WJHC: Canada Comes Out Flat

Flat – that’s the only way to characterize the way Canada started today’s matchup. After a decidedly dominant outing yesterday versus Denmark, Canada quickly found themselves up against it versus a rested Swiss club, who came out hard and fast in the first period, and never let up.

The Swiss club’s intensity was either matched, or instigated by their head coach’s obvious ambition to be the first to usurp Canada in 21 tries, and they couldn’t have come closer.

WJHC: Canada Comes Out Flat

If not for some steady netminding by Mackenzie Blackwood in his first start of the tournament, Canada’s collective sigh of relief could have easily been a nationwide chorus of gasps as Switzerland attacked the offensive zone with speed early and often across three periods.

Both Swiss goals came off deflected point shots that Blackwood had little hope of stopping, but the Canadian squad buttoned it down and the tides finally turned with Dylan Strome roofing a nasty snipe from an extreme angle with 25 ticks left in the first frame to leave the ice with some hope of salvaging the game.

Rather than a blow-by-blow account, we’ll focus on the obvious here. Canada had a golden opportunity to decide its own fate by cashing in on Switzerland’s penchant for taking penalties, but their anemic powerplay, which was characterized by hesitation, over-thinking and one-too-many pass syndrome let the Swiss side off the hook.

Even with a 5-on-3 chance resulting from pesky Jake Virtanen drawing a penalty in front of the Swiss goal, Canada revisited the same playbook they used versus the U.S., giving the Swiss keeper all the time he needed to square up to the shooter.

All too often, they drifted into the offensive zone, hesitating on the blueline as opposed to attacking with speed, or shooting it in and forcing the Swiss defenders to turn and take a hit along the wall. They simply failed to pressure the Swiss defense in any meaningful way.

The cycle game was virtually non existent, with players rarely taking up support positions along the wall, preferring to back into scoring areas in anticipation of a pass, which, more often than not, was picked off, leading to a Swiss breakout.

Switzerland also controlled the game along the wall, and as TSN analyst Craig Button pointed out, Canada was “hesitant to use the middle of the ice”, adding: “if you don’t exploit the middle of the ice, the defenders…can close you off and you have less options”.

But not all was lost, and the Canadian kids eked out a victory despite themselves.

Standouts for Canada were Dylan Strome, who has scored in all three games played, and defender Joe Hicketts, who waltzed right down Main Street with a rocket to tie the game thanks to a Lawson Crouse feed from the half-wall. Hicketts and Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot were the most impactful back-enders by far for Canada this afternoon.

Mitch Marner wasn’t brilliant, sadly. All too often, he hesitated at the offensive zone blue line, twice causing his linemates to go offside. He appeared to be waiting for a pass opportunity to emerge as opposed to simply leading the charge by taking the puck to the net and creating a scoring chance or a possible rebound.

The affair was settled in a shootout by Captain Brayden Point and Matthew Barzal, both going back-hand while Blackwood remained perfect in the shootout for the Canadians.

Team Canada will have to re-think their approach if they are to make a game of it on New Year’s Eve versus the high-flying Swedish club, led by Leafs prospect Dmytro Timashov and Alexander Nylander, William’s younger brother, who is tearing it up to date with a goal and four assists in two games.

Keys to the game will be coming out ready to impose their will as opposed to reacting, as well as Canada’s defense making zone entries much tougher on the Swedes, who will attack with aplomb, and finish their chances.