As far as tournament openers go, things couldn’t have gone much better for team Canada in its Boxing Day date with Russia.
The offence was there, their team defence was impeccable and the goaltending, while shaky at times, was solid when needed. Leading the way offensively was Mathew Barzal who had three points – two of those coming at crucial times in the third period.
With the score already at 3-1, Pierre-Luc Dubois found Barzal open in the slot for a one-timer that beat Ilya Samsonov in the Russian net to give Canada some much-needed insurance. Then, after Russian captain Kirill Kaprizov cut Canada’s lead to 4-2, Barzal once again went to work, drawing an assist on Dylan Strome’s second goal of the game that proved to be the dagger.
The Russians would cut the deficit down to two goals yet again with another goal, albeit a soft one, but the Canadians held firm and avoided another in a list monumental collapses against their long-time rivals.
As alluded to, Carter Hart was just okay in the Canadian net as he made 14 saves in the victory. He gets a reprieve on Russia’s first goal – both his defencemen did a great job screening him – but their second and third goals were on the weak end of the spectrum.
But frankly, it’s a wonder Hart didn’t fall asleep in the crease in the first and second periods when Russia managed all of nine shots combined. The lack of action in the Canadian end wasn’t solely an indictment on the Russians, but also a testament to the energy with which Canada played.
Although they struck for just one goal in the opening frame – coming off the stick of Tyson Jost 3:11 into the game – the Canadians gave Samsonov a workout in the Russian crease with 12 shots. The barrage continued into the second period when Canada fired another 15 shots, including goals from Strome and Nicolas Roy.
Russia failed to register a shot in the second half of period, giving Canada free reign in its end and forcing itself into two penalties. Canada could only take advantage on one of the power plays, as Strome, Barzal and Thomas Chabot connected for a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal.
The powerplay, a concern for any team when familiarity is at such a premium, was running like a well-oiled machine for the Canadians who struck for three goals with the man advantage. On the other end of the special teams spectrum, Canada was much more disciplined than usual, taking only three penalties and allowing just a single shorthanded marker.