Mike Babcock has a problem. That problem is Sidney Crosby.
In Team Canada's first true test at the 2014 Olympics, against Finland, Babcock's ongoing attempts to find linemates for Crosby short-circuited the offense. Crosby has just two assists in three outings despite two of the games coming against glorified beer league teams with a few ringers.
Defenseman Drew Doughty rescued Team Canada by scoring twice during a 2-1 victory in which Canada failed to score a five-on-five goal in regulation.
It was the third consecutive game that Babcock gave Crosby at least one new linemate. After nothing happened with Chris Kunitz and Jeff Carter on Crosby's wings in the opener against Norway, swapping Carter for Martin St. Louis didn't help against Austria.
Babcock surgically removed Kunitz from Crosby's left side for the Finland game. Crosby had Jamie Benn and Patrice Bergeron—two players who worked very well with John Tavares as their center in the first two games—on his wings against Finland, and again, there was nothing.
|Sidney Crosby's line production, game-by-game|
This preoccupation with getting Crosby going nearly cost Canada on Sunday, although all a loss would have meant was a looming showdown with Russia in the quarterfinals instead of a Slovenia or Austria cupcake. But by winning in overtime instead of regulation, Canada fell to the No. 3 seed and could face a tough Swiss team in the quarterfinals.
If Babcock continues to tinker with his lineup with only Crosby in mind, he may tinker Team Canada out of a gold medal or, even worse, any medal at all.
The argument for bringing Kunitz to Sochi was how well he works with Crosby in Pittsburgh. Despite statistics not bearing it out, the notion that it was extremely difficult to play with a world-class talent like Crosby meant taking Kunitz would negate that perceived problem.
But let's say for a second that Babcock doesn't believe in statistics and Team Canada believes that notion of Crosby being a mystery for new wingers is a very real thing.
Why is Babcock treating the Crosby line like a slot machine? Why is he weighing performances against Norway and Austria so heavily? He said he went with Carey Price in net against Finland despite Roberto Luongo playing so well against Austria because that was his plan coming into the tournament, per Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star.
So, what was the plan with the forward lines going into the tournament? Destroy all the chemistry developing on the other three lines to make sure Crosby is happy? Make sure Crosby gets his points?
This may come as quite a shock, but Team Canada has dump trucks full of talent. Crosby is the best player in the world, but he doesn't necessarily need to produce at his NHL levels for Team Canada to win gold. The other three centers on this team are Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf and John Tavares.
That's an embarrassment of riches.
Through the first two games, Canada had nine goals—only five from forwards. That's not a particularly great number, but those bottom three lines anchored by Toews, Getzlaf and Tavares were generating chances. There wasn't much finish from anyone in the game against Norway, but it may have been the fact it was the first game this team had played together more than poor chemistry.
It's also tough to develop chemistry in a short tournament with new teammates if your coach is shuffling lines between every game.
The Benn-Tavares-Bergeron line was particularly effective in those two games. They combined for a goal, two assists (all against Norway) and 15 shots, yet Babcock separated them against Finland. Thanks to Babcock trying to find linemates for Crosby, he left himself with two consistent lines against Finland and nearly cost his team.
The Benn-Crosby-Bergeron line had just two shots against Finland. The fourth line that featured Tavares, Kunitz, Rick Nash and Patrick Sharp had four total shots between them.
Instead of having three lines and the Crosby one scuffling, Babcock had two viable lines and a fourth line that wasn't as useful as the one deployed in the first two games.
Canada got away with it against Finland, but this could be its downfall against Russia, Team USA, Sweden or Finland should their paths cross again.
Babcock has two options here—stop treating Crosby like a No. 1 center, go back to his line combinations from the Austria game and lean on his other three lines. If Crosby makes something happen, great. If not, it can't be Babcock's primary focus.
His other option is to take the Crosby line that failed to do much against Finland, let it have a practice together and go back to it in the quarterfinals, likely against Russia. If Crosby truly is a difficult adjustment, asking a fresh set of wingers to figure him out in one game isn't fair to them, to Crosby or Team Canada.
This Canadian squad is plenty good enough to win gold without Crosby. If Babcock doesn't figure that out and turn his attention to winning gold instead of jump-starting Crosby, it's going to be a disappointing Olympics for Team Canada.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
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