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Photo Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

WJC Game Day Preview: Canada vs Slovakia

Canada wasn’t perfect in their opening match against Finland, but they got the job done. In some ways, showing flaws early in the tournament is a good thing because it allows you to address your problems before the knockout stage.

Their defensemen looked nervous with the puck on their stick, something that was supposed to be a clear-cut strength of this team. While they did score a powerplay goal, I wasn’t overly impressed with their ability to create chances with the man advantage and on the flip side of that, their undisciplined ways gave Finland too many chances on the powerplay.

They fell into lulls at too many points in the opening game, and that’s something Head Coach Dominique Ducharme is going to have to look at.

There were also some positives from last night. They came out flying and I think surprised Finland to some extent in the opening frame. I felt like their offence looked good at even strength and they did a good job bending but not breaking when Finland did put on pressure.

At the end of the day, that first game against a strong Finnish squad was a big hurdle that they cleared. Now, they can look at a game against a much weaker Slovakia team as a chance to not only improve to 2-0 but also work out some kinks.

THE OPPONENT

It could end up being a bit of a rude welcoming to the 2018 World Juniors for Slovakia, who will be opening up the tournament tonight against Canada.

Just by looking at them on paper, it’s clear that this Slovakia team isn’t anywhere close to Canada in terms of skill. While Canada boasts a d-core full of early round NHL picks, Slovakia doesn’t have a single drafted defensemen at this year’s tournament.

Up front, they have a few players who are eligible for the upcoming draft, but only three who have been selected and are returning from last years tournament.

Marian Studenic is a fifth-round pick of the New Jersey Devils and played a small role with the team at last year’s tournament. He’s having a good year with Hamilton (OHL) at almost a point per game. He should drive any offence they produce.

Adam Ruzicka is an undersized forward but he can score, he already has 20 goals with the Sarnia Sting. The Flames fourth rounder should stand out in a rather weak crowd of Slovakian forwards.

They’ve lost in the quarterfinals three of the last four years and I expect a similar result this year. As for tonight, I don’t expect them to give Canada much of a fight.

KEYS TO VICTORY

  • Confidence with the puck will be key. I want to see Canada’s defensemen make more effective outlet passes tonight than they did last game. Specifically, I’m watching Kale Clague to see if he can bounce back.
  • A full 60. I want to see this group prove that they can go wire to wire. They had too many lulls in their play in the opening game, I want to see if the can put the pressure on, and keep it on for longer periods of time.
  • Stay disciplined. It will be easier to do if the game isn’t an intense as the match against Finland, but you don’t want to make trips to the box a habit as the tournament moves forward.

PLAYER TO WATCH

It isn’t hard to notice Boris Katchouk. He works his ass off every shift, he throws his body around and he does a good job of generating chances. He got rewarded yesterday with a pair of points and that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

The Tampa Bay Lightning second round pick already has 45 points in just 30 games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He plays well and can be trusted at either end of the ice, something I think Dominique Ducharme really values.

Keep an eye on Katchouk, who’s trending to be a really nice surprise for this Canadian team.

LINES

Ducharme said he doesn’t want to mix up the lines too much, so expect the same combination as we saw against Finland.

The only change will come between the pipes were Colton Point will get the start. The North Bay, Ontario native was selected in the fifth round by Dallas in the 2016 draft and is having a great season at Colgate University, posting a sub 2.00 GAA and a 0.928 SV%.

UPDATE: As per Bob McKenzie, Kale Clague is out with a right foot injury after blocking a shot in the opener vs Finland. He’s considered day-to-day.

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