The New Years Eve matchup between Canada and Russia had a few goals, some big saves, and a good amount of bad blood. The one thing it didn’t feature was a Canadian victory.
There was so much hype around this game and honestly, I think the young group of Canadians just let it go to their heads. Sometimes in these games, a team gets too focused on the extra-curricular activities and they forget to just play sixty minutes of hockey.
The start was good for Canada, as most of their starts have been, and they got on the board early thanks to Cody Glass. But that’s all the offence they would get. Russia scored a powerplay goal a few minutes later and then would take the 2-1 lead in the third period.
Canada had some good looks and generated chances, but they couldn’t find a way to get one more goal past Russian goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov, who made 30 saves in the victory. His best was a cross-crease stop of Canadian Captain Maxime Comtois.
A win would have given Canada the top spot in their group and a matchup with Slovakia in the quarterfinals. Instead, they now need to go up against a very strong Finish squad in the opening game of the medal round.
While the Finns came third in their pool with a record of 2-2, they should not be taken lightly. Canada will need to play their best hockey of the tournament if they want to avoid what would be one of the most disappointing finishes in recent history.
CANADIANS TO WATCH
My eyes are going to be on Captain Maxime Comtois tonight. He played 17:47 in the game against Russia, but he took a pair of penalties. Canada let the hype of the New Years Eve matchup get the best of them and tonight, the team will need to rise to the occasion. Today, their Captain needs to lead by example and I expect he will.
Evan Bouchard continues to log minutes this tournament. Against Russia, he played 21:24 which was second amongst all Canadian skaters. He continues to be a vital part of this teams blueline and today when they take on a team with some very high-powered offensive players, Bouchard will need to be at his best.
As for goaltending, I think it’s almost a lock that Mikey DiPietro gets the start tonight. He was solid against Russia, making 29 saves and keeping the game tied with some big saves. There should be no concern with him between the pipes for Canada.
As I mentioned earlier, the Finns are coming in as the three seed in their group after going 2-2 in the round robin. They beat Slovakia and Kazakhstan but suffered losses to Sweden and USA.
While I like the look of their offence on paper, it’s struggled to produce so far in the tournament. They currently sit eighth in goals scored and a big reason for their offensive struggles has been their abysmal powerplay. They’ve scored just twice on 16 attempts. That’s second-worst in the tournament.
Despite their struggles, I still think they have a chance to be a dynamic offensive team. Keep an eye out for Eeli Tolvanen, who was loaned to the team after spending time with the Nashville Predators earlier this year. Aleksi Heponiemi torched the WHL last year with the Swift Current Broncos and he’s a very talented forward as well. Talvitie Aarne is their leading scorer right now with four points.
Kakko Kaapo is considered the consensus second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and he’s been playing pretty well this tournament with three points thus far. He should be fun to watch.
On the back end, Blackhawks defenseman Henri Jokiharju is the player to watch. He got off to a tremendous start in the NHL this year and I expect him to be a dominating presence in this game.
WHERE TO WATCH: You can catch this one on TSN1 with puck drop going just after 4:30 pm mountain time.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: I have a hard time believing Canada will bow out in the quarterfinals on home ice. I just can’t see it happening. It will be a tight game, but I think Canada will win 4-1.
NOT SO OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Canada has scored early in every single game this tournament and I think they’ll find a way to continue that trend tonight. I’m calling for a goal in the first five minutes.