Hockey Canada didn't have the horses in Beijing.
In a contest void of meaningful offence, Sweden outlasted Canada in the quarterfinals at the 2022 Winter Olympics, winning 2-0 to advance to the medal round of the event. Former NHL forward Lucas Wallmark scored the decisive goal of the contest on a deflected shot near the midway mark of the third period before Sweden added an empty netter to ice it.
Matt Tomkins was solid in the Canadian net, making 24 saves, but could not match a perfect outing for surprise Swedish netminder Lars Johansson.
Here are the important details from the loss.
It was far from a masterpiece from both teams, at least offensively. Canada and Sweden were supremely diligent and responsible within their structure, effectively committing bodies when the other team was able to mount something that resembled meaningful offence. It quickly became clear that one mistake would define the game, and it was Jack McBain that committed it deep into the third period.
A Boston College product, McBain tried to fancy up a zone exit as the first line for Canada looked to attack. But when his drop pass failed to hit the mark and the puck remained inside the zone Canada was looking to break out from, Wallmark, Sweden's leading goal man, was able to collect and lug the puck across the face of goal and shoot from area that had, for the most part, been cordoned off.
Unfortunately for the Canadians, it wasn't a clean a look — because Tomkins had dealt with these without much trouble. Instead, the shot deflected off the stick of Mat Robinson and fluttered into the back of the net.
Sweden🇸🇪 finally breaks the deadlock !
Lucas Wallmark gives Team Sweden a 1-0 lead half way through the 3rd !
Wallmark Will Score (+200) ✅💰https://t.co/aWtazsPRvI#IceHockey #Beijing2022
— Coolbet Canada 🇨🇦 (@CoolbetCanada) February 16, 2022
Low event means high variance. It's wrong to suggest that the Canadians opened themselves up to a game that would be decided by one mistake, because the Swedes implemented their strategy perfectly. But there was a measure of conservativeness and an inability to flip the switch — factors which contributed to Canada costing itself a chance to repeat as medallists in a non-NHL Games.
Not enough firepower
Canada scored 19 goals in five games at the Olympics, which on the surface would indicate that scoring wasn't an issue. Against legitimate medal hopefuls, however, the Canadians managed to score only twice in two games. Almost 90 percent of their goals came versus teams that did not make it into the quarterfinals, as the Canadians were stymied in the preliminary round against the United States and of course, now, versus Sweden.
On a macro level, clearly the Canadians didn't have enough firepower, or cohesive firepower, in Beijing given the absence of NHL talent. Beyond that basic level fo reasoning, though, it's worth wondering if the right decisions were made at both the management and coaching levels.
Canada was without a legitimate top line for the entirety of the tournament with Eric Staal and Mason McTavish failing to strike a meaningful chord with either Josh Ho-Sang or the aforementioned McBain. As noted in a previous column, expecting Staal to reclaim his elite NHL form after sitting on the sidelines all year seemed like wishful thinking.
And of course, head coach Claude Julien played it conservative in the loss, prioritizing elements of structure and control over the pursuit of a go-ahead goal. Sitting Kent Johnson and demoting McTavish were signs of a team looking to avoid the mistake rather than leaning on talent to force the opposition into one.
Passivity will cost you, and Canada had just 22 shots in an elimination game in which it never led. It wasn't good enough.
Let this be the final reminder with what could have been.
Canada shouldn't have ever had to engage in a waiting game. It should have been oozing with talent. It should have been the class of the tournament. But the depths of the program can only take you so far. And the next-best for Canada in the absence of NHLers simply isn't good enough to win a tournament of this magnitude. We have two Olympic Games to illustrate that.
Adding to the uncertainty in net for Canada, Tomkins was turning around to start again less than 24 hours after proving, at least to the coaching staff, that he was the best option in net after a win in the qualifying round over China.
Many mistakes were made, but not with Canada's starter.
Tomkins was really strong for Canada at every stop in the tournament. And while that wasn't enough to push his team into the medal round, his performance in allowing just three goals in as many games might be enough to capture the attention of some NHL clubs.
The former seventh-round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks is currently starring on Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League. It's his first season overseas after several seasons in the Blackhawks farm system following four years at Ohio State. Perhaps his European career is cut short after making a name for himself in relief in Beijing.
Tomkins is in a select class when assessing future NHL prospects, unfortunately. Of course, McTavish, Johnson and Owen Power have long NHL careers ahead of them, but as for everyone else, it's hard to say a statement was made.
Ho-Sang was believed to be in a prove-it position at the Olympic Games, having served in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization's farm system to this point in the season. It doesn't seem like he successfully parlayed this platform into an NHL deal, unless a handshake agreement was already made.
Likewise, Staal probably hasn't proven himself as option for teams aiming to load up.
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