Rss

For the fourth consecutive game, Team Canada played what I viewed as a nearly perfect game. 

They blitzed the Finns right off the bat, scoring four goals in the first 5:10 of the opening frame. I mentioned in my preview of the game that Finland doesn’t have the high-end skill to compete with Canada and if the Canadians could turn this into a ‘track meet’ of sorts, they should be alright.

That seems to be what they did. Canada came out of the gates and took plenty of chances offensively, and they paid off. They controlled the way that the game was going to be played.

There were still some moments where this game could have turned around. Finland had a few great looks in the first ten minutes but Joel Hoffer turned them both aside. He was tremendous throughout this game, stopping all 32 shots he faced, including 11 ‘home plate’ shots (via TSN). Even if Canada doesn’t win gold, Hofer is my pick for the top goaltender at this year’s tournament.

Alexis Lafreniere was an absolute game-changer once again. He is the complete package and his diverse skill set was on full display in the semi-finals. He scored two goals and made some really good plays on the defensive side of the puck.

They’ll need Lafreniere and all their stars to be key contributors once again today as their redemption tour continues.

Earlier in the tournament, they were embarrassed by Team Russia, dropping a 6-0 decision which was one of the worst Canadian losses in the history of the World Juniors. Of course, the game ended with some controversy as Canadian Captain Barrett Hayton didn’t take off his helmet for the playing of the Russian national anthem, something that rightfully irked the Russians. 

This gold medal final should be a very emotionally charged game. 

 

THE OPPOSITION

Russia barely moved past the semi-finals with a 5-4 overtime victory over Sweden. It was a wild game, vintage World Juniors action really. Russia jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first period but saw their lead evaporate and found themselves trailing with 15 minutes to go in the third period.

They tied the game before the ten-minute mark and after being thoroughly dominated in the overtime period, they got a bounce as Ivan Morozov scored the winning goal. While I’m sure Russia would have preferred to avoid OT and win the game more decisively, they were the better team through 60 minutes, they just didn’t have the better goaltender. They outshot the Swedes 44-25. In fact, Russia hasn’t been outshot yet at this year’s tournament.

There’s no denying that Canada is in tough in today’s game. Canadian fans have already seen first hand how dominant this Russian offence can be. But, the one area where Canada could potentially have an advantage is between the pipes, which is not something I would have thought I’d be saying when this tournament began.

As I previously mentioned, Joel Hofer has been the best goaltender in the tournament and the Russians haven’t had anyone grab the reins as their starting goalie. They started projected first-round pick Yaroslav Askarov against Sweden but pulled him after he gave up his fourth goal of the game. 

Amir Miftahkov came in the game and didn’t allow a goal. His numbers through the round-robin look great, and he did shutout Team Canada, but he hasn’t started either of their medal round games so far and he was pulled in the teams game against the USA. 

Goaltending might not be a strength, but this Russian team can score. Six Russian forwards have at least five points already in the tournament. They have plenty of weapons. Keep an eye on their leading scorer, Alexander Khovanov. The 19-year-old was picked in the third round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild and is ripping up the QMJHL this season, averaging over two points per game with the Moncton Wildcats. He can be a game-breaker.

 

KEYS TO VICTORY

 

  • STAY DISCIPLINED: It’s going to be heated. It always is when these two teams meet. Canada needs to make sure that they play hard and physical without taking a bunch of penalties. Canada is at their best when they can control the pace of the game and having a little bit of emotion in their game can be a good thing, but if they let it go too far and lose their cool, they could be handing this thing right to the Russians. On the flip side, if Canada can start to frustrate Russia, they can lose their cool quickly. Only one other team took more minor penalties than the Russians so far in the tournament. That brings me to my next point.
  • DOMINATE THE SPECIAL TEAMS: This is an area where Canada should have a decisive advantage over Russia. Canada’s powerplay is running at 44%, Russias is sitting down at 22%. They’re much closer when you compare penalty kills, Canada is at 76% while Russia is at 79%. Canada has an electric powerplay that can hurt their opposition in many different ways. Russia has an average PK and they take a lot of penalties. It’s easy to see why Canada has an advantage here. It’s something they need to take advantage of.
  • STAR POWER: Canada has three of the tournaments top ten scorers. Russia has one. There is no denying that Canada has a special group of forwards that are capable of taking over any game. Getting the likes of Barrett Hayton, Joe Veleno, Dylan Cozens, and especially Alexis Lafreniere going will be massive for the Canadians.

 

With the gold medal on the line, Canada has a chance to get their redemption on Russia. With the firepower on both sides, this has the potential to be an absolute classic.