Another New Year’s Eve World Junior Championship battle of North America is in the books. As close as the highly anticipated game between Canada and the US was on the scoresheet(3-1), the result was hardly ever in doubt.
From the Canadian perspective so far this tournament it’s been projected by the media as sunshine and lollipops. They dominate on the forecheck 5 on 5. The power play is unstoppable. Great effort on the penalty kill. No worries.
There was a lot of statistical evidence to back that up heading in. They were hovering close to 50% on the power play, and had 20 goals for versus 5 against and one shutout. They scored at least two power play goals in each game and at least 5 total goals.
Watching the games makes those stats a little misleading.
The Russians pounded back quite well. Canada took some hits, and took some bad penalties in the second half of the game. The goaltending was at time shaky, and even though the power play went 3/6, it was disconcertingly unsettled. The first power play was horrifically disorganized. There were more blocked shots than passes. They started the second power play the same way, with quick awkward shots, and only properly set up by chance when a blocked shot happened to bounce down a little lower and forced the Canadians to regroup after recovering. They then strung a few passes and scored a really nice goal. Then they went back to individuals in chaos.
The Slovakia game wasn’t bad but it took a period for the floodgates to open.
Agianst Latvia, the trend continued with a sloppy first period. If Latvia had any power play at all it would have been 3-0 before the ice was dry with all the penalties Canada took. The only saving grace was a solid individual effort short handed to take the lead. They managed another power play goal off a blocked shot broken play, and then the rest of the game was a deep group of skilled individuals making things happen. A lot.
The path the Americans took to the game was different. They play a consistent team grinding game. Yes, they have individual skill, but there’s more of a structure to their game. If one American got injured or replaced, there probably wouldn’t be much of an issue because each line has a robotic default plan. Im not saying it’s better, but it is effective.
Canada seems to be using the strategy of putting skilled guys into positions where they’re able to take a game over by being creative. I really like that and think we have the team to do it, but because of this, guys away from the puck are playing more reactionary than supportive. They’re waiting to see what the puck carrier will do. There’s no obvious plan B. It’s fine when you’re playing slower teams that aren’t as deep. When you’re playing the 2017 Americans they’re too quick and too positionally disciplined all the way through the line up to expect individuals to be able to consistently win those types of games. They can sometimes, and Canada had their chances no doubt, but it’s a hard thing to rely on.
The power play isn’t opportunistic enough as it is now to take advantage of fewer chances, and when really pressed for a full 60 minutes, Canada again took too many penalties of their own.
So now that the rose colored glasses are removed, here’s two adjustments Canada needs to make for the medal round.
1)Changing the angle of attack. There needs to be some quick 10 foot passes on the rush to prevent opposing players being able to zone in on a puck carrier and angle them out of the play. The short passes will back them off because they won’t be able to commit to one spot. After doing this first, that will open the lanes for full out skating without these passes later in the game.
2)Patience on the power play. Shooting all the time is better than no shot at all, but it’s pretty easy to have them blocked when you never make a pass to move the box and open the shooting lanes. It’s usually the opposite, but I think there needs to be less urgency. Again, individuals have to start letting the puck do some of the work.
I love creativity and letting players make things happen. That’s what it’s all about and Canada has talent. These two adjustments will set the individuals up for success.