SOCHI, Russia -- Five thoughts from Canada-Norway:
1. To steal a line from a long-ago burger ad: Where's the beef, Canada?
In the wake of Canada's surprisingly tepid 3-1 win on Thursday over a severely undermanned Norwegian squad, there is no doubt that fans of the defending Olympic champ will be wondering where all the firepower went. For those who are fond of history and are glass-half-empty types, this game will hearken back to Canada's offensive struggles on the big ice in Turin, Italy, in 2006. That team could never get it going on the wider ice surface and lost to lightly regarded Switzerland in the preliminary round before being dispatched in the quarterfinals by Russia. Glass-half-full types will point to more recent history, as in four years ago, when Canada took its sweet time getting into any kind of rhythm, losing to the United States in the preliminary round and being forced to a shootout by Switzerland before ramping it up and winning the gold medal. And it's not as if Canada didn't get lots of good looks Thursday, pouring 38 shots at the Norwegian goal. But managing just three goals with a lineup such as the one Canada put on the ice Thursday still remains something of a shock. Of course, one of the theories about Canada's gold-medal run in Vancouver was that the Canadians actually benefited from playing in an extra qualification game instead of earning a bye to the quarterfinals. The extra qualification game was key to their rounding into gold-medal form. Bottom line? Canada gets the three points for a regulation win, and there's lots of hockey to be played before anyone gets too wound up about a narrow win over a plucky but wildly overmatched Norwegian team.
2. Will St. Louis sit out next game?
The Marty St. Louis saga has been a cause celebre since it was announced earlier this month that his injured Tampa Bay teammate, Steven Stamkos, wasn't able to play in the Olympics. Would Tampa GM and Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman snub St. Louis twice in a row after not naming him to the original roster? Then, when St. Louis was named as Stamkos' replacement, it was believed he might be made a healthy scratch for the opener against Norway. As it turned out, coach Mike Babcock sat Colorado forward Matt Duchene and defending Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens. Babcock did say both would play in the Canadians' second game of the tournament on Friday, against Austria, another lesser team. So does that mean St. Louis will sit? Not necessarily. Babcock actually worked St. Louis through the lineup, and he was effective playing with a number of different forward combinations, finishing with a respectable 10:47 in ice time. But if not St. Louis, who? Well, Canada has so many centers that you could go with Patrice Bergeron, although he is so good defensively and did chip in two assists, including a sweet pass to Jamie Benn that ended up in the net as Canada's second goal. How about Patrick Marleau, who was not particularly noticeable playing with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry? Even though he does kill penalties, I'd go Marleau if anyone asked. Look for Dan Hamhuis to take a seat on the blue line in favor of Subban.
3. Luongo taking the net
The other change already in place for Team Canada is Roberto Luongo coming in to tend goal Friday against an Austria team that was destroyed by an undermanned Finnish squad 8-4 earlier Thursday. With two lesser nations in their first two games, you have to read the tea leaves to see which way Babcock might go in terms of his goaltending, with Canada's only test in the preliminary round coming from Finland on Sunday. There has to be something to giving Carey Price the first start in terms of which of the two will likely start against Finland and continue in net once the tournament turns to sudden-death games next week. But what do you learn about the Montreal netminder's ability to handle the Olympic pressure in a game in which he saw only 20 shots, including two in the waning moments of the middle frame? Chances are Luongo will have a similar experience Friday, although New York Islanders winger Michael Grabner did register a hat trick in a losing effort, beating Tuukka Rask three times, so perhaps the Vancouver netminder will get more of a showcase to prove he should be the guy when Canada finally comes up against some medal-worthy competition. If we had to guess, we'd say Price will be the guy come Sunday and beyond.
4. Benn earning his spot
It may not have been reflected in his ice time -- Jamie Benn played just 8:52 -- but we can't help but continue to be impressed with the evolution of the Dallas Stars' captain. One of only two players on the Canadian team not invited to the team's August orientation camp in Calgary, Benn drew the penalty that led to Canada's first goal (Shea Weber scored on the delayed penalty call) and then took a great pass from Patrice Bergeron to snap home the second goal of the game. If there's a guy on this Canadian team who could be poised for a breakthrough at this tournament, it could be Benn, and we're guessing that opponents will see more and more of the big winger.
5. The Crosby line
If there is a secondary topic among Canadian fans beyond the "what will happen to Martin St. Louis?" storyline, it's who will play with Sidney Crosby. The Canadian captain made a handful of great plays and passes Thursday night, including setting up new linemate Jeff Carter early in the second period, but Carter couldn't convert. Kunitz and Carter combined for five shots on goal, and the trio were held without a point. Does it matter? Probably not. It would be a surprise if Babcock doesn't keep Carter with Crosby and Crosby's longtime Pittsburgh linemate Chris Kunitz through the Austria game, although as we saw in Vancouver, the Canadian coach won't wait too long before mixing things up with his most important player and trying to find some Olympic chemistry.