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WJCs

Well, this is kind of like kissing your sister.  Unless you lose, in which case it’s kind of like going to prom alone and leaving alone.

The problem with a single elimination tournament is that you only need to play one bad game to lose your chance at a championship and boy, did Canada ever play a bad game.

Trying to predict whether or not a team will be able to “get up” for a bronze medal game is a bit of a fool’s errand; ultimately, it’s anybody’s guess.  There’s no shame whatsoever in coming away from a tournament with a bronze medal so I hope that the boys will be able to bring their all this morning.

Whether Steve Spott has learned from the first few games of the tournament or not may be the key to this one.  Spott was reluctant to start Binnington in any of the games of the tournament despite an exceptional camp and a couple of below average performances from Malcolm Subban.  Subban vindicated that decision in a pair of strong games against the Americans and Russians but went back to being lacklustre in the semi-final matchup.  Binnington, once called upon, was terrific.

Morgan Rielly has been one of Canada’s better defensemen in this tournament despite limited icetime while Ryan Murphy has been an unmitigated disaster with lots of icetime.  The reigns came off Rielly in the third period of the game against the USA but it was too little too late.  Murphy simply doesn’t have the defensive chops to play against top-tier teams in this tournament and with Reinhart suspended, Spott will have to figure out how to balance Murphy’s risk/reward better in this morning’s game.

Perhaps the least discussed wart on the face of Team Canada has been the play of Jonathan Huberdeau.  His point totals are respectable but does anyone think he’s looked particularly good in this tournament?  When Drouin took his place on the top line, I thought the first unit became more dynamic for it and I can’t say the same of the second line that Huberdeau found himself on.  For one of the best prospects in hockey and a guy who’s in his last year of WJC eligibility, he hasn’t been particularly impactful.  Hopefully Spott will be able to find a line combination that works for him.

On a final note, I’d like to offer a tip of my hat to the Russian fans during this tournament.  They’ve brought a great energy and enthusiasm to the tournament and it’s made every game more exciting.  It’s clear that they care about this tournament every bit as much as we Canadians do and they’ve given the kids a great atmosphere in which to play their games.

1st Intermission Update

Well, that period was certainly eventful.  Khokhlachev opened the scoring with a soft one on Jordan Binnington, beating him with an unscreened wrister from a sharp angle.  The shot got stuck on Binnington’s pad and when he pulled his leg back in to his body, he also pulled the puck back in to the net.

Russia scored the second goal as well as Boone Jenner took a stupid penalty with an elbow to the head of the Russian forechecker.  The ensuing penaltykill looked more like a game of chase-the-puck by the four penaltykillers and Yarulin made a nice corner to corner pass to Yakupov who fired the puck into a wide open net.

Canada clawed back into the game after Strome drew a penalty in the slot (the penalty prevented a scoring chance) and the Canadian powerplay took advantage.  RNH scored the goal on a nice shot.

The Russian’s pulled back ahead by two after Diakov fired home a shot after an offensive zone faceoff win.  Binnington was probably screened on the shot but was pulled after allowing three goals on five shots.  By not giving Binnington any starts in the group stage, Spott didn’t have nearly enough information on who to start during these later rounds.  Do you start Binnington who has played well in selection camp and in one period in the tournament but hasn’t started in two weeks or do you start Subban who was inconsistent?  Impossible to know.

Canada pulled the game back to within one on the powerplay as Ryan Murphy fired a shot off the post which found the stick of Huberdeau who put it into the net with the goalie well out of position after the initial shot.  Murphy has been much better in this game because he’s been put in a position to succeed.  He’s made shrewd plays on the powerplay and hasn’t had any significant defensive miscues in limited 5-on-5 icetime… to the surprise of precisely no one.

2nd Intermission Update

More of the same in the second as the tempo of the game stayed high as you’d expect in a Canada / Russia game.

The first goal of the period came on the powerplay as Mark Scheifele fired in feed from Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  The Canadian powerplay really does look unstoppable today and the Russians should probably stop taking minors if they want to win a medal on home soil.

The fourth Russian goal was scored by Yevgeni Mozer.  The first shot was blocked by the Canadian defenseman but the block was scooped up by Mozer who was able to take advantage of Subban having committed to the original shot.

Canada tied it up on another powerplay goal, this time by Ryan Murphy.  Heck of a shot from a smaller defenseman.

3rd Intermission Update

Yakupov scored the 5th Russian goal after some really strong work by Kapustin to bring the puck out of the corner in the offensive zone.  Solid shot by Yakupov but the real work was done by Kapustin on this one.

Brett Ritchie scored the fifth goal for Canada on a scramble play in front of the Russian goal.  Not much to break down on this one; it was messy but it went in.

