Sunday, 28 December 2014

The Real Test Begins

Well, that's two games played and Canada has surrendered a total of zero goals. Not a bad way to start Hockey Canada's biggest tournament in terms of breeding gold medal success. However, as Canadians, we need to temper the excitement seen in destroying a Slovakian team that was clearly overmatched. We need to stifle the growing anticipation of a walk in the park after the game against a German team that wasn't going to roll over for the red-and-white.

Instead, Canada, we need to bear down and prepare to be tested because the next two games - against Finland and the US - will be anything but easy. And after a lackluster game against Germany where passes weren't crisp or accurate and shots were hitting boards instead of the net, Canada needs to get themselves prepared for two teams that should be considered gold medal favorites.

With Finland already having dropped a game in this tournament, you know that they're going to gun for every point left on the table. Canada's day off today should help them gain some insight into systems and plays run by Team USA as they take on the same German team Canada played last night, but the Finns are the next target for this Canadian team and should not be overlooked despite that 2-1 loss to Slovakia.

Finland's goaltending thus far has been ok, but not what was expected. Juusi Saros sits tied for 14th-overall in save percentage, and he's much better than that. As we saw with Shairpov against the Americans tonight, perhaps he just needs to feel the pressure of the "big game" to turn it on and help Finland to its first win of the tournament. His goals-against-average is a respectable 2.04, so it's not like he's being blown out in games. That means he's doing all he can to keep Finland in their games, but isn't getting the help he needs elsewhere.

Finland's issue is that they don't generate much offence, but they are a good team when it comes to capitalizing on mistakes. For team boasting great young players like Kasperi Kapanen and Julius Honka, having those two pile up no goals or points in their first two games is concerning. Mikko Rantenan has all of Finland's offence to date as he's scored both Finnish goals, so the Finns are going to have to generate some offence somewhere if they hope to beat Canada.

Canada, for all they've done in their first two games, can't play as loose or as fancy against the Finns. Again, the Finns have the talent to put the puck in the net if the puck is turned over, so being more efficient with the puck has to be the priority for the Canadians against Finland. They were sloppy and missed targets all over the place against Germany, and those kinds of mistakes will come back to hurt Canada against a more talented squad.

That being said, expect Canada to play much better and the score to reflect that commitment to a better effort. All of it is in preparation for the New Year's Eve game against Canada's arch-rivals in the Americans, and it appears that game will determine who wins this pool with the Slovaks, Finns, and Germans well back of where the North American teams sit.

Canada and the USA always have huge battles in their game, and this one will be no different. How Canada plays against Finland, though, may determine a lot in this game. Giveaways, poor passes up the middle, diagonal passes through the defensive zone, and poor puck possession numbers must be improved upon for tomorrow's game and the New Year's Eve game if Canada wants to win their pool. Those plays are incredible when they work, but they expose the team when they don't. The high-risk, high-reward plays that Canada was trying for against Germany won't fly against Finland, and they certainly won't fly against the Americans.

Tomorrow night, Canada takes the first step in looking to reclaim the gold medal that has eluded them for so long. It's up to them whether that first step is on solid ground.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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