Quick Shifts: ‘Unbelievable’ Kessel wows Kane

Phil Kessel. (Bruce Bennett/Getty)

A quick mix of the things we gleaned from the week of hockey, serious and silly, and rolling four lines deep.

1. Patrick Kane may have inadvertently downgraded his Chicago Blackhawks captain as he heaped on praise for fellow Team USA forward Phil Kessel.

Kane figures Kessel is “probably the best guy I’ve ever played with. He’s unbelievable.”

Kessel entered the Olympic tournament as the NHL’s hottest scorer, and hasn’t slowed down a bit. Entering Wednesday’s quarterfinal round, Kessel leads all scorers with seven points (four goals, three assists).

We secured a photo of Jonathan Toews upon hearing Kane’s comments. Here it is.

2. Love that the first goal of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament was scored by Sweden’s Erik Karlsson, when his friend and former Ottawa Senators teammate Daniel Alfredsson screened Czech goaltender Jakub Kovar. Sweet reunion.

Even better, the mentor and his protege took in some ice skating. Give these guys two months with a choreographer and some sharper skates, guaranteed they could contend for a bronze in ice dancing:

3. Worst excuse of the Olympic tournament, hands down, goes to Alois Hadamczik. The head coach of the Czech Republic said he didn’t dress Ondrej Pavelec — his only NHL goaltender — for the nation’s opening game against Sweden in order to give Pavelec more time to adjust to the time zone change. Laughable. Hadamczik said this after the Czechs lost 4-2 to the Swedes, chasing starter Jakub Kovar in the process.

4. If there is a better goal celebration than that of the Japanese women’s team, we haven’t seen it:

5. Some onlookers grumbled when Team Canada coach Mike Babcock decided to dress every single roster player, including third-string goalie Mike Smith, in at least one game of round-robin action. I love it. Babcock took advantage of a soft group (Austria, Norway) and made sure each one of his players got on a game sheet, thus ensuring that everyone will get a medal if/when Canada finishes in the top three. Lauded for his attention to detail, Babcock also has a firm grasp on the big picture.

This was in evidence at The Big House on New Year’s Day. Here is what Babcock said, after we remind you, his team lost the game.

“Be thankful for the experience. Remember the experience. I think it’s so important,” he recalled telling his Red Wings players. “Life’s about moments. You only remember moments. You don’t remember everything. This is one of those things.”

He was talking about the Winter Classic. Same applies to Sochi.

6. Personal memories aside, Babcock’s club team is unlikely to look back on Sochi with much fondness. Not only do the Detroit Red Wings have a league-high 10 players in Sochi, their coach and general manager have also spent two weeks concerned with international play. Add to that a banged-up Pavel Datsyuk is playing (marvelously, mind you) despite Babcock’s advice (“My injury does not bother me at all. Babcock is not my concern right now”) and captain Henrik Zetterberg herniated a disc in his back, and the Wings — scrapping for a wild card in the East — could see their 22 consecutive playoff appearances streak come to an end this spring.

7. My favourite comment from the relatively tight-lipped Babcock during the first week of the tournament came as he was explaining how he changed his team’s sleep schedule for the 9 p.m. local puck drops.

“We’ve tried to turn 9 p.m. into 7 p.m. by the time we get up and what we do with the day,” Babcock said. “It’s 2:30 in the morning and you’re sitting around every night. And then body-clock wise, Duncan [Keith] said you had to race over to get a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin before they shut down breakfast so you have to get there early enough. So there’s priorities like that.”

Amazing. Duncan Keith flies across the world and morphs into Adam Sandler’s character from Big Daddy:

8. After Team USA’s T.J. Oshie put on the greatest individual shootout display ever, going an incredible four-for-six in the skills contest, he received props from the White House and his Wikipedia page was immediately updated to describe him as an American hero. Also: “Vladimir Putin has challenged him to a Hell in a Cell match at the next Wrestlemania.”

9. The most prominent trend on display through the first week of Olympic men’s hockey tournament was the importance of defenceman-generated offence.

The Swedes (Erik Karlsson), Finns (Olli Maatta), Czechs (Marek Zidlicky) and Canadians (Drew Doughty) were all led in scoring by a defencemen. Canada’s six goals scored by defencemen are already the most by any Team Canada in the professional era. Early in their second game of the tournament, Canada’s blue-liners had already scored four times. Canadian defencemen scored four total goals en route to the gold medal in Vancouver in 2010.

10. Henrik Lundqvist became the first goalie to record shutouts in two separate Olympic Games in the professional era, as Team Sweden cruised to the No. 1 seed after round-robin action. One company that must be stoked with The King’s play is Bauer. The hockey equipment giant hooked up Lundqvist exclusively with a revolutionary set of pads for Sochi.

The skeleton of Lundqvist’s OD1N pads was designed with a high-density foam so rebounds would leave his crease as quickly as possible. Look for it. You’ll see how fast low shots at Lundqvist kick out.

“Henrik Lundqvist wants the puck to hit his pad and fly away as quickly as possible from the crease, and he feels he can control that puck,” Craig Desjardins, Bauer’s general manager of equipment, told us before the tournament. “Other goalies like the puck to hit their pad and drop straight down so they can cover it up.”

11. Of all the hard-luck injuries suffered by would-be Olympians, no position was ravaged more than Finnish centremen. Injured pivots Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula pulled out with injuries on the night of the opening ceremony before the tournament began. Aleksander Barkov, who was projected to be the country’s first-line centre, suffered a lower-body injury in the preliminary round. As much as Sweden (Henrik Sedin and Zetterberg) and Canada (Steven Stamkos) have been beset by injuries, Finland has suffered the most. Yet the country still earned a bye into the quarterfinals.

12. Don’t underestimate the impact of the Olympic tournament on the NHL’s trade deadline. The Czech Republic’s Ales Hemsky has played well despite limited ice time and suddenly his trade buzz has increased, especially among Eastern Conference buyers. Meanwhile, Slovakia’s Jaroslav Halak has struggled so much that his team turned to KHLer Jan Laco during Monday’s elimination game. Halak even suggested he was the one to blame for Slovakia’s surprising 3-1 loss to Slovenia on Saturday. You don’t think St. Louis Blues management is watching this and thinking about striking a deal for a more reliable goaltender (Ryan Miller or Martin Brodeur) as they gear up for a playoff run?

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