I sent out a tweet yesterday saying that I would breakdown Team Canada after its two exhibition games, but I had a commitment come up on Saturday so I will not be able to watch the game against Sweden. Instead I can only write about Thursday’s game against Finland. Canada lost the game 3-2 in what was a very sloppy contest. Since it was both teams first game there was sure to be some issues with chemistry and it showed as there was no real flow to the game. A parade to the penalty box didn’t help things either. Here are five things that caught my eye:
1. A “Good” Loss – There aren’t many good losses when it comes to elite level sports. The days of “it’s all about the effort” are long gone when you reach this level. However, a loss in the first exhibition game could just be what Team Canada needed to motivate them going forward. They only has one true NHL player (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins), but if it wasn’t for the lockout there would be a few more players that would be in the NHL and not on this team. This group was full of confidence and maybe even a little cocky coming into Thursday’s contest. There is nothing wrong with that, but they need to realize sooner rather than later that they aren’t going to cruise to a gold in this tournament. They were sloppy and undisciplined and at this level you just can’t play that way. Thursday’s loss was a rude awakening and should provide all the motivation coach Steve Spott needs going forward.
2. The First Line – One of the interesting decisions coach Steve Spott will have to make in this tournament will be who plays on his top line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Jonathan Huberdeau is likely to be on the left side, but who will occupy the other flank is unsettled. With Huberdeau out of the lineup on Thursday due to a suspension, Mark Scheifele and Ty Rattie were set beside RNH. Scheifele appears to have the inside edge, but he’s a natural center and although he did manage to score a nice goal and had a decent game overall, he might be better suited for the second line center role. Ryan Strome, who currently centers the second line, struggled in the game and if that continues into the tournament I think we could see Schiefele slide back into the middle on the second unit.
3. Nathan MacKinnon – MacKinnon is a consensus top two pick in next year’s NHL draft and has started out as the thirteenth forward on Team Canada. This is a bit of a surprise as his Halifax Mooseheads teammate, Jonathan Drouin, looks to be entrenched on the second line. However, given MacKinnon’s explosiveness and dynamic skill, I expect him to move up the lineup rapidly and it would not shock me to see him up on the top line in place of Scheifele at some point in the tournament.
4. Penalties – We have to remember that this tournament is being played in Europe and that likely means we will see more penalties than we are used to. The exhibition game was littered with them as the Canadian’s took nine minor penalties and a 10-minute misconduct. Steve Spott made sure that speed was a key component of this year’s team, which may have been lacking in the past. Utilizing that speed should help them avoid games like this in the tournament.
5. This is not 2005 – I know that it has only been one exhibition game, but it is clear that this team does not compare to the lockout team in the 2005 World Junior Championships. This is not a surprise as that team was packed with NHL stars and is thought of as the best team ever to participate in the tournament. In 2005, Canada was dominant outscoring its opponents 41-7 in six games. This team won’t come close to that, but with the Russians and Americans expected to be very strong and the Fins and Swedes always competitive, it should make for a great tournament.
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