After dominating the Germans 5-1 in their opening game, the Canadians were humbled by the Americans, losing 4-2 to their longstanding international rivals. It was a hard-fought game that put youth against experience, and in the end, Canada’s grit and physicality were no match for the United States’ youth, speed and tenacity.
It was their first Olympic meeting since 2014, and it certainly was not the result Canada was hoping for, especially with so many NHL veterans on the team. However, there are several things the team can learn from the game as they look to take on China and prepare for the upcoming medal rounds.
Canada Can’t Match the American’s Speed
Just a few minutes into the first period, one thing was painfully obvious: the Americans were much faster than the Canadians. The Americans knew it, too, and always planned to use it to their advantage. Captain Andy Miele, one of the oldest on the team at 33, said, “We’re going to keep the energy high. We’ve got young legs, so they can buzz all game long. We’ve got to let them do that.” Right from the get-go, they were all over the Canadians, rushing up behind them, creating several two-on-ones to force them off the puck and create a turnover. It paid off just under three minutes into the game, capitalizing on a mistake from defender Mark Barberio at the blue line.
It didn’t improve much for Canada for the rest of the game, either, and the veterans were swarmed by the college stars. During the first period and a half, the Canadians looked almost timid on the ice, unable to get anything going and afraid to take a bad penalty under the stricter international rules. Finally, near the end of the second, Canada started to look more like themselves, employing riskier plays and using their craftiness to force turnovers. A breakout pass while shorthanded created a two-on-one and put the Canadians within one, but it was too little, too late, and the Americans sailed to victory. Had they used those riskier plays more frequently, the result may have been different.
The American goalie didn’t make things easy, though. Strauss Mann stopped 35 of 37 shots and kept his team in it when the Canadians surged. He earned comparisons on the broadcast to Marty Turco thanks to his leadership and ability to control a play with his puck skills and awareness. The return of defenceman Jake Sanderson from COVID protocol was also impactful, as the smooth-skating Ottawa Senators’ prospect was on the ice for 16:59 and a big part of the team’s second goal, setting up Ben Myers beautifully.
Power, McTavish, and Johnson Look Fantastic
On a team filled with veterans, it seems almost counterintuitive that the youngest members of the team would be the best players. But Owen Power, Mason McTavish, and Kent Johnson were three of Canada’s top performers against the Americans, despite being left off the scoreboard. Power led the team in ice time with over 22 minutes, while Johnson led the team with five shots and was the second-most utilized forward, playing 17:36; only Eric O’Dell played more than him. McTavish was just behind him, too, playing just under 16 minutes and was the fifth-most utilized forward on the team.
The three have arguably been Canada’s most valuable players thus far. During their first game, Johnson was a large part of the third line’s success, while Power patrolled the blue line expertly in game two, but all three have been at the forefront of the offensive rush, setting up plays and employing high-end awareness to keep possession. It’s clear that they have the trust of their coaches, but Canada could do more to place these players in even more prominent positions. They can handle the pressure; they’ve had very few turnovers or bad passes, and although Power and McTavish have yet to register a point, that time will come. They’re just getting started.
Canada’s Depth Continues to Produce
Speaking on Johnson and the third line, it continues to be Canada’s top offensive unit. While shorthanded, Corban Knight took a pass from Daniel Winnik that got around Matty Beniers and put Canada within one goal. Winnik started playing a depth role but has since become an important piece of Canada’s offence along with Johnson, O’Dell, Ben Street, and Alex Grant. Those players have scored three of the team’s seven goals, and have combined for nine points in two games.
Conversely, Canada’s top line has continued to struggle to produce. Eric Staal, expected to play a big role in this tournament, has been largely ineffective. He has just two assists thus far and leads the team in penalty minutes after taking two undisciplined minors against the USA. Josh Ho-Sang also hasn’t been at his best with just one assist, although he has been getting chances and nearly put a puck past Mann in the third period had he been able to connect more on the rebound.
After this game, one has to wonder if Claude Julien, who returned behind the bench after suffering a rib injury during training camp, will jumble up the lines at all. He already rewarded the third line by having them start the game against the Americans’ top line, but he may want to switch things up even more. For example, Johnson and McTavish would likely do very well together on the same line due to their effort so far and their brief experience playing at the World Juniors together in Dec. 2021. Adam Tambellini is another name to watch; a younger member of the team at 27 years old, he has been getting a few chances and getting in the right spots, but so far, it just hasn’t come together for a goal.
A Chance to Regain Confidence Against China
A loss to the Americans is always tough for Canada, and the team will need to refresh their minds before heading into the playoffs. A big win against China may help that as well as put them in a better position to advance to the quarterfinals and bypass the first round. It will also allow them to try out some new strategies that will help them as they take on tougher opponents. Julien was frank but optimistic about their future. “Sometimes you ask your players to have short memories. That’s what we have to have. At the same time, you’ve got to remember why we lost this game. And make sure it doesn’t happen in the next one.”
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.