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World junior championship: Team Canada coffee talk; so-so shootout win over Sweden

Coach Steve Spott and captain Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (The Canadian Press)

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheifele will have trouble scoring from their position on the bench while watching Canada's penalty kill work double time.

Team Canada's second exhibition game ahead of the world junior championship, a 2-1 shootout win over Sweden on Saturday, was a slight improvement on its first. The club exhibited more energy, at least until the penalties (seven minors and Boone Jenner's likely suspension-inducing charging major/game misconduct) and being reduced to 10 forwards caught up with it. Goalie Jordan Binnington stopped 31-of-32 shots and 2-of-3 shootout attempts, including one on Sweden captain Filip Forsberg.

There is only so much that can be made of a pre-competition game; the IIHF world U20 championship will be up for grabs on Jan. 2, 3 and 5 in the knockout rounds in Ufa, Russia, not in Helsinki. The performance should hardly make Canadians arrogant about the Maple Leaf's chances, but nor is it dire if their best players can be their best players when it counts. Talk amongst yourselves:

— The 800-pound gorilla is not just in the corner of the room; he's taking up the middle of the couch. Just like coach Steve Spott's Kitchener Rangers in the OHL, this team has been vexed at developing that odd brew that turns potential into a potent offence.

Please keep in mind that it has been only two games for Canada. Who knows when the full lineup will be available? Ultiamtely, it did not feel like Sweden's 19-year-old goalie Joel Lassinantti had to overextend himself to hold Canada to one goal.

Nugent-Hopkins spent five minutes on the bench at one point in the second period. The locked-out Edmonton Oilers centre played only 12:50 in the first two periods.

Incidentally, to a man Sweden kept its shifts shorter than Canada did. Not that I would ever dare raise a coaching point.

— Binnington-Malcolm Subban or Subban-Binnington, who takes the Dec. 26 Germany game and who starts vs. Slovakia two days later? A gut feeling is the evaluation, to borrow a Steve Spott-ism, can continue through the first two games in Ufa against more lightly regarded competition.

Binnington was outstanding, as he has been for the Owen Sound Attack almost without fail all season. Granted, consider the circumstances. Subban might faced a stronger squad in Finland on Thursday than Binnington did in Sweden (at least when confronted with the quick-and-dirty comparisons of each Nordic club's results vs. Team USA). Subban also got the first game when Canada had more rust and travel lag to shake off.

Ultimately, it might boil down to whom Spott, et al., feel the team will play for; Binnington's aplomb during the various man-down situations and one second-period scramble might go a long way toward winning the room.

— Regarding the penalties: the to-the-letter officiating in international hockey has been the same for going on two generations, so it's more a Team Canada issue than it is one with the stripes. Play-by-play man Gord Miller of TSN said it best: "You can't complain about the officiating when it's consistent."

The stop-and-start nature of the game meant Nugent Hopkins spent five minutes on the bench at one stretch in the second period. He played 22:10, but almost 10 of that came in the third period and the five-minute overtime. His best moment came on a power play, where he set up right wing Mark Scheifele but the shot dinged the post. The chemistry between those two and left wing Jonathan Huberdeau ought to be there eventually.

— Justin Bourne, drawing on his NCAA days, took a look at how playing on the international ice surface affects special teams play. Canada deserves some time to show it can adapt to the big ice.

The lone goal against on Saturday was foreshadows seconds earlier by the penalty-killing boxed getting stretched out by Sweden's savvy Sebastian Collberg. The Montreal Canadiens second-rounder was along the half-wall when he drew out a defender, like a basketball player who sets up at the three-point line when he wants to drive to the basket. That created a 2-on-1 situation, which become 2-on-goalie when Wotherspoon blew a tire and fell  down.

— Hey, they have time on ice stats. Cam Charron can probably do a million things with these, meaning that providing him with a link will suffice as a holiday gift for the hardest-working guy in the hockey-bloggin' game.

The ones that jump off the page include Nathan MacKinnon only being credited with 6:32 in ice time in an overtime game that Canada finished with only 10 forwards. He has been strong on the puck without ending up in the penalty box and was on the ice for Jonathan Drouin's goal (that second assist MacKinnon was credited with might have been phantom-y).

Does he get more ice in the first two games? Drouin, for those wondering, played 12:28.

— Scott Harrington (25:54) and Dougie Hamilton (23:30 despite two minor penalties) were minutes-eaters as the shutdown pair. It was probably worth it to change up the D pairings — Harrington-Hamilton, Morgan Rielly-Tyler Wotherspoon, Xavier Ouellet-Griffin Reinhart, with Ryan Murphy rotating in — just to see if a change takes.

— Swedish defenceman Jesper Pettersson being injured does not help Boone Jenner's case not to be suspended.

— The officiating through all four pre-competition games might explain why Canada chose not to take robust right wing Tom Wilson, the Washington Capitals first-round pick who plays for the Plymouth Whalers.

— Idle thought: Canada's roster choices are 10 times more picked-over than any other country's, yet it selects the team before everyone else. Finland, Sweden and the United States brought extra players to the pre-competition games. Please excuse the second-guessing, but why doesn't Canada, which had to rush Mark McNeill over to replace Charles Hudon?

One wishes to think it has nothing to do with how big-business the event is. The players are part of the branding, the partnerships with Nike, et al. Sponsors might not like the uncertainty. Plus there is the whole "cutting someone at Christmas" part.

— To end on a fun note, is Nathan MacKinnon now Nate MacKinnon? Miller and James Duthie are using the latter, as if to confer that going from his club team to the national team means dropping the pretense of using his first name that is probably only used by the QMJHL and journalists to be formal and maybe by his relatives.

(Consider that inside baseball about the QMJHL's idiosyncracies with players' first names. Halifax coach, Dominique Ducharme, calls the centre "Nate" in interviews but "Nathan" is his hockey name. Minnesota Wild prospect Charlie Coyle became "Charles Coyle" when he joined the Saint John Sea Dogs midway through last season.)

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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