By Corey Masisak | NHL.com
SOCHI -- All of the gold-medal contenders have opened the 2014 Sochi Olympics with a victory, but the two that played Thursday at Bolshoy Ice Dome had more trouble than expected.
A few hours after Russia struggled to put away Slovenia, Canada defeated Norway 3-1 in Group B on goals from Shea Weber, Jamie Benn and Drew Doughty.
"I thought in the second and third [periods] we were really good," Canada captain Sidney Crosby said. "[It] took us a period to really get our feet under us. I think that is normal when you throw a bunch of guys together. I think getting our speed and figuring it out was important. I think we played at a really high pace, and I thought we did a really good job of that in the second and the third and hopefully that is something that will get better."
It was a victory with flaws for Canada, which looked disjointed at times. Eventually the Canadians started to dominate, but even then the Norwegians had a power play in the final two minutes and were down two goals.
For Norway, a country that has qualified for the Olympics nine previous times and never finished higher than ninth, keeping the game close against a traditional power qualified as a success.
"We got pushed back into the defensive zone throughout the second and third period, and that kind of emptied our tank there, but we kept the score low," Norway forward Patrick Thoresen said. "[It is] a little bit too bad that they got the 3-1 goal so early after we reduced the score to 2-1. Maybe we could have shaken them a little more in the end, but obviously they're the best team in the world so we have to be a little bit satisfied, too, even if it hurts to lose."
It took a little more than 26 minutes before Weber, the Nashville Predators captain, put Canada in front with a blast from the left point. After Weber's goal, the Canadians began to exert their might on the Norwegians.
Benn, the Dallas Stars captain, made it 2-0 at 15:19. Patrice Bergeron sent a pass from the right wall to Benn, who snapped a shot in off the left post while off balance. Benn had been on the receiving end of a big open-ice hit from Norway captain Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, who delivered several crunching blows and spearheaded a physical approach against the bigger, faster Canadians.
Bergeron had two assists as coach Mike Babcock rotated him, Benn, John Tavares and Martin St. Louis on Canada's fourth line. St. Louis earned shifts on other lines to find ice time as the 13th forward.
"They were outstanding," Babcock said of the fourth liners. "Two played on the power play, two played on the penalty kill, and then they filled in all over the place. I thought they were really good and were one of our better lines, to tell you the truth. I thought Bergeron had a real strong game, Tavares had a real strong game, Benn was moving, and St. Louis played all over. Those four guys, for me, played well."
Norway did not have a shot on goal in the first 18 minutes of the second period. At one point the Norwegians were called for icing on three consecutive stoppages. They finished the period with two shots on goal, but one effectively was a dump-in and the other rolled off a player's stick to Canada goaltender Carey Price.
"It's being really focused on the details," Canada forward Jonathan Toews said. "But for the most part we've got to trust our instincts and make plays when we know they are there. We just have to have patience and confidence with the puck.
"It was fun. You could see us loosen up as the game went on. We're just going to keep on getting better."
The Canadians were unable to put the Norwegians away, and Thoresen cut the lead to 2-1 22 seconds into the third period. Price was unable to come up with the puck behind his net with Norway on the power play. Mathis Olimb snared it, skated into position, and Thoresen deflected his shot.
Canada did not need long to answer. Doughty split two Norwegian forwards, skated into the slot, and backhanded a shot into the top left corner at 1:47 of the third.
"[Doughty] was telling us that was the first ever backhand goal of his life," Babcock said. "I don't know if I buy that."
There were some nervy times early for Canada. Norway was able to keep Canada scoreless in the first period when the Canadians failed to generate much time in the offensive zone, let alone quality scoring chances. Lars Haugen stopped all nine shots he faced for Norway in the first.
Just like Russia in a 5-2 victory earlier in the day, Canada not only was expected to win, but do so convincingly. Babcock and his players said they were not concerned about style points, though goal differential can play a role in seeding later in the tournament.
"What am I going to say? I mean, you can watch the game and everyone's going to have their own opinion," Crosby said when asked about possible criticism for not winning by enough. "I thought we generated a lot of good chances. I thought we could've had more goals. I thought their goalie did some good things. But they play good as a team and every team here is here for a reason. There's a lot of good teams here and we respect them, and we don't expect games like that."