canada loses Sunday to the United States or the Swiss can come up with a miracle and defeat Canada tonight in Pool A action then they are going to be awfully happy they have the big goal differential there as a safety net. This is the same reason that the USA isn’t going to let up against the sad sack Norwegians tonight.

Meanwhile, in Pool C the winner most likely is going to come down to Sunday’s Scandinavian rivalry game between Sweden and Finland. In the meantime both teams are going to try to beat up on Germany and Belarus.

Pool B is probably the toughest to predict because three of the Big Seven reside there in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Russia along with whipping boy Latvia. The team that comes in second in this pool only gets one game to beat up on an inferior team in Latvia, so it isn’t likely that the second-place team in this pool is going to get the bye in the second round. Since the Czechs beat the Slovaks in an entertaining 3-1 game last night, this pool is going to come down to the the Czech-Russia game if the Russians can beat the Slovaks tonight.

Got that?

Jagr’s Still Got It:

It’s pretty obvious after watching the Czech-Slovak game last night that Jaromir Jagr is still one of the elite players in the world even at the age of 38. Jagr’s line consisting of him, Patrik Elias and Tomas Plekanec accounted for all three goals. Jagr got away with a hook which caused a turnover and enabled him to be sent in on a breakaway where he beat Jaroslav Halak, but he was also made a nice pass in a net-mouth scramble to get the puck to Plekanec for the Czech’s third goal.

Jagr stood out in this game and if he can keep it up the Czechs are in very good shape and if he is vying for a return to the NHL next season as has been rumored he is doing anything but hurting his cause.

Goalie Controversies:

It’s hard to see why the media made such a big deal of Canada starting Roberto Luongo in their opening game against Norway, particularly when coach Mike Babcock conceded that Martin Brodeur would start tonight against the Swiss.

First of all, why not give the hometown hero a start against a lame-duck opponent to start the tournament and secondly it’s pretty smart coaching to give each goalie a tune-up. Even if Babcock has his mind made up that Brodeur is going to be the starter when it matters, it sure doesn’t hurt to have his backup ready just in case.

Conversely, American coach Ron Wilson has admitted that he is going to stick with Ryan Miller throughout the Games, sitting Tim Thomas, who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie last season.

The Olympics are about who’s hot though and that’s a smart move because Thomas lost his starting position to Tuukka Rask this season and is probably a bit rusty since he has played just once this month. On the other hand, Miller has looked like the best goalie in the NHL and could conceivably win both the Vezina and the Hart Trophy for the league’s most valuable player.

The third United States goalie, Jon Quick, has also been pretty good this season, but even Luongo and Brodeur are hard-up to compare to Miller lately and Quick isn’t nearly as experienced of in the same echelon of goalies.

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