Rusty, but right on target

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

"It's definitely a work in progress," conceded Team Canada coach Marc Habscheid after his charges defeated Latvia 3-1 yesterday in an exhibition tuneup for the world hockey championship.

But even with that qualifier, Habscheid was pleased with his team's performance.

There was some rustiness, and he will need to address the occasional lack of discipline, but all in all, the Canadians are getting better each time out.

They outskated the Latvians -- who they will face again on Saturday in the opener of the world championship -- and played a sound defensive game and never looked threatened.

There was one first-period mixup when Rick Nash and Joe Thornton each thought the other was going to take possession of a loose puck.

Even though either could easily have done so, neither did. Janis Sprukts pounced on it, moved in alone on Martin Brodeur and beat him.

But in the second period, the Canadians dominated and got goals from Patrick Marleau and Simon Gagne. Dany Heatley wrapped up the scoring with a pretty goal in the third.

Spurred by their exuberant crowd, the Latvians played well in the first period, but after that, the Canadians' significant size advantage seemed to wear them down.

"They were coming out all fired up," Habscheid said. "We just got over here and it took our guys a period to get their legs under them."

Once they did, there was little doubt which team would emerge victorious.

Despite their one misunderstanding, Nash and Thornton, who played together in Davos, Switzerland this season, looked dangerous all night.

Heatley, another player who took the opportunity to hone his skills in Europe, also was in top form, beating two Latvians as he cut across the ice at the top of the circle then wiring a rising shot over the glove of Edgars Masalskis.

At the other end, Brodeur -- or Martins Brodeuris as he was introduced -- played a sharp game. He had to make a couple of fine glove saves in the early going and after that, was steady as the Canadians killed a string of penalties.

It was the type of challenge the Canadians wanted -- enough to make them work, but not enough to damage their confidence.


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