SOCHI -- It appears the starting goaltending job for Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics is now Carey Price's to lose.
The Montreal Canadiens goaltender will get the nod over Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks when Canada plays Finland with first place in Group B on the line at Bolshoy Ice Dome on Sunday (12 p.m. ET, USA, CBC).
This game being Canada's final one before entering the knockout phase of the Olympic tournament, the lineup chosen by coach Mike Babcock and his coaching staff took on greater importance.
Babcock did acknowledge that reality Saturday when speaking to the media on Canada's day off, but he reminded everyone that it is now up to Price to hold on to the job he's been given.
"We had a plan coming in, and we haven't changed our plan," Babcock said after Canada's morning skate Sunday. "I've said this many times; at the Olympic Games you're allowed one [goalie] change."
If Sunday's news was good for Price, it was just as bad for his Canadiens teammate P.K. Subban and Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis. Subban is the reigning Norris Trophy winner and St. Louis won the Art Ross Trophy as the scoring champion last season, but both will be scratched against Finland.
With Subban and St. Louis going to be the scratched skaters, it allows Matt Duchene to play in his second straight Olympic contest after having a solid outing on Friday against Austria.
"I told [Patrick Sharp] he wasn't going, I told Subban, I told Duchene; these are great players, great people that are committed to us winning a medal," Babcock said. "It's all about the medal. Don't get me wrong, it's personal. When you tell a guy [he's not playing], it's personal. But it's not about that; it's about Canada."
The decision to scratch St. Louis is a vote of confidence for Duchene, who will play a second straight game on left wing with Anaheim Ducks teammates Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry after sitting out Canada's opening game.
"He was hard on the puck, he skated, he has great speed, I thought he gave us energy," Babcock said of Duchene. "I liked him."
Babcock made changes to his forward lines, the most significant one being that Pittsburgh Penguins teammates Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz will be split up. Though Canada Executive Director Steve Yzerman, every member of Yzerman's management team and Babcock have all insisted Kunitz did not make the team solely because of his chemistry with Crosby, it certainly didn't hurt his chances.
Crosby has one assist in the tournament, and it came with Patrick Marleau and Jeff Carter on the ice just after a penalty to Carter ended. Kunitz has no points and has not been on the ice for any of Canada's nine goals through two games.
"This isn't about Kunitz," Babcock said. "Kunitz has played hard."
Crosby had Jamie Benn and Patrice Bergeron on his wings at practice Sunday morning; Kunitz was rotating in with Sharp on a line with Rick Nash and John Tavares. So not only did Babcock split up Kunitz and Crosby, he also split up Sharp and his Chicago Blackhawks teammate Jonathan Toews and what has been one of his more effective lines in Benn, Tavares and Bergeron.
"Benn, Bergeron and Tavares have been a great line," Babcock said. "But the great thing about it is that I can put it back at any time. I've got those lines set up where the wingers can go back and forth seamlessly. Kunitz and Nash can go tonight with Crosby in a heartbeat. So we'll see what happens."
The fluidity of the forward lines up front means there's a chance St. Louis gets back in the lineup later in the tournament. The same cannot be said of the pairings on defense, and that doesn't bode well for Subban.
Babcock and assistant coach Lindy Ruff, who handles the defense, haven't touched the pairings since Canada arrived in Sochi. They really haven't had any reason to do so.
That means Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis will likely grab some shifts from Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jay Bouwmeester against Finland, just as he did in Canada's opening game against Norway. He will also kill penalties with Vlasic.
As jumbled as the forward lines have been, that's how consistent things have remained on defense for Canada.
"In all the practices leading up, they seem to stick with what they started with so guys have an opportunity to kind of gel with the guy beside him," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Obviously me and [Jay Bouwmeester] are a different scenario; we've been together all year. We're lucky in that sense."
Finland represents Canada's stiffest test of the tournament, even though it is missing injured centers Mikko Koivu, Valtteri Filppula and Aleksander Barkov, as well as center Saku Koivu, who chose not to compete in Sochi.
"They've been playing some good hockey, been putting up some big goals," Pietrangelo said. "They have a lot of firepower up front and some pretty good skating D back there. When it comes to the goaltending, everybody knows how deep they are back there. It's going to be a good test."
Author: Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com