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WJC Preview: Canada vs Czech Republic

Canada’s win over Germany was not exactly a dominant performance, but they played a really solid 60 minutes of hockey and I think that was exactly what this team needed. With key players Joe Veleno and Alexis Lafreniere out of the lineup, they needed some players from lower in the lineup to step up, and they got it. Seven different players registered points and nine different players registered two or more shots on goal.

They needed a goaltender to come through and start making some big stops, and they got that as well. Portland Winterhawks goaltender Joel Hofer got his first start with a Maple Leaf on his chest and he showed well, stopping 21 of 22 shots, coming within minutes of completing the shutout.

I still think they could do a better job of staying out of the box, but compared to the rest of the tournament, they aren’t that bad. Coming into the game against Germany they had taken nine penalties and had the worst PK % in the tournament. Against Germany, they racked up 12 PIM’s and allowed another powerplay goal against. They rank in the bottom third of the tournament when it comes to minor penalties taken, which is a positive, but their PK% still isn’t great. They need to completely clean up one of those areas.

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Maybe discipline, in general, isn’t a problem but they’ve taken some bad penalties at key times. It killed them against Russia and almost cost them their opening game against the USA. They will not get away with sloppy stick work and poor discipline in the medal round. They need to be better at playing hard defence at key moments, without taking penalties.

Despite some tough moments, Canada still enters today’s game against the Czech Republic with an opportunity to clinch the top spot in ‘Group B’ with a win. That would be massive, considering the quality of teams sitting near the bottom of ‘Group A’. If Canada wins the division, it would essentially guarantee that they’ll get a matchup against Slovakia in the quarterfinals, which is the best-case scenario.

But, the one thing Canada can’t afford to do right now is look past today’s game against the Czech Republic, who are anything but an easy out, just ask Team USA.

THE OPPOSITION

The host nation is fresh off an incredible performance against the Americans that saw them come back in the third period and push the game to overtime. That single point yesterday was massive for the Czechs because now all they need to advance to the medal round is for the Russians to beat Germany in regulation time.

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Heading into this tournament, ‘Group B’ was dubbed ‘The Group of Death’ and it has lived up to that nickname. The Czechs have beaten Russia and taken the USA to overtime, the Germans have surprisingly beaten the Czechs, and Canada has gotten smoked by Russia. It’s been wild and unpredictable. The Czech Republic is hoping that trend continues today.

Every single game the Czechs have played in so far in the tournament has ended with a final score of 4-3. Offensively, they’ll be relying on Blackhawks fourth-round pick Michal Teply, who has four assists through three games, and Jan Jenik, a Coyotes draft pick who has two goals and an assist. Their depth has been solid as well. Out of their 14 forwards, nine of them have registered points.

Another big offensive threat sits on their blueline. Libor Zabransky, an undrafted 19-year-old who is participating in his second World Juniors Championship, has already racked up three goals at this year’s tournament. They also have Martin Has, who has three points already.

The Czech’s are solid between the pipes as well. They’ve been outshot 104-81 thus far but their goaltenders have shone. They have Lukas Parik, who started and played very well against the USA, and Lukas Dostal, who won them a game against Russia but wasn’t on the bench in their most recent game and is reportedly dealing with a minor injury. No matter who goes against Canada, the Czechs are in good hands.

The injury bug hit the Czechs hard during that game against the Americans as well. The previously mentioned Jan Jenik left the game and just based on the fact he will have an MRI today, I doubt he’ll be in the lineup. They were also without reliable centreman Jan Sir and forward Jakub Lauko. Those are some massive losses for the Czechs and if they are forced to go with ten forwards today, that’s a massive advantage for Canada.

KEYS TO VICTORY

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  • PROVE IT WASN’T A FLUKE: Joel Hofer played well against Germany and Canada will need him to keep it up. If he has another solid start, I think that will do a lot for his confidence heading into the medal round. This tournament is all about peaking at the right now. Now would be that time for Hofer to find his top gear.
  • TAKE ADVANTAGE: The Czechs are banged up and coming off a very mentally and physically draining game against the United States. On top of that, if Russia takes care of Germany, then the Czechs don’t really have too much to play for. If Canada can take control of the game early, then they should be in fine shape in this one. I’m not sure if the Czechs will be able to grind out a comeback in a second straight game. Also, considering the fact that this tournament is being played in the Czech Republic, taking the crowd out of the game early will also be crucial.
  • GET THE BIG GUNS INVOLVED: I don’t expect Alexis Lafreniere to play, but, Joe Veleno will be back. I want to see Veleno, Hayton, and Cozens have a good night. That trio has combined for just five-points and Canada will need more from them in the medal round. Getting them going will be massive for this team.

Canada will look to lock up top spot in the group tonight and then will have an off day before their quarterfinal match on Thursday morning. The start time is still TBD.