Tomorrow marks the semifinals of the Sochi Olympics for hockey, and on this side of the Atlantic, all eyes turn to the hotly anticipated 2010 finals rematch of Canada vs. USA game. A game that could be decided with the matchup between the coach and the captain.
And by that, of course I'm referring to how Pittsburgh Penguins and Team USA coach Dan Bylsma will play his Penguins superstar, but Canadian captain in Sidney Crosby. It'll be the first time in their careers that the two, who've worked together for five plus years now, will go up against each other.
It's reminiscent of Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa, touching the gloves and going at it behind the scenes, just for each other to find out who the best is. But, for this situation, it'll be on the most public of forums in front of the world coming from Sochi.
Just asked Bylsma if we can expect David Backes on Sid. He smiled. "That's possible." Better believe it. Backes owns him. #TeamUSA— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) February 20, 2014
Crosby, by the way, only has four points (all assists) in seven career games against the Saint Louis Blues, the team that David Backes has played his whole career with. That's not solely all because of Backes, but he's been a big thorn in Crosby's side over the years. There are definitely a few guys that get under Crosby's skin and are capable enough to keep up with him and deny time and space. Skill players don't like when someone plays them that hard and sticks to them like glue.
Defensively, Bylsma will have Ryan Suter and Ryan McDonaugh, as his top two defensemen who've both had marvelous Olympics. Then there is the Penguins pair of Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, who certainly are no strangers with battling Crosby as they've done every day in practices for years. Those four, probably in combination, will draw the majority of limiting Crosby.
For his part, as you may have heard, these Olympics haven't been a huge success for Crosby. Canada keeps winning, but he's been unable to be productive. It could be a nod to coach Mike Babcock playing Crosby about 15-16 minutes a night (when he plays 22:01 per game this NHL season). It could be because of rotating wingers- which now appears that Sid will be playing with Chris Kunitz and Patrice Bergeron, at least to start the game. It could just be plain old bad luck. But for whatever reason, Crosby hasn't been scoring, and for a player who scores a lot and very consistently in his career, that's surprising.
As these two forces meet, with one moving on to the gold medal game, and one meeting the disappointment of the realization of not winning the gold medal, the Pittsburgh matchup will be key. Can Bylsma use what he knows of Crosby to attempt to limit his chances, and perhaps keep him off the scoreboard? If so, America's chances of winning increase. Canada, no doubt, has 18 skaters capable of single-handedly winning a game, but neutralizing the best player in the world is a key.
On the other hand, if Crosby can finally breakout of his Olympic slump, and take advantage of a slip-up by Backes or Suter/McDonaugh or Orpik/Martin, then the reverse is true. If Crosby scores a goal, his team probably is going to win. And, as Penguins fans have seen countless times over the years, points tend to come in bunches for the great players. If they go scoreless for a few games, they're bound to have a 3, 4 or 5 point game in the near future. A huge game like that for Crosby almost assuredly means his side will be the winners.
Tomorrow is Canada vs. USA for almost all the marbles and the game could be decided with a very Penguins tint with the matchup of the Coach (Dan Bylsma) versus the Captain (Sidney Crosby). The winner of the game-within-the-game might just have the upper hand to move on.