February 25, 2010
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Before meeting in Sunday's U.S. vs. Canada showdown, Jonathan Toews(notes) and Patrick Kane(notes) shared a cab (cue obvious Kane jokes) here in Vancouver. Toews said it had only been a couple of days since they spoke but "it felt, like, really longer. I don't know why."
If there's separation anxiety between the two Chicago Blackhawks stars, it should be on the ice: Toews has been a revelation for Team Canada, playing a vital role in his team's resurgence, while Kane has struggled mightily offensively for Team USA.
It's not hyperbolic to say that, despite his team's success, Kane has been one of the tournament's major disappointments.
"It's frustrating for sure, but other guys are stepping up right now," said Kane, after the U.S.'s win over Switzerland on Wednesday. "We'll take the win over goals any day."
Kane has one goal in four games, the tally coming in a 6-1 blowout over Norway. He didn't score a point in his other three games, including a one-shot effort against the Canadians.
His ice time started at 18:22, skating with Zach Parise(notes) and Paul Stastny(notes). That line was scuttled, and Kane was dropped down with Ryan Kesler(notes) and either Bobby Ryan(notes) or Dustin Brown(notes). His ice time dropped under 16:40 for the rest of the tournament, including 16:13 against the Swiss in the quarterfinals.
"Sometimes you just need chemistry. Sometimes you just need to get going with the puck. I almost had a couple of assists tonight, but the goals were called back," said Kane after the often-bizarre Switzerland game.
"What are you going to do with the bounces like that? Right now, it's not working."
Coach Ron Wilson has defended Kane's play from criticism on a few occasions here, applauding what Kane's done away from the puck and claiming the focus on struggling offensive players is too intense (via ESPN):
"We're doing something right to be 4-0," said Wilson. "This happens all the time in the NHL, where the so-called top players go without a goal. Here, we're talking [Alex] Ovechkin goes a game without a goal and we're saying, 'What's wrong with him?' Or [Jarome] Iginla goes two games without a goal and we say, 'What's wrong with Iginla?' This is hard hockey.
"We tend to overanalyze everything. The only thing that matters is what we feel inside that dressing room."
Toews, meanwhile, has seven points (all assists) in his five games with Team Canada, including two against the U.S and two more against Russia. Outside of a brief stint with Sidney Crosby(notes), he's been a force on the team's de facto fourth line, paired with Mike Richards(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers.
"You have your work cut out for you when you play like that. You knew what to expect. We're going to get chances, and they're going to get scoring opportunities," Toews said. "We did whatever we did to frustrate them. Richie and Nash are great skaters. We can play offense, too. But it's defense for us, too."
His credentials as a two-way center are now cemented, too, thanks to efforts like those against the Russians. The grinders on this Canadian team are few, especially in comparison with the Americans. But Toews has given them that dynamic, and it's been essential in Canada righting its ship.
The biggest revelation for Toews has been his physical play. He's looked like a power forward in this tournament, playing down low in the zone and making things happen.
Beyond just the job Toews and his teammates did defensively on Wednesday night, Toews has been exceptional the entire tournament. Through Wednesday night's game, Toews is the overall tournament leader in plus-minus with an astounding +9 rating, leads the entire tournament field with seven assists, and is tied with teammate Dany Heatley(notes) for the overall tournament points lead at seven.
In each of Canada's last three games, Toews has been one of the best players on the ice for either team. His unselfish play on a team full of superstars is something any collection of individuals needs to be successful. In five games, Toews has only taken six shots. Toews is averaging almost three shots per game in the regular season for the Blackhawks and is tied for second on the team with 19 goals; we're not talking about assist-only Joe Thornton(notes) here. Toews is a very good scorer. But he has taken a secondary scoring role because it's what Canada needs from him, and he's rewarded his countrymen with an exceptional tournament.
Canada can be content that Toews has been given a role and excelled in it. Team USA can't feel so good about Kane not living up to the role in which he's been cast, which is as one of the few American scorers who can create his own offense. He hasn't been a liability; he just hasn't produced. With Finland and a potential gold-medal rematch against the Canadians looming, now is the time to start.