USA Hockey Acing, Canada Failing the Chemistry Test at 2014 Olympics

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USA Hockey Acing, Canada Failing the Chemistry Test at 2014 Olympics
Nathan Denette/AP Images

Hockey coaches have to be more than just X’s and O’s people who toe the delicate balance between angry parent and understanding pal in an effort to keep their players motivated.

They also act as amateur chemists that attempt to concoct the perfect mixture of forwards.

While one coach is excelling at this during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, another has been watching his experiments nearly explode in his face.

Team USA's Dan Bylsma has been Marie Curie, discovering a radioactive mix of elements that have transformed his squad into a dangerous team that has reaped devastation on those who have attempted to handle it.

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

Team Canada's Mike Babcock has been more like Dr. Frankenstein, assembling a monster that appears human but has villagers ready to destroy it if it doesn’t get its act together immediately.

That’s the (half-)life in a short tournament with players who are mostly only vaguely familiar with each other, and Bylsma's work is worthy of a Nobel Prize while Babcock is worthy of whatever is the opposite of a Nobel Prize.

Perhaps a Lebon Prize?

Get it? It's Nobel backward.

Anyway, the good doctors Bylsma and Babcock are both undefeated at the Olympics, but each took different approaches to creating the chemistry of their teams.

Team USA rolled Slovakia 7-1 in its opening game of the tournament, an impressive win at the time that became less remarkable as the Slovaks failed to win a single game at Sochi. All four lines were involved in at least one goal with forwards scoring six of the seven goals. 

Bylsma liked what he saw and essentially put his feet up on his desk and ceased to worry about line combinations over his next three games. Outside of some fourth-line shuffling in group play, the only notable switch Bylsma has made with his lines was swapping left wings Zach Parise and Dustin Brown for the Czech Republic quarterfinal matchup.

Parise and Brown each scored a goal in the 5-2 win against the Czechs.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Bylsma decided on his lines before the tournament and with his team winning and producing, he left things alone for the most part.

Babcock went the other way in his chemistry experiment. His laboratory is probably so disheveled and smoke-filled that you’d think Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker were working there.

Canada didn’t have the cakewalk Team USA did in its preliminary-round opener, beating Norway 3-1. There were some issues in the first period of that game, but Canada outshot Norway 14-2 in the second period and 29-11 over the final 40 minutes.

Canada dominated play but didn’t dominate the scoreboard. Outside of a 6-0 victory against Austria, it’s been the theme for the Canadians at the Olympics.

Yet instead of taking Bylsma's approach, Babcock has been mixing and matching between every game.

Sidney Crosby has yet to play with the same linemates in any game at Sochi. He has zero goals and two assists in four games as the revolving doors on wings have featured Chris Kunitz, Patrice Bergeron, Jamie Benn and Martin St. Louis.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

By spending so much time on attempting to ignite his perceived top line—which has generated numerous glorious chances in every game except for the Finland contest that Canada won 2-1 in overtime—Babcock may be doing damage to his other forward groups and by extension his team.

Take the victory against Austria, a thorough beating by any standard.

Jeff Carter had three goals acting as the 13th forward roving through different linemates. The fourth line with John Tavares, Bergeron and Benn combined for nine shots. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Marleau were the trigger men on Carter’s other two goals.

Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and combined for seven shots with linemates Corey Perry and Matt Duchene.

The only line that came up empty as a line was Kunitz-Crosby-St. Louis, although they generated seven shots and were a consistent threat.

Instead of leaving well enough alone and letting everyone stick together for Canada’s first tough game against Finland, Babcock once again changed Crosby’s linemates. By doing so, he broke up a fourth line that was a consistent threat over the first two games and it almost cost Canada against Finland. 

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With Tavares out for the remainder of the Olympics with a knee injury, Babcock will have no choice but to tinker once again, but he doesn’t need to partake in another makeover. He can simply insert Duchene into Tavares’ spot on the fourth line and leave everyone else alone. It would give his top-nine forwards some rare consistency in what will be Canada’s toughest matchup of the tournament.

If Bylsma goes all Dr. Frankenstein and drops Bergeron to fourth-line center and puts Duchene back with Marleau and Toews and moves Carter up with Crosby and slides Sharp over to…

You get the picture.

And that’s been the difference between Bylsma and Babcock. Bylsma has been playing the long game at Sochi, allowing his players to stick together in the hopes of developing chemistry. Babcock has been throwing random chemical compounds at a wall hoping to create an explosion.

If Babcock doesn’t figure it out before Friday, the villagers carrying torches and pitchforks will be fans wearing Team Canada jerseys.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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