Wednesday, December 26, 2007

WJC - CAN 3, CZE 0

This game was a lot closer than the score suggests.

Before the game, Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire gave us a little history lesson. At the WJC, Canada has an 8-0-2 record against the Czechs, and the last time they didn’t win was back in 1993 when the game ended in a tie.

So, to the game we go. The Czechs aren’t believed to be contenders for the gold medal, but they still have some firepower up front. Michael Frolik is making his fourth appearance at the WJC and is one of the most dangerous offensive players on the Czech team. Pair him with Jakub Voracek, and you have a line that is hard to contain, so Coach Hartsburg matched that line with his shutdown line of Brandon Sutter, Stefan Legein, and Wayne Simmonds.

Stamkos took an elbowing penalty not long into the first period, and the Czechs looked energetic on the PP. It actually turned into a 5-3 PP after Logan Pyett took a hooking penalty, and the Czechs managed to have several great chances, but Jonathan Bernier was solid from the very beginning.

Speaking of Bernier, he was the reason why Canada managed to get through the first period without giving up a goal. The Czechs were strong and had 13 shots on goal going into the intermission. The Canadians, however, were jittery in the first period, turning over the puck to the Czechs time and again. Drew Doughty seemed a bit nervous and he had a hard time controlling the puck, even turning it over to Voracek at his blue line, giving Voracek a great scoring chance.

The second period saw Canada score its first goal, with John Tavares scoring on the power play (from Steve Stamkos and Logan Pyett).

Canada extended its lead in the third period thanks to an even strength marker from Matthew Halischuk (Josh Godfrey and Steve Stamkos) and another power play goal from Tavares (Stamkos).

I have to give a lot of credit to the Czechs, however, for playing a great game. Goaltender Michal Neuvirth was solid and kept his team in the game with some big saves. Frolik and Voracek really tried hard to solve the problem that is Bernier, but they fell short this time. I truly believe that the Czechs could have won this game had Bernier been a little shakier in net.

The Good about the Canucks – Special Teams Rule

Although it was a slow start, they found their groove in the second period, especially on the power play. They scored twice on five power plays, and they managed to sustain pressure on the Czech squad.

The penalty kill was superb, as it was in the Super Series. The Czechs had 9 opportunities, but Canada shut the door on each one.

The Bad about the Canucks – Discipline Problems

This is always a problem for Canada in international competition: discipline. International rules are different from North American rules, and Team Canada always seems to parade to the penalty box. Some of the calls are complete and total phantom calls that make you want to yell at the refs for being stupid (and those seem to happen with more frequency in international games), but Canada took a lot of dumb tripping/hooking/holding penalties. It’s one thing to kill a penalty for a big hit, it’s another to kill a stupid obstruction penalty. My guess is that Hartsburg will stress this to his players between now and tomorrow’s game against the Slovaks.

The Ugly Whistles

There was nothing particularly ugly about the Canucks right now, but what I don’t care for are the whistles in the crowd. In North America, when something happens that we don’t like, we boo, some louder than others. In Europe, they blow whistles. Can you see the problem here?

The exact problem that I am thinking of actually happened back in May 2007 at the Men’s World Championships in Russia when Canada was playing Finland. Someone in the crowd blew a whistle and the Finns stopped playing because they thought that the refs blew the play dead. They didn’t, and Canada scored. The Finns were upset, and rightfully so – I wouldn’t want my team to give up a goal based on a rogue fan blowing a whistle.

Three Stars of the Game
(1) Jonathan Bernier, stopped 44 shots for the shutout
(2) Steve Stamkos, 3 assists
(3) John Tavares, 2 goals, even though he was limited to just a few power play shifts

This game was particularly important for Hockey Canada because it was their 19th consecutive win at the World Juniors, a streak that dates back three years and is now a tournament record. Prior to tonight’s game, Canuck goalies have had a save percentage of 0.951, and the Canadians have outscored their opponents 86 to 20 in 18 games.

For more WJC coverage, including recaps of each game, check out Faceoff-Factor.com.

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