Sochi hockey notebook: Kunitz dropped to fourth line on Team Canada
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, 5:36 p.m.
SOCHI, Russia — It didn't take long for Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby to be separated. But then, the Olympic hockey tournament isn't long.
Kunitz was dropped to the fourth line for Canada's 2-1 overtime win Sunday over Finland, skating with John Tavares, Rick Nash and Patrick Sharp rotating through as an extra forward. The result wasn't much better, as Kunitz was robbed on his best chance by a spectacular glove save from Tuukka Rask.
That left Kunitz with no points, four shots and a visible bundle of nerves through the three-game round robin.
“I think Kunitz did real good where he was,” Canada coach Mike Babcock said, referring to the first two games. “But to me, this wasn't about Kunitz. It was about our overall team and just trying to find things that work.”
Crosby's completely new line — his fourth combination in as many games — had him flanked by Jamie Benn and Patrice Bergeron. It was no upgrade.
The problem is hardly new. Babcock struggled just as much to find wingers for Crosby in Vancouver four years ago, which is one reason — though Canadian officials deny it was the primary reason — Kunitz was added to this roster.
Crosby had the unlikeliest of lengthy chirping sessions with Finland's Teemu Selanne, famously one of the NHL's cleanest players. After Crosby was taken down in the first period to draw a Finland penalty, Selanne skated up to Crosby and — according to an NBC reporter at ice level — accused him of diving. The two stayed at it the rest of the period.
Selanne laughed it off afterward: “A Norwegian ref wouldn't have called a penalty there.”
Crosby similarly downplayed it: “I leave conversation on the ice on the ice. Two guys competing, obviously emotional. If he wants to talk about it, let him, but I don't think it was much. Just two guys who are pretty intense.”
Olli Maatta's competitive nature was on display again after Finland's OT loss when he clearly took no solace in helping to hold the mighty Canadians to one regulation goal.
“We can play a lot better defensively than that,” Maatta said. “We have to get a lot tighter.”
Maatta was clipped near the right eye by a Nash high stick in the second period but returned for the third and expressed no problem.
Despite registering five shots, Evgeni Malkin was held without a point for a second consecutive game in Russia's 1-0 shootout win over a poor Slovakia team.
Malkin's line, with Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, remained intact despite none of them scoring since the opening game. There's no indication that will change.
Hockey a hit
Pittsburgh's 9.8 local rating for the U.S.-Russia game Saturday was No. 1 in the country, according to NBC Sports Network, which carried it. That means about 294,000 regional viewers watched the game.
Boston was next with a 9.2 rating, then Buffalo at 8.5.
Dejan Kovacevic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Dejan_Kovacevic.
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