Get ready for a round of the crying game in Canada.
Everything is fine and dandy at the moment, as the NHL prepares to go on hiatus while the best players in the league head to Sochi to participate in the Olympics.
While countries like the United States, Sweden and Finland all have hopes and desires of bringing home a gold medal, the pressure isn't too great. If any of them fail, it's not the end of the world.
However, the pressure is intense on Canada and host nation Russia. Both countries expect to win gold and anything else will be a disappointment.
The guess here is that neither of those two countries will win. The home team will crumble under the weight of heavy expectations and fall short in the medal round.
Canada has a brilliant roster led by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos (hopefully) and Patrice Bergeron, and an equal number of stars on defense. However, the Canadians have one not-so-little problem: Their goaltending is substandard.
Canada's netminding corps is comprised of Carey Price, Roberto Luongo and Mike Smith. Hockey Canada decided to leave Corey Crawford, the country's best goaltender, home. That's a mistake.
Price has been overrated for years—especially this year. He got off to a brilliant start with the Montreal Canadiens and he has been feted in feature stories and headlines all crowing about his remarkable talent.
However, as the season has gone beyond the midway point, Price's numbers have come down to earth. He has a 2.50 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and two shutouts. His 22-16-4 record is decent, but not worthy of an Olympic invitation.
But let's look at the big picture.
Price has been playing goal for the Habs since the 2007-08 season, when he got the call as a 20-year-old. He was at his best in 2010-11 and 2011-12, when he had 2.35 and 2.43 GAA marks, respectively.
He has never been below 2.50 in any other season. He has also struggled in big games. His Canadiens were blown out of the playoffs last year by the Ottawa Senators in five games and Price had a 3.26 GAA and .897 save percentage. He has not been involved in a playoff series win since 2009-10.
Luongo was in net for the Canadians when they won gold in Vancouver in 2010. However, he was not on top of his game then, giving up the tying goal to American Zach Parise late in the third period of the gold-medal game. He was looking quite shaky in the extra session until Crosby bailed him out with his "golden goal" in overtime.
Luongo deserves credit for holding it together this year after it looked like the Canucks were going to trade him last year. Most goaltenders would have fallen apart under the circumstances, but Luongo has a 2.25 GAA and .921 save percentage.
With that said, Luongo still has to overcome the stigma that he is not a big-game goalie.
He had his opportunity to prove his worth in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, but fell short. He was abused by the Bruins in the games played in Boston and unable to steady himself in the seventh game, when the Bruins took home the Stanley Cup with a 4-0 victory.
Smith has largely been an underrated goalie throughout his career. He has starred, at times, for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Phoenix Coyotes. However, he is clearly the third goalie for Canada and is not likely to get a chance to do anything but serve as a backup.
Canada does not have the goaltending strength of Finland (Tuukka Rask and Antti Niemi), Sweden (Henrik Lundqvist) or the United States (Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller). However, it would have a much better chance if it had selected Crawford.
In many ways, Crawford is the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. Despite backstopping the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup last year with a remarkable showing in playoff victories over the Minnesota Wild, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and Boston Bruins, he does not get much respect.
Crawford had a 1.84 GAA as well as a .932 save percentage during last year's playoffs. So far this season, he has a 2.47 GAA and a .910 save percentage. While that's a bit worse than last year's postseason effort, Crawford tends to be at his best in the biggest games.
He is also at his best after a bad game.
After giving up five goals in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Bruins, appearing to display a weakness on high shots to his glove side, he bounced back by giving up three goals in the final two games of the series.
That's how great goaltenders respond. They come up big when their team needs them most. They also have very short memories. That cannot be said about Price or Luongo.
Crawford will be home watching the Olympics on television. He'll be able to watch Price and Luongo give up big goals at key moments.
Canada may bring home a bronze medal, but that's it.
It will be tears in the Canadians' beers when the five-ring tournament comes to a close. That result was clinched when Canada decided to leave Crawford at home.
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