Canadian Juniors have one more game to eliminate lapses, ignite offense and bolster confidence

As far as significance in the standings goes, Canada’s final preliminary game against Sweden means next to nothing.

The Canadians cannot catch their unbeaten Scandinavian rival even with a regulation win. The Swedes have a perfect 3-0 record and are locked into top spot in Group A following their 5-0 victory over Denmark on Wednesday.

The chances of Canada tracking down the Americans for second place are somewhere between slim and nil – with a heavy slant towards the latter option. The Red, White and Blue throttled Switzerland 10-1 on Wednesday thanks to a four-point effort from wunderkind Auston Matthews. They need a win over Denmark to secure second place, an almost deadlock guarantee.

So that leaves Canada holding steady in third, heading into the quarter-final. A matchup against the winner of the Czech Republic-Finland game is next. Canada cannot alter its position with a win against Sweden. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a must-win game.

The Canadians haven’t played well enough for the majority of their first three games. Changes need to be made. These are the biggest three that, if accomplished, will almost certainly result in a win and, more importantly, some positive progression heading into an elimination game on Saturday.

 

Eliminating lapses

From left: Canada's Jake Virtanen, Roland McKeown, goal scorer Brendan Perlini and Matt Parzal celebrate while Sweden's Andreas Englund and Rasmus Asplund, right, skate back to the bench during an ice hockey friendly match Sweden vs Canada in Helsinki, Finland Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015 prior the 2016 IIHF World Junior U20 Ice Hockey Championships tournament. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT
From left: Canada's Jake Virtanen, Roland McKeown, goal scorer Brendan Perlini and Matt Parzal celebrate while Sweden's Andreas Englund and Rasmus Asplund, right, skate back to the bench during an ice hockey friendly match Sweden vs Canada in Helsinki, Finland Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015 prior the 2016 IIHF World Junior U20 Ice Hockey Championships tournament. (Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva via AP) FINLAND OUT

The Canadians were cruising in their last pre-tournament game against Sweden as they led 5-1 heading into the third period. It took barely 15 minutes for Sweden to tie the game.

The Swedes were the beneficiaries of six Canadian minor penalties in the frame and scored five goals, two of which came on the power play. Canada needed a goal on a scramble from Mitch Marner to regain the advantage on the scoreboard with 3:40 to play and eke out a 7-6 victory.

Team Canada hasn’t come anywhere close to displaying that kind of shoddy defence in the tournament. Yet, momentary lapses in each of the games – such as allowing the first goal against an inferior opponent – have been evident. Those need to stop.

Not having to defend against William Nylander, who remains sidelined due to a check from Swiss forward Chris Egli, will make life a bit easier.

 

Bolstering Blackwood’s confidence

Mackenzie Blackwood is the favourite to carry the mail in net after a 23-save performance in a 3-2 shootout win over Switzerland on Tuesday.

It’s hard to fault the Barrie Colts goalie on either goal against and he had to be sharp late to prevent the Swiss from netting the go-ahead marker. Blackwood also posted a shutout over the Czech Republic in a pre-tournament game on Dec. 20 in his previous start.

Those were his only two appearances since Dec. 4, when he was issued an eight-game suspension from the OHL for a slashing.

One more solid performance – especially against a strong team like Sweden, which still features Alexander Nylander, Dmytro Timashov and Oskar Lindblom as its top scorers – will be a huge boon heading into Saturday.

 

Igniting the offence

Canada’s roster was supposed to feature enough firepower. Goal scoring was not supposed to be an issue.

Save for Dylan Strome, who leads the way with four points, and the overachieving Mathew Barzal, who has two goals and a helper, that hasn’t been the case.

Winger Mitch Marner has a goal and two assists, but isn’t happy with his performance. Neither is captain Brayden Point. Point has the same stat line as Marner – plus the shootout winner – but hasn’t looked as dangerous as he did in WHL play before sustaining a shoulder injury on Nov. 17.

Also on the list of disappointments are Brendan Perlini and Jake Virtanen. Perlini looked solid in pre-tournament play with two goals and two assists in three games. He’s barely been noticeable, unless you consider the holding penalty he took 46 seconds into the Swiss game. Damien Riat scored on the power play.

Perlini is expected to start the game against Sweden as the 13th forward.

As for Virtanen, he is the only player with NHL regular-season experience, yet he is one of only six Canadians without a point. He has nine shots on goal and looked more assertive against the Swiss. The damn might break if one of them goes in.

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