The Team USA rollercoaster ride has finally ended. After seeing expectations and attention for the team grow to insane levels after T.J. Oshie's incredible shootout performance, the team crashed out of the Olympics with two disappointing defeats. The Americans first were contained by Canada in a game which was more lopsided than the 1-0 score indicates and then they were taken behind the wood shed by Finland by a score of 5-0.
David Backes, Kevin Shattenkirk and Oshie return home without a medal. While they join other Blues who went to Sochi and returned with nothing (Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaroslav Halak), the USA's failure to bring home a medal is frustrating and a blow to U.S. hockey.
Are the Blues to blame? Hardly. Backes, Oshie and Shattenkirk were three of the best members of the team.
We all know what Oshie contributed for the United States (ironically, T.J. Sochi shirts arrived in home as the U.S. was dispatched by Canada), but what about Backes and Shattenkirk? All in all, the trio played well.
Backes was arguably the best man on the ice against the Czech Republic. He played a physical game (shocking) and was involved with the offense. Shattenkirk was solid, but wasn't spectacular. It may be a harsh scale, but he was the least impressive of the three Blues on Team USA. One may have expected to see Shattenkirk used on the power-play a bit more frequently, but he still chipped in three assists in six games.
These three Blues were outstanding representatives of their team. At times (especially in Oshie's case) they stole the show. While you could make some really strong arguments in terms of player selection, no one is debating Backes, Oshie and Shattenkirk's merit and contributions to the team.
It's disappointing these three return with nothing, but let's be thankful they're returning healthy and (hopefully) motivated to put their previous disappointments behind them.
I'll admit, I'm not as disappointed by this result a I thought I would be. Part of that probably has to do with the fact that I don't get NBCSN anymore, now that I'm out on my own, or any of the other cable channels that NBC broadcast the lion's share of the hockey on, and it's tough to get worked up about something to the same degree without seeing it, or at least hearing it. Sure, it's a rough way to end the tournament for Team USA, but looking beyond that to the Blues in general, we can hopefully take some good here and import it back home from Sochi.
Teaching Sochi how to Oshie. Sure, maybe it's not how to Bergie, but a little added excitement from the home-grown talent never hurt anybody, especially in generating fan interest, and for a team that's poised again to make a run for the top in the league points-wise. I know, I know, no shootouts in the playoffs...
Steen with the assist to put Sweden in the gold medal game. Sure, maybe he doesn't have Karlsson to pass it to here, but Pietrangelo, Shattenkirk, and Bouwmeester are hardly chopped liver.
Speaking of the top pairing, and we'll go totally anecdotal here, but I was talking to my buddy in Ottawa earlier, and he had this to say about Petro and Bouw on Team Canada: "I was going to message you to let you know how much more I appreciate Pietro and Bouwmeester now, but I thought it might have been construed as snarky." Let's not forget that they're coming back from playing the best in the world, and if they can shut them down, who can't they shut down? They've both got an assist in the bank, and are both +3 heading into the gold medal game.
And let's not leave out Shattenkirk. I can't speak to the truth of it, but nobody stepped up to prove it wrong, so I'll toss this stat out that I saw on Twitter earlier: Shatty was not on ice for a goal against this tournament. Offensive defenseman, what? Not that he's suddenly going to be the second coming of Chris Pronger, but matching up against that much sheer talent, it's a point worth noting.
I'll admit, I didn't hear much about Berglund or Tarasenko one way or the other over the course of the Olympics. Checking on the Blues site, Bergie netted two and added an assist, and Tarasenko had an assist, +/-0 and -2, respectively. I don't know that it says great things about them, and I don't know that it says awful things about them, either. Hopefully the experience itself helps - particularly Berglund, as he competes for gold in a few hours.
... ... ... Dare I say anything about Halak? From all reports, the Slovakian team itself played awfully, so how much of the 5.13GAA and .857 sv% is really Halak's fault is certainly open to debate. Hard to think that it did anything to improve his prospects for the last 25 games of the regular season, though.
As for Halak, I'm left wondering what went on behind the scenes. I assume the goaltending change and the decision to bench him was probably just a move to spark the rest of the team, but I think it may have also been tied to something which took place off the ice. It's pretty surprising to see a team bench a pretty solid NHL netminder in favor of a KHL guy. Was there more to that incident than meets the eye?
@David Rogers That's possible, I guess, but I don't know that we really need to look further than Halak and the team having two pretty awful games in a row. Maybe something comes out about this in the future, and maybe not, but for now, I think we have to take it at face value.