SOCHI, Russia — We know that P.K. Subban will get a chance to dress when Team Canada plays its second game of the Olympics against Austria on Friday night. It remains to be seen how much faith the coaching staff will show in him.
There is an interesting comparison to be made between the reigning Norris Trophy winner and Swedish defenceman Erik Karlsson, the man who won that award immediately before him. Both have a high-risk, high-reward element to their game.
For the Swedes, Karlsson is being employed on a dynamic top pairing with Oliver Ekman-Larsson in Sochi. Those smooth skaters have so much confidence in their ability that they actually led some rushes into the offensive zone during Sweden’s tournament-opening victory over the Czech Republic. Karlsson also scored twice.
Clearly, Swedish coach Par Marts is comfortable riverboat gambling. His other players are fine with it, too.
"You have two guys and you don’t know where they are going to come from," veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson said earlier this week. "I hope with the wider ice they are going to be able to join the rush a lot and help us create offence. It’s going to be up to the third forward and the other defenceman to read. Will there be mishaps? They’re young guys. I’m sure there will be.
"They’re going to more than make up for it with their skating ability, puck handling and shooting."
In theory, the same holds true for Subban — depending on what kind of faith Babcock shows in him. Team Canada’s blue-line is arguably the most impressive in this tournament and Drew Doughty showed the value of mobility at this level with his gorgeous goal against Norway on Thursday night.
One hint about how Subban will be used came with the news that Patrick Sharp will be replaced at forward by Matt Duchene against the Austrians. Sharp had been playing the point on the top power-play unit and there’s even reason to expect Subban to step into that position. He could shine there, too.
It is a storyline worth monitoring during a game that should feature a lot of goals. Austrian coach Emanuel Viveiros and assistant Rob Daum — both natives of the Edmonton area — like to play run-and-gun hockey rather than the trapping style traditionally employed by weaker hockey nations. We certainly saw that during an 8-4 loss against Finland in Austria’s tournament-opener.
The success of this night for Team Canada won’t be measured by the number of goals scored. The process of team-building is more important at this stage of the Olympic tournament for top nations than the actual results themselves — and a big part of that will be striking the right balance throughout the lineup. That includes finding a place for Subban and Duchene in their tournament debuts.
Even though the gold medal will be won with a winner-take-all game on Feb. 23, everything that happens before sets the stage for success.
"To be honest with you, I thought it was good for our team to be in a tight game and make it hard," Babcock said after the 3-1 win over Norway on Thursday. "It’s reality. You don’t have success here without getting better each and every day.
"We’ve got lots to work on."
Subban could be a star for Team Canada or he could be a depth player. The biggest difference between him and Karlsson at this event is that Sweden absolutely needs Karlsson to be a standout if it is going to win gold.
Team Canada still has to decide exactly what it wants from P.K.
Here is a look at Team Canada’s projected lineup for the game vs. Austria: