2020 WJC: Takeaways from Canada Vs. Russia

After an encouraging 6-4 win against the United States, Canada was looking for a 2-0 record against another rival in Team Russia. Both teams had different story lines coming into their matchup. Russia was looking to bounce back after an upset against the Czech Republic, while Canada wanted to continue their success after a win against the Americans. 

While many were expecting a high-spirited game between the two nations, no one was expecting Canada to get shutout 6-0 by the Russians. Russia dominated from the opening puck drop and left Canada stunned.

Slow Starts Continue

In their first game, Canada trailed in the first period against the United States 2-0. Their slow start continued against Russia, who wanted to redeem themselves after their loss to the Czech Republic. They were disorganized from the start as Russia scored three straight in the opening frame.

All three goals shouldn’t be pinned on goaltender Nico Daws. Alexander Khovanov’s goal was a result of a turnover by Jared McIsaac, Pavel Dorofeyev’s goal was due to a defensive breakdown in their own end and Nikita Rtishchev’s goal was due to Kevin Bahl being a step behind in trying to tie him up. Russia’s speed was a major factor in dominating the Canadians in all three zones, where their coverage wasn’t as strong as it should have been.

Nico Daws Guelph Storm
After a strong performance against the United States, Nico Daws struggled against Team Russia. Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

While Russia was dominant in the first period, it could’ve turned in Canada’s favour had head coach Dale Hunter challenged an offside call on Khovanov’s goal. That would’ve given Canada the boost it needed after their slow start.

Lafreniere Injured

Early in the second period, with Team Canada trying to dig out of a 3-0 hole, the game went from bad to worse. Alexis Lafreniere, the consensus first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, left the game with what appeared to be a left leg injury after he collided with Russian goaltender Amir Miftakhov. He was in pain for some time before being assisted off the ice. 

It’s even more discouraging now that the Canadians might be down one of their top game-changing players for the rest of the tournament. Lafreniere played a crucial part in Canada’s back and forth game against the United States, scoring the game-winning goal and adding three assists. 

Alexis Lafreniere Rimouski Oceanic
Losing Alexis Lafreniere to a leg injury would be a big blow for Team Canada. (Photo by Vincent Ethier/CHL)

It would be a major loss if his tournament is over, after high hopes heading into it.

Canada Wasn’t Good At All

Disappointing. Unacceptable. There are many words to describe Canada’s performance against one of their most storied rivals. Everyone is expecting a strong-willed tilt between the two hockey superpowers. However, this was not the case. 

It was a poor performance from the Canadians. Their positioning wasn’t great and they didn’t do a good job covering the middle of the ice. Russia did an excellent job at exposing Canada’s weaknesses and burned them constantly by aggressively driving to the net. Not only that, Russia brought a physical presence, more so than the Canadians, which was the difference-maker in their first game. Even on defense, Russia gave Canada nothing to work with, continuing to put pressure on their offense. They were out-worked and out-muscled.

Joe Veleno Grand Rapids Griffins
Team Canada’s Joe Veleno said that they were outplayed against Russia postgame. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Overall, Canada’s speed was a non-factor after it was a difference-maker against the Americans. There was no push-back like there was against the Americans. The Canadians didn’t do anything to try and turn things around after their lackluster first period. Even when Daws was chased from the net at 4-0 Russia, there was no response and it seemed like the Canadians had given up.

Goaltending in Question?

After Daws was pulled and Joel Hofer didn’t fare well, Canada’s goaltending comes back into question. It has always been a pressing issue at the tournament and is often the reason they win or lose. 

With a short tournament like this, Canada needs to figure out their crease, otherwise it might be over soon. While it was a collective losing effort, if they want to have any hopes of winning, the goaltending needs to be better and be relied on to give them a boost of confidence. Could we see Olivier Rodrigue get a chance to try and turn things around? It’s possible and they need to find an answer quickly.

What’s Next For Team Canada?

As bad of an outing as the Russian game was, this is a time for Canada to use their day off to reflect and fix their issues. There isn’t yet a reason to hit the panic button as they can use this as a learning opportunity, just as Russia did after losing to the Czech Republic. 

Even if Lafreniere is out long-term, Canada needs to power through as a group and step up without his presence. Whatever may come, Canada needs to put this game behind them. This starts with getting ready for the match against Team Germany.

All Your THW 2020 World Junior Championship Coverage