Team Canada had their skill on full display for the world to witness in their 6-4 victory over the United States on Thursday. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it got the job done thanks to phenomenal play from their stars.
The classic rivalry between Team Canada and Team USA lived up to expectations with a back and forth tilt. Leads changed multiple times and both teams had to battle back from two-goal deficits but it was Canada’s four straight goals in the second period that set the tone for today’s 6-4 victory.
Alexis Lafreniere Proving His Worth
Expectations for Alexis Lafreniere, the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in 2020’s draft class, were high entering the tournament. What wasn’t expected was him to lead the Canadians as their top player, yet he did exactly that in today’s tilt against the United States.
Lafreniere showcased his confidence with the puck, especially on his game-winning goal with just three minutes left in the contest. When the United States had momentum going their way, Lafreniere read K’Andre Miller’s ill-advised pass like a book, batted it out of mid-air and out-waited Spencer Knight for a gorgeous goal that all but sealed Canada’s tournament-opening victory.
Along with the goal, the 18-year-old had three assists for a four-point night. He set up Barrett Hayton on two separate power-play goals including one where he dangled his way into the slot, committed at least two United States defenders, then offloaded to Hayton for a one-timer on the half boards. The individual effort of Lafreniere through the game was a spectacle to see. If he can continue to play at even half this pace, we’ll be watching a truly special player emerge before our eyes.
Up-and-Down Performance from Special Teams
Team Canada struggled to stay out of the box early in the contest, costing them two goals through the first 20 minutes. The United States’ biggest strength is their lethal power play, yet the Canadians still need to be better on the penalty kill. They often collapsed too early and gave their opponent far too much space.
Defenseman were going down too early, giving the United States even more time to find open space. Nick Robertson utilized that exact scenario to his advantage as he was able to sneak a cross-crease pass right under a defenseman, and Shane Pinto buried his second of the night. Going forward, the Canadians need to be more disciplined on their stick play and have plenty more pressure on the penalty kill.
However, the Canadians did flourish on the other side of special teams. Their power play was clicking throughout the contest, going 3-for-4 with two goals from Hayton and one from Nolan Foote. They moved the puck exceptionally well and did an excellent job at collapsing the United States defensemen before moving the puck to the outside. The first power-play unit is looking like a dominant force as the tournament continues.
Dominated Five-on-Five Play
Despite trailing at the end of 20 minutes, the Canadians made it crystal clear that they would not lose the game due to their even-strength play. The defense worked especially well at even strength, surrendering a single five-on-five goal in today’s contest. Jacob Bernard-Docker and Kevin Bahl were an excellent shutdown pairing through the contest.
Despite only having a single assist, Joseph Veleno was a prominent force on both sides of the puck. His 20:15 time on ice and four shots on goal were team-highs in the contest. The Detroit Red Wings prospect was especially successful in the dot, winning 7 of his 12 faceoffs. Head coach Dale Hunter has boatloads of confidence in the Veleno – Lafreniere – Foote line. Expect the threesome to be featured heavily as the tournament progresses.
What’s Next For Team Canada?
Team Canada has a day off before they’re back in action on Dec. 28 against a Russian squad that’s still looking for their first win of the tournament. Team Russia committed eight penalties against the Czech Republic – if they continue that same trend against Canada, it could quickly turn into a shooting gallery for Lafreniere and Co.