December 30, 2013
Tilt the ice long enough and eventually gravity will leads to goals. It took some 122 minutes for Team Canada to get its first lead since its opener, but they wore out Slovakia 5-3 and set up the expected showdown against Team USA for top spot in their group.
Canada started falteringly, with offensive lodestar Jonathan Drouin taking an early head-checking penalty that cost him a chance to compete for most of the first period. That was eerily reminiscent of a costly penalty Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took in the 2013 tournament. Yet it overcame, peppering Slovakia goalie Samuel Baros with 49 shots. Anthony Mantha, who has a team-high four goals, caused a defensive zone turnover and teed up Drouin for the equalizer with 5:58 to play. After Vancouver Canucks first-rounder Bo Horvat drew a high-sticking penalty during an offensive flurry, Winnipeg Jets pick Nic Petan patiently zipped in the go-ahead power-play tally with 2:46 left.
There was pressure and no pressure all at once. Canada hit the ice in Malmo assured of its quarter-final berth thanks to Germany's upset of the Czech Republic, yet needed a strong showing. As that third period unfolded, Canadians went from anticipating which difficult quarter-final matchup might await the team to anticipating the showdown vs. the Americans.
Canada (2-0-1-0) hasn't done it the easy way compared to the U.S. (3-0-0-0 with a 19-4 goal differential). Yet it's created the stakes everyone expected the Canada-U.S. New Year's Eve showdown to have.
— The main post-game question that likely cannot be answered before Tuesday's tilt is how much Canada has left in the tank. It had to dig to surmount Slovakia, outshooting it 49-22. One should also keep sight of the fact defenceman Mathew Dumba was sick early in the tournament. It's rare that flu germs are isolated to a single player on a junior hockey team.
In that regard, a delay caused by a broken Olympic ice resurfacing machine probably didn't hurt Canada's energy.
Canada will have one reinforcement at the blueline now that hulking 19-year-old Griffin Reinhart's IIHF suspension has expired. That will relieve some of the burden on the Aaron Ekblad-Derrick Pouliot first pairing that played every other shift down the stretch on Monday.
Dumba and Josh Morrissey, the two Calgarians, were paired in the third period. That doesn't necessarily leave Chris Bigras as unlucky No. 7 on Tuesday. Canada had to give the minutes to the more offensively adept blueliners.
— The other 'thanks for Britta-ing the euphoria' bullet point is that Canada went down a man half-a-dozen times ahead of a game vs. the U.S., whose power play is batting about .500 in the tournament. Other than one bad call where Dumba was sent off after a Slovak forward toppled over in front of him, every call was in context.
— The upshot from the win is it should wipe out any frustration.
— Drouin's penalty for his headshot on Slovak star Martin Reway 10 seconds into the game was an undisciplined play, period, full stop. It took Drouin (1G-1A, +2) a good 35 minutes of game action to get his mojo back. When he did, it led to a great sequence of puck protection where he flitted across the top of the offensive zone and teed up Ekblad, whose point shot rebounded right to Mantha for a goal that pulled Canada to 3-2.
— Some bullets were dodged. Slovakia pinged three goal posts.
— Petan was one of Canada's more productive players in the Germany game, so his game-winner didn't come in a vacuum.
— One would anticipate that coach Brent Sutter reverts to Jake Paterson for the U.S. game. Zach Fucale stopped 14-of-14 shots at even strength and kept Canada within a goal with a big save on Stanislav Horansky. It was a solid effort, if not enough to make Sutter deviate from whatever the plan might be.
Update. So it's Fucale in goal vs. Team USA.
Brent Sutter confirmed that Zachary Fucale will get the start against the U.S. on New Year's Eve. #wjc
— Mike Morreale (@mikemorrealeNHL) December 30, 2013
— None of the five goals came from an Ontario Hockey League player, possibly to the shock of no one who believes the OHL's calibre of play is down a bit this season. It had the weakest showing during the Subway Super Series. Ekblad and Adam Pelech have been solid on the blueline, while a thrown together Horvat-Connor McDavid-Scott Laughton line did draw the decisive penalty.
— The implications: Canada is assured of no worse than second place in Group A. It finishes first if it beats the U.S. in regulation, which would set up a Thursday quarter-final date with Group B's fourth-place finisher, either Norway or Switzerland.
Finishing second means facing Group B's third-place team which will be either Russia or Finland (both 2-0-0-1). It's hard to foresee a possibility where Sweden (3-0-0-0), which faces Russia on Tuesday (8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT, TSN), will finish lower than second.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.