Commentary

Can Canada avoid another 'shock'?

Updated: August 28, 2009, 12:43 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

CALGARY, Alberta -- Rick Nash usually buried shots like this one in his sleep. A one-timer in front, with the goalie sprawled across the crease. Nine times out of 10, the puck ended up in the back of the net.

But the unusual happened at the 2006 Olympics. Swiss netminder Martin Gerber made a sensational glove save right on the goal line, a miraculous play that needed a video review before it was official.

Gerber, playing the game of his life, turned away all 49 Team Canada shots in Torino, Italy, including the barrage in the third period when the Canadians outshot the Swiss 24-1, in a 2-0 upset that sent Canada's Olympic tournament spiraling.

[+] EnlargeJarome Iginla
Mike Ridewood/Getty ImagesJarome Iginla, back at another Canadian Olympic camp this week, was paired mostly on a line with Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash.

"That was definitely a bit of a shock to the system," star winger Jarome Iginla said Thursday, looking back. "We couldn't get one by him. He was great. We had a ton of chances. On another day with that many chances … but that game was hard on us. It was hard on our offense."

The offense, such as it was, never recovered and was shut out against Finland in the next game. A 3-2 win over the Czechs was only a temporary relief before another 2-0 loss, this one in the quarterfinals to Russia.

An offense with the likes of Nash, Iginla, Vincent Lecavalier, Joe Thornton, Joe Sakic, Martin St. Louis, Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton was shut out in three of its final four games. Three and a half years later, it's still a head-scratcher.

"It's tough to say," Nash said this week at the Canadian Olympic camp. "So much firepower on [that] team, maybe just not the right chemistry. It's tough to look back and say what happened, but there's no reason that should have happened with that scoring power."

"I don't know if I can pinpoint it," added Iginla, who said the 2006 team's star forwards collectively began to squeeze the lumber into sawdust at the worst possible time.

How could that much offense dry up at once?

"You look at the team we had, it was pretty good," Lecavalier said Thursday on the last day of Canada's Olympic camp. "We just didn't get it done. That's all it is. It was very disappointing. Those of us who were there who may get a chance to go again, that would be a chance to redeem ourselves."

Some will get a chance to redeem themselves, others won't. A youthful injection -- led by Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Eric Staal and Jonathan Toews -- will give Canada's offensive machine a needed boost.

Many Canadians lament the fact that Crosby wasn't on the 2006 team. But he was never really in the conversation when the management team deliberated the final picks, in large part because Crosby wasn't at the summer camp in 2005. Sid insists to this day that he was never insulted by it. He was 18 at the time, which people seem to forget.

"When I wasn't there, it wasn't a huge shock," Crosby said this week. "I was really young and still had a lot to prove. Canada is just full of depth -- you look at the guys that represent the country, it's pretty incredible to see how much depth they have. It wasn't a huge ordeal at all."

Four years later, with a scoring title, Hart Trophy and Stanley Cup in tow, Crosby is the biggest lock for the 2010 team. And it's clear Team Canada coach Mike Babcock wants to figure out something that works with the superstar center. Although the Detroit Red Wings coach has continually shuffled his forward lines all week, one forward pairing that hasn't budged one iota is Crosby and Nash.

"I think there's something there," Babcock said.

The speedy Crosby and hulking Nash should prove to be a formidable force, but there's very little history between them. This week might prove critical in the development of their partnership.

"I've always kind of known his strengths, but as you get out there, you see things," Crosby said Thursday. "He's got great speed, but he does an even better job of kind of slowing down and knowing when to turn it on. As someone who tries to make plays and set up guys, now I know I have to put it in areas for him and play to his strengths a bit. He's got a lot of size and he's going to get that space, so it's a matter of me finding him."

Things didn't come naturally the first few days in practice, but it eventually jelled.

"Things have been getting better with him each day," said Nash, the Columbus Blue Jackets' captain. "I found that Wednesday we were finding each other out there and giving each other good opportunities. You're not going to tell for sure until you get into a game experience, but it's been a fun week playing with him."

Crosby and Nash will only be effective, however, if the back end feeds them the puck. Looking back, that's an area Kevin Lowe believes was an issue in Torino. The Edmonton Oilers president is part of the Canadian management team for a third straight Olympics, and he thinks Canada lacked a transition game in 2006.

"You saw this week in some of the practices, we were engaging the defense in the offense," Lowe said. "Right now, that would probably be the biggest difference [from '06]."

Of course, having Scott Niedermayer for these Olympics will be a major boost for Team Canada. He's the country's premier puck mover and missed out on Torino after undergoing knee surgery. Add in Shea Weber, Dan Boyle and Duncan Keith, and you have some of the NHL's most skilled puck movers.

Suddenly, the puck is moving from one end to the other in a hurry and Team Canada sees itself spending more time in the offensive zone.

That's the plan, anyway.

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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