Mantha sets up Canada's first goal.

Mantha sets up Canada’s first goal.

By now you know: Canada beat the US 3-2 in their round robin matchup on the heels of a couple third period powerplay goals from Connor McDavid and Curtis Lazar. I watched the contest start to finish, and had these hockey thoughts run through my head. Keep in mind I’m based out of Canada working for a Canadian company, sooo the thoughts are pretty one-sided.

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Great jersey game

I know you’re not here for cutting analysis like that, but come on – those white US jerseys are sharp as hell, and the Canadian reds are pretty killer too. Good contrast, good style, just an aesthetically pleasing game. On to the hockey.

Fucale got off to a good start

Canada’s goaltending hadn’t exactly been stellar heading into their match-up against the Americans. Zach Fucale was coming off a pretty “meh” win against Slovakia (three goals against, three posts), but he was getting another chance, and Team Canada was dying to find Their Guy. It was an obvious chance to win and take the reins for good.

He allllmost clinched the job for keeps. Almost.

He got off to the great start he needed, which seemed to give him confidence. He sucked up first shots to kill rebounds, and even mixed in a couple show-stopping glove saves. After Canada took the 3-1 lead his big moment arrived – American Connor Carrick had a three-zone breakaway with under seven minutes to play…and Fucale stoned him cold on a great move, the very one Carrick used to score his first NHL goal this season. Fucale got his toe on it, the fans went wild, Twitter went wild, and the job was his for the tournament (GIF by Ian McLaren).

…Only minutes later he dropped a shot he should’ve caught cleanly with under three minutes left, and it ended up in the back of Canada’s net to up the risk of cardiac arrest around the nation for the final couple minutes, and the door was left open a crack for Paterson if Fucale struggles at any time going forward.

He stopped 24 of 26 for a .923 against the USA all told, and will definitely start the quarterfinal game for Canada.

PK too spread out

Special teams in tournaments like this are almost weighted unfairly. If you can get things clicking your team can look a lot better than they are. If you’re brutal, well, your win total might be too…which is why I have some concerns about Canada’s penalty kill.

Just because you don’t get scored on doesn’t mean you played well on the PK (Canada only had to kill three minors), and their set-up looked dicey. After four years of college hockey in a conference with six Olympic ice sheets, I learned a couple things about killing on that much ice: do not, under any circumstances, pressure someone with solid possession. Do not chase out wide, don’t get stretched, just stay tight and wait for a bobble or a turned back to jump on a guy.

The Americans move the puck well, and Canada got stretched a couple times to where the slot opened up, as well as passing lanes. They were lucky not to give up a powerplay goal to a team who already has 11 in a short tournament.

McDavid skating well, almost Duchene-esque

McDavid impressed enough in the final period of the game against Slovakia (including scoring a goal that got disallowed), and was granted a big boy shift for the whole game against the Americans. He was fantastic. What strikes me most in the tournament so far is his ability to shuck defenders from below the goal line ala Matt Duchene

…and the efficiency with which he guides pucks to trouble areas, ala Crosby. (It’s not that Crosby makes Datsyukian moves, it’s that he simply knows where to get the puck to give it the highest percentage chance of going in. McDavid seems to crave that too.)

McDavid seems to possess another trait great players possess – he’s a quick learner. Here we are just a handful of games into the tournament, he scored his first goal (that counted), and he’s looking like more and more of a threat. He’s handling the puck more. He’s getting shots. All told, that’s a great thing for the Canadian squad.

Anthony MANtha

As in, not a boy. This dude is a MAN among those. He now has 10 points in four games, and for my money has probably deserved the Player of the Game title in three of those (for which you apparently get like, a tourism of Malmo magazine or something. Siiiick). Maybe all four. I can’t believe this kid went 20th overall (to Detroit no less). Granted, I’ve only ever seen him play a handful of games, so this is just my first impression, but at 6’4″ with stats like this in the Q…

mantha_stats-2

…it just seems hard to believe he only went that high. 35 goals in 32 games, holy hell. Anyway, that dude has been Canada’s best player so far, not even a conversation.

Drouin is the energizer bunny, needs valium

I tweeted this during the game too. Basically, I remember players on the Canadian team describing him last year, and how they said he was borderline unmanageable on and off the ice – just…unlimited energy. Endless, bounding, yappy dog energy. That undeniably helps you in hockey, but I can’t help but think a player like that playing in a big game might get too wound up.

In the World Juniors so far, he looks like he doesn’t belong – in a positive way. He’s above the level, clearly. Head and shoulders. I just feel like he’d be even more productive (a mere eight points in four games, among the best totals out there) if he was able to take the occassional breath.

PPs/PKs aren’t a great predictor of future success in short tournaments

Canada beat the US, whoop-dee-doo. It’s a great thing for them, because they knocked their chances of getting eliminated in a quarterfinal matchup down from about 48% to 22% (very official statistics there, I promise). But really, that game gave us very little information about who’s the better team. Canada scored two powerplay goals, which often come down to calls and bounces and chance, while the Americans outshot Canada 26-24. It’s unlikely that either team is much better than the other. You just hope that when the coin is flipped next time they play, your side comes up.

Gauthier on draws – not clean wins, but the point is avoiding the clean losses

Stat-heads have shifted their punchline from shot quality to faceoffs, but Frederik Gauthier provided a tidy example of why coaches value you them beyond having a guy who wins 2% more faceoffs than the average guy over the course of 82 games. A centerman’s job in big situations – hell, the d-zone in general – isn’t necessarily to win the puck clean, it’s to not allow his opponent to. Goals off o-zone faceoffs may not be all that frequent, but they’re a hell of a lot more frequent when a team wins the draw clean than when they don’t. In the big final minute of Canada/US, Gauthier did a nice job getting the puck going in the right direction on three straight draws. It’s not cause to bring a guy into the NHL or anything, but it sure is handy to have reliable face-off men in big moments.

And with that…

The quarterfinal matchups are set:

Happy New Year everyone!