By Arpon Basu | NHL.com
SOCHI -- Perhaps Sidney Crosby was holding Jeff Carter back?
Carter was removed from Crosby's wing on Canada's top line Friday and the Los Angeles Kings forward promptly scored a natural hat trick in the second period of a 6-0 rout of Austria in Group B play at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Carter's three goals came on a rebound off a post, a wraparound after a goalie giveaway behind the net, and a rebound on the doorstep.
In all, the three goals might have traveled a total of 5 feet.
"I don't think I've had [a hat trick] like that before," Carter said. "I'll take them any way they can come right now. My linemates did a great job of winning races and winning puck battles and getting pucks to the net. I guess I could say I was the recipient of their hard work."
One day after opening the tournament with a rather understated 3-1 win against Norway, the Canadians turned it on, also getting goals from Carter's Kings teammate Drew Doughty, Shea Weber and Ryan Getzlaf before the game was 40 minutes old.
A few hundred yards away Finland was beating Norway 6-1, setting up a showdown for first place in Group B against Canada on Sunday (Noon ET, USA, CBC).
"We're looking forward to the matchup against Finland," Doughty said. "Obviously they're going to be our toughest matchup yet. At the same time, no matter who we face we're going to have the same confidence and the same swagger. We're looking forward to it."
Austria, after a relatively strong showing in an 8-4 loss to Finland on Thursday, clearly was overmatched Friday.
The Austrians were outshot 46-23 and coach Emanuel Viveiros pulled goalie Bernhard Starkbaum after he allowed six goals on 31 shots in two periods.
"They could probably make five teams with the guys they left at home," said New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner, one of three NHL players on the Austrian team. "They're definitely one of the favorites, if not the favorite, so I think we can be proud of our effort. Obviously we would've liked to score a goal or two, but they're a great team. It was a tough game."
Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith each dressed for their first game for Canada. Duchene played on a line with Anaheim Ducks teammates Corey Perry and Getzlaf, and Subban rotated in to take shifts with Duncan Keith and Jay Bouwmeester.
Canada coach Mike Babcock scratched forward Patrick Sharp and defenseman Dan Hamhuis to make room for Duchene and Subban, but said after the game those players will be in against Finland.
That means Babcock will need to tell two more elite players they won't be in uniform for Canada's biggest game of the tournament thus far.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, Babcock did not have this lineup shuffling to manage because he dressed the same 22 players for every game. He wishes he could do that here.
"It's way harder; it's ridiculous actually," he said. "You tell an athlete who competed hard and did things right that he's not playing. That's no fun. If you're [Sharp], for example, you're a high-, high-end player. I grab him when he's walking in [Friday] to tell him that he's not playing and he doesn't ask me why.
"It's good he didn't ask me why because I've got no reason why."
Smith was the backup to goaltender Robert Luongo, who made 23 saves for the shutout, though he needed to be sharp early; the Austrians had a pair of high-quality scoring chances in the first five minutes of the game.
Another decision Babcock will need to make while the players have an off day Saturday is whether Luongo or Carey Price will start against Finland.
"I'm not here to plead my case, man," Luongo said. "It doesn't matter what happens moving forward. It's not about personal agendas; it's about representing your country and doing whatever it takes to help them win."
Carter began Friday as Babcock's 13th forward and took a tripping penalty at 29 seconds of the second period, making his spot in the lineup against Finland suddenly rather tenuous.
"I know I didn't have my best game last game," Carter said, "so I wanted to come out and have a good showing."
He did as soon as he stepped out of the penalty box.
Carter created a turnover at the Austria blue line to send Crosby flying into the zone. He set up Patrick Marleau for a marvelous chance that hit the post, but Carter was there to tap it into an open net at 2:39.
"I just drove the back post," Carter said. "Patty made a nice pass."
Less than two minutes later, Starkbaum got caught behind his net and gave the puck to Carter, who pulled a wraparound to put it through the goaltender's legs at 4:09 of the second.
Carter again was in the right place at the right time when a rebound of a Marleau shot bounced right to him at the side of the net and he had a yawning net at 14:33, giving him three goals on four shots in less than five minutes of ice time.
"Confidence in these tournaments is the big thing with it being so short," Carter said. "You get a goal and you start to feel good about yourself. Your legs start to feel a little better, the hands start to feel a little better and it feels like the game starts to get a little easier."
Carter also was on the ice when Getzlaf scored a gorgeous goal at 16:48 of the second, toe-dragging around Austrian defender Thomas Koch before beating Starkbaum to make it 6-0.
Carter was a plus-5 at that point in the game because he also was on the ice when Doughty opened the scoring with a wrist shot from the point at 5:24 of the first period, the defenseman's second goal of the tournament.
Weber made it 2-0 scoring on a blistering slap shot at 10:12 of the first, but it was the play that preceded it that may have been the nicest of the game.
Getzlaf was skating up the right side of the ice and sent a backhand saucer pass clear across to the other wing to a streaking Perry, who knocked the puck out of the air and onto his stick with one hand. Once he crossed the blue line, Perry used the toe of his stick to leave a drop pass through his legs to Weber, who one-timed it past Starkbaum.
Starkbaum never saw it go past him, and many people in the building didn't see it go in after the puck hit the back of the net and popped back out, but the referee signaled a goal, giving the Nashville Predators captain two in two games.
"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. "If you're going to let him shoot it then he's going to open up something else for somebody. He can flat out shoot it."
Now Babcock has some decisions to make.
He said Canada's coaches will not be allowed to speak to the players Saturday other than to say hi, and they will get a day to recover from playing twice in two nights. The coaching staff will not, however, as they wrestle with the idea of leaving three players who may be the best players on most other teams in street clothes against Finland.
Smith surely will be one of the players not dressed for Canada, but the identity of the other two remains a big unknown.
In all likelihood it's even unknown to Babcock himself.
"That's not something I look forward to at all," he said. "These are good men, good people that are giving their time to represent Canada. It's got to be hard on them. The only benefit they can gain from this experience is when they go back to their teams and the guy that's shaking their hand as they're walking in after the game who's scratched all the time, they're going to have more appreciation for them and how hard it is for them."
That probably won't be of much consolation to the unlucky two.