Canada’s first game of the 2016 World Junior Championship ended seemingly as quickly as it began, with the United States skating to a 4-2 victory in what was a high-paced and exciting game.
Quite obviously, beginning their tournament with a loss was not how Team Canada had envisioned the road to a potential repeat Gold Medal would begin, however, it was the manner in which Canada was defeated which should be a cause for concern.
Despite a number of questionable penalty calls to both teams, Canada simply did not deserve to win this game. Although they did manage a number of quality scoring chances, the team as a whole, most prominently Canada’s top line, failed to garner consistent offensive pressure against their arch rival.
In particular, there was one major issue which simply must be improved by Canada moving forward, especially so if they hope to enjoy a long run in the tournament.
Pull the Trigger!
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
This widely known and famous quote by the ‘Great One’ himself, Wayne Gretzky, was undoubtedly drilled into the heads of Canada’s current roster as they ascended hockey’s junior ranks. Unfortunately for these young men, their opening game loss to the USA must serve as a reminder of the game’s one main goal: putting the puck in the net, an act made capable only by shooting the puck on net.
That’s right, the one major issue which plagued Canada in their opening contest was their lack of shots on goal, which was the direct result of their extremely passive nature throughout the game.
Yes, they did conclude the game having fired 27 shots on goal, yet the vast majority of these attempts came from the perimeter or in low percentage scoring areas. Further, in giving full credit to the Americans, Team USA did a tremendous job of blocking or deflecting an incredible number of Canadian shots, as it was quite clearly incredibly difficult to put the puck on net. In total, Canada managed just five shots in the first period, before adding ten in the second and another 12 in the third.
Centre Dylan Strome echoed these sentiments following the game, stating that “we didn’t get enough shots through… that’s not enough in a game like that. We’re trying to make too good a pass or too good a play.” Matt Barzal, who opened the scoring against USA felt similarly, adding that he felt his team “had opportunities to shoot and we passed it up.”
Although out shooting their opponent 27-25, Canada clearly must be more selfish in coming games, especially against increasingly skilled opponents. Of course, such is obviously easier said than done.
Able to see the game unfold before his very eyes was Head Coach Dave Lowry, who was also upset with his team’s inability to generate shots on goal. Like Strome, Lowry felt his squad “had the puck in good spots (but) didn’t get it to the net,” and instead were looking to create “perfect plays.”
In a World Junior Tournament known annually for its it high-end goaltending, or this year quite possibly the lack thereof, putting the puck on net on a consistent basis will be key to success for every team. Going forward, Team Canada, which is stacked with elite talent, must emphasize a shoot first, pass second mentality. Sure, intricate passing plays may work wonders against weaker competition, but doing so against true contenders, such as the United States, will surely spell a recipe for disaster.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at email@example.com.