After finishing in the top spot in Group B, Canada will take on Slovakia in the quarterfinals today. Coming in first place ended up being a massive advantage for Canada simply because of the difference in the quality of their opponent. Not to be too hard on Slovakia but if Canada would have came in second place in their division then they would have had to go up against Finland, who are the defending champions at the tournament.
The Canadians will also get quite the boost today as Alexis Lafreniere is expected to be back in the lineup. He was injured early in the team’s loss to Russia but he was without a doubt their best player in the Boxing Day victory over Team USA. The projected first overall pick for the upcoming NHL Draft completely changes the look of their forward group.
Perhaps Lafreniere’s brief absence from the lineup ended up being a blessing in disguise. With both he and Joe Veleno out of the lineup for their game against Germany, I thought they got their most complete effort of the tournament from their forwards. Having some key players out of the lineup might have forced some other players to dig deep and find another gear.
They rolled that momentum right into their New Year’s Eve matchup against the host Czech Republic where their powerplay propelled them to a 7-2 victory. After scoring just three powerplay goals in last year’s tournament, Canada now has nine in this year’s tournament and got four in the first period on Tuesday. They have the best powerplay percentage in the tournament.
The Czechs started to fight back and scored two goals in 14 seconds in the second period but Canada responded just ten seconds after that when Liam Foudy got a lucky bounce and fired home his second of the tournament.
Canada’s start players were excellent in this one. Barrett Hayton and Dylan Cozens each racked up four points while Joe Veleno picked up three. Ten Canadian skaters registered points.
They’ll look to keep that offensive momentum rolling today so they can punch their ticket to the semi-finals.
Slovakia picked up just one win in the tournament, a 3-1 victory over Kazakstan, and lost their other three round-robin games by a combined score of 21-5. They really shouldn’t be viewed as much of a threat to the Canadians. As I mentioned off the top, coming in first place in the round-robin gave Canada a massive advantage as now, they get to play the weakest team in the medal round.
Their forwards have scored all eight of the goals so far through the tournament and if there is one player that Canada should keep an eye on, it’s definitley 19-year-old Robert Dzugan who has scored half of the team’s goals.
Between the pipes, they’ll likely be going with Samuel Hlavaj who was in net for their only win and has posted a 4.50 GAA and 0.868 save percentage through the round-robin.
They aren’t much of a threat with the man advantage and they haven’t had any success against the other three teams in their pool who advanced to the medal round.
KEYS TO VICTORY
- KEEP THE POWERPLAY HOT: I’ve been saying this all tournament but it’s crucial. If Canada can continue to stay confident and productive when they’re on the powerplay, it will really help them in the semifinals.
- JOEL HOFER: He’s their man and will more than likely get the start in the semifinals if they make it. He was good against the Czechs and should be confident right now. Canada needs to make sure that he isn’t too stressed between the pipes and can coast through this game and keep his confidence up.
- PLAY DESPERATE: It might not be very sportsmanlike to run up the score, but Canada needs to play just as hard as they would against any other opponent today for the full 60 minutes. You don’t want to let any bad habits creep into their game before the semifinals.
Canada will take on Slovakia at 7 am and if they win, they’ll advance to play the winner of Switzerland/Russia in the semifinals on January 4th.