Overtime

Fitting that Canada’s tournament would end with Ryan Murphy getting burned on an even strength breakout.  Heck of a goal by the draft eligible Nichushkin, beating Murphy to the outside and then driving hard to the net, stuffing the puck past Subban who played well in relief of Binnington.

This is where things start getting interesting.

The American team will present an interesting set of challenges for Team Canada.  Their checking lines are more physical than anything that Team Canada can throw out there, their skill lines are faster, and their goaltender has looked more capable of stealing a game in this tournament.  Canada is still the better all-around team but the Americans throw out enough different wrinkles that this should be a game that goes down to the wire and could certainly go either way.

For Canada’s part, they seem to have woken up in the second half of the game against Slovakia.  Their top-6 forward group has been exceptional and their defense, aside from Ryan Murphy, looked much better.  Rielly’s strong play in that game led to an increase in icetime and I would think that he hasn’t done anything to warrant a decrease heading into this morning’s matchup.

As is often the case when Canada plays the USA under IIHF officiating, my guess is that the team who wins this game will be the team who comes out ahead in the special teams battle.  Both of these teams play a physical style that can lead to undeserved 5-minute charging penalties called well after the play — but I digress — so taking advantage of our powerplays and playing well on the penaltykill is crucial.

The Americans love to activate their defensemen when transitioning to offense and Seth Jones is an absolute load when he gets to full speed.  The play of Canada’s top defense pair and how they’re able to identify and quarterback the transition defense game is another big key for Canada.

Note: Tyler Biggs has been playing on the third line for Team USA, wearing No. 22.

Once again, I’ll throw up my updates during each intermission.  Looking forward to a barn-burner!

 

Welcome back, fellow lunatics!

After giving the Russians a run for their money on Wednesday, the Slovakian Juniors will probably being feeling pretty good about themselves heading into this morning’s tilt.

Canada has some things to clean up, particularly on defense, if they hope to make today’s game a comfortable one.  Aside from Harrington, every one of Canada’s defensemen can be better than they were on Wednesday and they’ll need to be if we want to keep considering ourselves the favourites in this tournament.

The bottom-6 looked a little out of sorts on Wednesday as well, in my opinion, with Jenner out of the lineup. He won’t be back in time for our key tilt with the USA so we’d better hope that they can find a little chemistry in the interim.  McNeill was a great replacement for Jenner in the faceoff circle (12 for 13) but he isn’t as good in the defensive zone (giveaway notwithstanding).

On a positive note, the first line looked fantastic and Strome/Drouin looked pretty sharp as a second scoring unit as well.  We should have a decisive advantage against all the other top-6 groups in the tournament and if these guys can keep playing the way they did the other day, we’ll be able to overcome some of the other hiccups that invariably present themselves in these short tournaments.

As with Game One, I’ll be tossing up updates during the intermissions.  Looking forward to the game and to hearing your thoughts on some of the promising young talent in this game.

1st Intermission Update

Well, hopefully that was an eye opener.  The Slovakians definitely play an effective trap game and play with a lot of guys deep in the defensive zone when Canada has possession.  It’s pretty clear that getting pucks through to the net will be a challenge this morning.

Slovakia’s first goal came on a scramble in  front of the net as the initial shot bounced around a bunch of bodies in front.  Murphy gets lost in the defensive zone as he’s apt to do and 2013 eligible Marko Dano found the loose puck before Subban was able to pick it up and put it past him.

Slovakia’s second goal came during a 5-minute man advantage.  Some good in-zone cycling led to lost coverage for the Canada penalty killers and a heck of a shot by Tomas Mikus sees the Slovakians go ahead 2-0 and that’s where we stand through one period of play.

I see very little reason why JC Lipon should be getting any more icetime for Canada.  He wasn’t good in their game against Germany and this morning’s headshot infraction is the kind of  penalty you simply can’t take as a fourth line player in limited minutes.  I’d expect that he’ll become the extra forward once Jenner returns to the lineup for the game against Russia.

2nd Intermission Update

What a period!  Canada drew first blood with Ryan Strome skating around the offensive zone with the puck and taking advantage of some flat-footed Slovakian defense to find some space in the middle of the ice, firing a wrist shot into the top half of the net.

After Camara saw himself kicked out of the game on what looked like a pretty bad penalty call, the Slovakians ended up drawing a tripping penalty and took advantage of the ensuing 5 on 3.  Once again it was Dano after some good passing by the Slovakians on their powerplay.

Canada then found themselves on a 5 on 3 of their own and Rielly fired a shot past the Slovakian goaltender Nagy.

With Canada still on the powerplay, Rielly played pitch and catch with Ouellet who made an outstanding pass from the blueline to the crease and Ty Rattie makes a nice adjustment to tip the puck past the Slovakian goalie.

