Canada suffered a 5-2 loss in its final preliminary round game today against recent World Junior juggernaut country Sweden. Canada has struggled early on, limping into the elimination round with a 1-2-1 record. In its final test, the story has remained the same. I outlined Canada’s two major faults here, and the panel of television analysts basically said the same thing. Without sounding too much like Don Cherry, the main difference is the analysts said these things after the fact in the second intermission whereas I said them before the game started. Heading into today’s game the two things I focused on were Canada’s defensive transition game and the power play.
This somewhat meaningless contest played out roughly the way Canada needed it to and there are many positives to take from it. Canada gave up only 3 odd man rushes the entire game, two of them after they fell apart later in the third period. They didn’t give up their first odd man rush until the 5 minute mark of the second period, and it was negated by a great back checking effort.
After a hideous start that saw them mostly short handed, Canada really picked up the energy and that translated into a solid checking game. The best momentum was gained with 7:22 left in the first period as Travis Konecny laid out Dmytro Timashov with Canada down 2-0. A minute later Virtanen threw a massive check of his own, followed up 40 seconds later with two Canadian players pasting the same Swede. After another tremendous back checking effort at 4:30, Canada got on the board at 4:09. It was just over three minutes of the most Canadian type of hockey so far. Even short handed late in the period, the Canadian defence stayed strong and held their blue line, and they ended the period on a solid back checking effort by Lawson Crouse with :30 left. Yes they had a horrific power play early on, but after that the 5 on 5 play in transition was incredible.
They kept it going right off the bat in the second period with some fine defensive zone coverage. The little details were remarkably taken care of as evidenced with 17:33 left in the second. John Quenneville was the high guy in the offensive zone and he found himself on the wrong side of the Swedish winger on the half wall. He made a quick adjustment to get goal side and took away the potential for an odd man rush against. This happened time and time again for Canada as the players took care of all the little things. The only time Sweden got into the interior of the Canadian defensive zone was at 16:21 of the second on a shot by Rasmus Asplund, but even then the pass out was tipped into the air and there were sticks all over the passing and shooting lanes. It was textbook. After a consistent, positionally disciplined effort, Canada was finally rewarded with a power play for a chance to tie the game up and really take it over. That’s brings us to the second fault. Where Canada’s transition game performed exactly as hoped, the power play did not. After all that confidence and energy, the power play looked uncertain and sluggish. The life was sucked out of the team. Shortly thereafter, an overwhelmed Sweden team got their own power play and promptly went up by two goals, just like that. These two second period power plays were the entire game in a nutshell. In the third period Canada did kill off a 5 on 3 and scored a powerplay goal, but it was too little too late and with about 15:00 minutes left the wheels fell off.
If the power play had scored in the second period this would have been a much different game and I know that’s easy to say. Obviously if a powerplay scores, that team will have a better chance at winning but you can’t expect a powerplay to be 100% right? Well, let’s look at the game from Sweden’s perspective.
They got a couple of power plays right out of the gate and went up 2-0. They then got smothered and overwhelmed with hitting and tight back checking and couldn’t get any threatening scoring chances. For a period and a half they fought through it and, to their credit, didn’t really give up a whole lot of odd man rushes themselves. Then in the second they had a good kill, and finally got their own powerplay chance. Boom. 3-1 stranglehold. They played the exact same game Canada played but because of the timely powerplay goals it was a much different result. If Sweden can do it, Canada can too. They appear to have fixed everything else, but unless they find a way to score a timely power play goal they don’t have much chance surviving Saturday against host Finland, when it truly matters.