SOCHI, Russia — Team Canada coach Mike Babcock has probably the best team in the world at his disposal. But that doesn’t mean he has the easiest job. With so many superstars on his roster, he has to find a few to scratch each night in a short Olympic tournament.
On Friday night in Canada’s 6-0 rout of Austria, it was Patrick Sharp’s turn.
“It’s way harder [than in 2010],” Babcock said. “It’s ridiculous, actually. You tell an athlete he competed hard, he did things right, and that he’s not playing. It’s no fun. If you’re Sharpie for example, you’re a high, high-end player. I grab him when he’s walking in today to tell him he’s not playing. Doesn’t ask me why. It’s good he doesn’t ask me why, because I’ve got no reason why.”
Babcock did say after the game that Sharp (along with Dan Hamhuis) will return to the lineup Sunday against Finland in Canada’s final preliminary game.
With defenseman P.K. Subban entering the lineup — the Norris Trophy winner was a scratch for Thursday’s opener against Norway, another perfect example of Babcock’s first-world problems — Babcock wanted to see the Montreal defenseman on the point on the power play. That’s Sharp’s spot. So Babcock scratched Sharp and had Colorado’s Matt Duchene make his Olympic debut.
Jonathan Toews, Sharp’s roommate in the Olympic village talked with him before the game.
“It’s not easy,” Toews said. “I’m sure he’s — I won’t say frustrated — but not happy. Anyone in that position wants to play, coming this far. We know Sharpie will be ready for any chance he gets and when he does get that chance, he’s going to make a difference.”
Duncan Keith hadn’t seen Sharp but wasn’t worried about his mental state.
“We’re all big boys,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything I’m going to say that’s going to benefit him. At the end of the day, we’ve got a lot of great players. It’s just one game and I’m sure he’ll be back in there sooner or later.”
As for the game itself, it was no contest. Jeff Carter scored a natural hat trick of goals from right in front of the net in the second period, and Canada also got tallies from Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Ryan Getzlaf. Toews had an assist, and Patrick Marleau had three.
Weber’s goal came on a slap shot so hard, the referees had to review it just to make sure it went in before it came out.
“I don’t play my best players penalty killing when we play Nashville, just flat out because I’m afraid they will break their leg or their ankle — he shoots it that hard,” Babcock said.
Roberto Luongo made 23 saves for the shutout, one night after Carey Price was sharp against Norway. Babcock said he was leaning toward a day off on Saturday, and did not reveal which goalie would play against Finland.
It was an emphatic win for the tournament favorite — and a noticeable improvement from Canada’s sleepy 3-1 win over Norway.
“We’ve talked about getting better from the start, and I think if you look back at the first six periods of this tournament, we’ve gotten better every period,” Keith said. “We just want to keep doing that.”