Does Canada Have a Chance?

If Canada had any semblance of goaltending, the game (or least the score) against the Czech Republic wouldn’t have been nearly as close as it was. Connor Ingram allowed three goals on 19 shots and looked shaky and uncomfortable from start to finish. You’d think that head coach Dominique Ducharme has to give fellow goaltender Carter Hart another shot because we’ve seen two straight games of inconsistent play from Ingram, and now there are no second chances.

Too Close for Comfort

Canada was lacklustre throughout the first period, despite leading in shots 11-4. They couldn’t generate anything on the powerplay, and they couldn’t penetrate the Czech’s defensive wall. It’s the perfect blueprint to beat Canada. Keep them from entering the zone cleanly, and clog up the ice. It worked well in the first because the Canadians couldn’t get many quality chances on Czech goalie Jakub Skarek.

The Czech Republic opened the scoring in the first thanks to a couple of odd bounces. It didn’t quite suck the life out of the crowd, but rather energised their emphatic boos towards Canada’s lethargic play. The Canadians couldn’t find their rhythm in the first, their zone entries didn’t materialise into sustained pressure, and there was a sense of panic on the bench.

‘In the first period we were panicking a little bit, but in the end I think it’s a big win for us.’ – Julien Gauthier.

It took a while for the stands to fill up, but a few empty seats or not, the crowd was extremely vocal. “It did fill out toward the end of the game. And they were still loud. It is the best building in the NHL. It’s loud and crazy even if there are a couple of empty seats.” – said Dylan Strome.

Canada came out of the first intermission with a lot more energy, and they were rewarded for it with a big tying goal less than four minutes into the second. The crowd erupted, and it seemed to energise the players even more because they quickly scored the go-ahead goal a few minutes later. But the Czechs weren’t about to lay down despite being outplayed.

Tomas Soustal tied the game about a minute later, an ugly goal for Ingram to allow. It was also the Czech’s first shot of the period. Thomas Chabot, who has made a name for himself in this tournament, gave Canada the lead, and they went into the intermission up 3-2. When Gauthier scored to make the game 4-2 in the third, it felt like Canada could finally breathe. But it was hard to feel comfortable that Ingram would be able to make a key save.

The Czechs scored to get within one, but it didn’t seem to rattle Canada, as Gauthier notched his second of the night to make it 5-3, and that’s where the score would stand. Canada outshot the Czechs 41-19, and the real difference was the superior play of Skarek, or this one would have been a laugher.

Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips
Carter Hart (Chris Mast/Everett Silvertips)

Canada’s Weak Goaltending

The Czechs may have rattled off 19 shots, but they had very little possession and really no sustained pressure, yet were able to knock three past Connor Ingram. Goaltending was a concern going into the tournament, and it’s become the main story for team Canada. The Czechs were no pushovers to be sure, but they aren’t close to the level of the Swedes, and if Canada wants any chance to advance to the gold medal game, they’re going to have to make a major improvement in net.

The question is, can they? Carter Hart looked to be the man when the tournament started, but he lost his crease after letting in some soft goals against Latvia. The problem is that Ingram hasn’t been any better, and Hart put in a really solid performance against Russia in the round robin. We knew that goaltending wouldn’t be their strength, but we didn’t think it would be this shaky. It’s hard to have confidence in either guy right now, especially up against a powerhouse team like Sweden.

After the game, Ducharme said he hadn’t made a decision on who would start in goal on Wednesday. Whoever is between the pipes will have to step up his game, because Canada won’t have much of a shot otherwise.

‘Ducharme may now be rethinking his decision to go with Ingram of the Kamloops Blazers in net ahead of Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips. Most considered Hart the better goalie coming into the tournament, but Ingram won over the Hockey Canada braintrust with his performance in a 3-1 loss to the Americans.’ – [Toronto Star]

Sweden is the Favourite

Hometown team or not, Canada is the underdog in their Semifinal matchup against Sweden. The Canadian players will say all the right things, but they will need a much better performance from top to bottom if they want any chance to advance to the gold medal game.

‘It doesn’t matter to us whether it’s the Russians, the Americans or the Swedes,’ said Thomas Chabot. ‘Right now, every single game is hard to win. It’s all the best teams left in the tournament.’

Chabot is right about one thing, the best teams are left, and his squad is facing the perceived best of all. While it’s possible that Sweden is overrated because of their weak group and the teams they’ve beaten, but their skill is for real. They’re going to come hard at the net, they’re going to generate a lot of chances and bring a lot of pressure. The Canadian defence may be able to weather the storm, but for how long?

Canada has never lost to Sweden in the knock-out phase, but things are different this year. Will it be impossible to beat the Swedes? No, but the problem is that Canada hasn’t been playing their best, or at least not as good as we assumed they could, and Sweden has shown little to no weakness. The Canadians have to start playing better with the puck and be more responsible with their decisions.

It’s rare to say that Canada will be looking to pull off the upset, but here we are. Prediction: Sweden wins.