The fourth Canadian goal came after a fantastic shift from Mark Scheifele.  After keeping the puck in the zone while covering for the pinching defenseman, Scheifele then tipped in the Xavier Ouellet shot, giving Canada their first lead of the game.

Rielly and Ouellet have both been outstanding (though Rielly didn’t see much icetime in the first) and have been the straw that has stirred the drink from Canada’s defense during this comeback.  Scheifele and Strome have been the most noticeable Canadian forwards with an honourable mention going to Drouin.

6 – 3 Final

Canada got a little insurance off of the stick of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on another powerplay.  RNH shows off some  pretty slick hands on the goal and probably has Steve Tambellini smiling smugly, as per usual.

The sixth and final Canadian goal came after a great pass from Wotherspoon sent Strome in alone on Nagy.  Strome made a great five-hole move to beat the Slovakian goalie as Canada capitalized on the team’s bad line change.

Scheifele was Canada’s player of the game and deservedly so — he was buzzing all morning and seemed to be at the center of just about everything.  Next game is Sunday at 4:30am before we get a bit of a reprieve with a 9:00am start on Monday.

At this point in time, it is probably fair to call Morgan Rielly the most hyped Leafs prospect since Wendel Clark. I don’t know whether or not that’s fair, but with great hype comes great expectations.

To this point, Rielly hasn’t done anything to really quash the excitement that is building for him. He’s scored electric goals, he’s played well for Canada in the past, and now he’s on the World Juniors team.

In essence, Rielly is following the path of many elite defensemen before him. With that in mind, I collected some stats on how players he’s been compared to have performed in this tournament. Hopefully, it will serve as some sort of barometer on what to expect from the young Leafs prospect.

Good morning, ladies and gents!

Playing the World Juniors in Russia presents an interesting dilemma for hockey die-hards in Canada: wake up early or stay up late?

This thread may be the worst and least active thread of anything I’ve posted here at MLHS during my brief tenure or it may lead to an excellent and passionate conversation between the most committed (double-entendre) hockey fans on the internet.  Either way, the tournament will be heaven for the vampire set.

I’ll be updating this text with observations during each of the intermissions and depending on how many of you join me, I may do the same for each of the Canada games — we’ll see how it goes.

Grab a coffee and the best seat on the couch because we all know you’re watching this one alone.  Cheers!

1st Intermission Update

Canada predictably dominated the early part of the game, drawing penalties and creating chances.  The first goal, scored by Xavier Ouellet, was set up by a great pass from the point on the powerplay by Morgan Rielly.  Rielly has been demoted to the 2nd PP unit in favour of Ryan Murphy who was decidedly ‘meh’ in the first.

Canada’s second goal also came on the PP and was scored by RNH.  Huberdeau’s great North-South pass in the offensive zone is a much tougher play than it seems.

The Germans, to their credit, applied some pretty solid pressure during the second half of the first period and were rewarded with a powerplay goal of their own off of the stick of another guy Spott will be familiar with in Kitchener / Edmonton’s Tobias Rieder.

2nd Intermission Update

Canada looked a lot more dominant in the second than the first.  Canada’s third goal of the game and first of the period was scored by Scheifele after a hard bounce off the glass saw the puck fall on his stick.

Canada’s fourth goal came after a beautiful pass from Dougie Hamilton found Huberdeau for a powerplay marker.

Canada’s fifth was another case of a Canada player finding himself alone in front of the net and Ty Rattie made no mistake.

The sixth goal scored by Ryan Strome after Canada generated a Sedin-esque offensive zone cycle.

Then the Germans went to work, most notably Leon Draisaitl who has looked like every bit the elite prospect he is.  He isn’t even draft eligible until 2014 but he’s been the best player on the German team and has provided a great mix of offense and defense.  Draisaitl set up Germany’s second goal by Pfoderl.

Nickolas Latta then capitalized on a brutal giveaway by McNeill which brought the score to 6-3.  Horrible turnover but a great shot by Latta.

Finally, with seconds left in the second period, Scheifele scored again on a great transition play by himself and linemates RNH and Jonathan Huberdeau.

As my fingers beg for mercy after all this intermission typing, we’re now sitting at 7-3 Canada.

9-3 Final

The third period was a little bit tighter checking from Canada’s perspective.  Jonathan Drouin scored Canada’s 8th goal, making a nice move in front of the net after taking a clever slap-pass from Harrington.

Canada’s 9th and final goal was scored by Tyler Wotherspoon with the assist to Ryan Strome.  Wotherspoon hustled back to break up a two-on-one and reaped the reward at the other end.

All told, it was pretty much what we expected from Canada.  There are a few defensive kinks to work out, the chemistry on the bottom lines seems to have taken a bit of a hit with Jenner out of the lineup, but the top unit was spectacular and the result in this one was never in doubt.

Next game for Canada is Slovakia on Friday at 4:30.