The fact that Canada is 2-0 to start this year’s tournament is not surprising, but the way they got through the first two games of the 2019 World Junior Championships was fairly unpredictable.
They came out against Denmark and potted 14 goals. We knew it was going to be a blowout, but I don’t think anyone saw them winning by a pair of touchdowns.
On Thursday they faced off against Switzerland and while even I acknowledged that the Swiss should not be slept on this year, I did not think that game was going to be as close as it was. It was a combination of Canada making some poor plays and falling into some lengthy lulls and the Swiss showing that they can compete with anyone in this tournament.
A questionable call in the final minutes of the game killed almost all of Switzerland’s late-game momentum and they were able to escape with a 3-2 win.
Sometimes a game like that early in the tournament can be good for a team in the long run. They blew away Denmark and got a bit of a rude awakening against Switzerland.
Tonight, the opposition gets a little more difficult as they go up against the Czech Republic.
CANADIANS TO WATCH
It will be interesting to see what kind of response we get from Team Canada tonight. There were some serious questions about this team heading into the tournament, many of them surrounding the blue line and if the team had enough secondary scoring.
The big win over Denmark masked some of their problems, but many rose up during the tight win in game two.
Tonight, I’ll be watching Canada’s bottom six to see if they can keep not only keep producing goals but continue forcing turnovers on the forecheck. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a bunch of guys lower in their lineup. As the competition continues to get better, watch to see if guys like Mackenzie Entwistle, Jack Studnicka, and Brett Leason can continue to make an impact.
Of course, you’ll want to watch Oilers prospect, Evan Bouchard. While he registered three assists in the tournament opener, he made some glaring errors as well and he played the least out of any Canadian defenseman.
Last game, he and Maxime Comtois were the only Canadians to play more than 20 minutes. It appears as though Head Coach Tim Hunter was content just saving Bouchard in the game against Denmark. I would be surprised if we saw the Oilers 10th overall pick get closer to 25 minutes as the round robin concludes and possibly surpass that in the medal round.
The Czechs have some really skilled high-end forwards, and I’ll get into that in a second, but I expect Bouchard will be seeing a lot of Filip Zadina and Martin Necas in this one.
Finally, watch for 17-year-old Alexis Lafreniere tonight. He struggled in the first two round robin games and when asked about the play of the “super prospect” Head Coach Tim Hunter did not hold back.
“We showed him some video of the Denmark game. He was out there skating around like it was a free skate, lots of circles in his game. We talked to him about it and showed him the video and explained it to him. I told him ‘At the start of the game, you’re going to show me if you’ve understood this or not. If you don’t, we’re going to limit your ice time.” Head Coach Tim Hunter told the assembled media (quote via TSN’s Frank Seravalli).
Well, Lafreniere played just nine shifts against Switzerland totalling 6:49. He was demoted to the teams 13th forward. There’s no denying that he has the skill to play at this level. I’ll be watching for two things tonight. First, how will Tim Hunter use the youngster, and secondly, how will Lafreniere respond to the public challenge by the coach? Will he mope or will he play hungry and motivated and possibly earn some more minutes.
After edging out Switzerland in the first game of the tournament by a score of 2-1, the Czechs fell 2-1 to Team Russia.
In their opener, I felt like they were almost a little lucky to get a regulation win. They gave Switzerland seven opportunities on the powerplay and were outshot 23-14 in the final two periods. The Swiss pressed hard and the Czechs barely escaped.
Against Russia, the Czechs made it a one-goal game going into the third period but simply couldn’t buy a goal in the final frame. They had plenty of really close calls. Special teams and discipline was an issue once again for the Czechs. They gave up two shorthanded goals, gave Russia five chances on the powerplay, and took a minor penalty in the final minutes of regulation which essentially killed their comeback hopes.
They’ll need to stay out of the box against Canada tonight if they want any chance of winning.
On paper, this Czech team is rather top-loaded. Detroit first rounder Filip Zadina hasn’t registered a point through two games in the tournament but he’s produced 17 points in 27 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL.
Martin Necas, who Carolina picked 12th overall this past June, is wearing the ‘C’ for this team and will be relied on to spark the offense. As will Avalanche first rounder, Martin Kraut.
They’re also strong between the pipes. All three of their goalies could honestly have been starters in this tournament. Lukas Dostal has started the first two games and done an incredible job in both of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they go right back to him tonight.
WHERE TO WATCH: You can catch this one on TSN1 with puck drop going just after 6 pm mountain time.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Well, I predicted two wins for Canada but was wrong on the score both times. Tonight, I’ll say Canada wins 5-2, with an empty netter.
NOT SO OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: As they have in every game this tournament, I think Canada will once again score within the first five minutes of the game. (I’m 0/2 on these predictions as well)