May 1, 2012
Canada as ready as can be expected
By Terry Jones, QMI AGENCY
KLOTEN, SWITZERLAND - Normally the concern is that some carpenter, butcher or maybe even a mailman is going to stand on his head and have the game of his life for some hockey country you’d be challenged to place on a map.
Normally the worry is that some unknown-to-the-world goaltender will make himself a local legend — as has happened so often — for knocking off a nowhere-near-ready Team Canada in an early game at the world hockey championships.
Normally just-off-the-plane Canada opens against second tier countries and the concern is having a scare from a bunch of guys who will forever have something to tell their grandchildren.
But Canada is the IIHF’s fifth-ranked nation headed into the last Olympic qualifying tournament prior to the Olympics, and has a strange schedule waiting for them in Helsinki.
Kazakhstan and Belarus are their last two games on Canada’s round robin schedule.
Slovakia and the U.S.A. are the first two.
Friday and Saturday.
Which invited the questions after Brent Sutter’s team followed up a 2-1 overtime win in Fribourg Sunday with a 4-2 win over the same Switzerland squad here Tuesday.
Ready? Or not?
“Well, we needed to be better than we were the first game. And I thought we were. Our work ethic was good. Again our goaltending was good. We know we’re going to get good goaltending,” said Sutter.
“From where we were on Day 1 to where we’ll be when we get off the plane in Finland, we’re pleased where we’re at. We’ve had three practices and two games.
“Switzerland is a tough team to play. They can skate, the come hard and the really know how to use the big ice. And we’re still making adjustments. Our special teams still need some work. We gave up both goals tonight on their power plays. I’m happy with the way we’re moving the puck on our power plays. I’m not really concerned there.”
Normally in the pre-tournament games and the first few games at the championships, Canadian coaches do a great deal of experimenting with lines.
“When you play your first two games against those two teams on consecutive nights, you better have something in place,” he said.
He made one decision the day he was hired, which also was the same day he was supposedly “fired” by the Calgary Flames.
The coach, who has a 19-0-1 international record with Team Canada at two undefeated world juniors and a Canada-Russia series, decided he’d have four pairs of players start together and stay together into the Slovakia and U.S.A. opening weekend.
• Edmonton Oilers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle.
• Anaheim Ducks Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
• Winnipeg Jets Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd.
• And last year’s Team Canada world championship team linemates John Tavares and Jeff Skinner.
“Getzlaf catches up to the team in Helsinki,” said Sutter, who will keep Perry with Alex Burrows, who played their first game together here Tuesday night. Burrows will stay. Jamie Benn, who played with Eberle and RNH in Fribourg where the two Oilers had a great game and who was with Perry and Burrows on Tuesday, will be reassigned.
“Alex and Corey looked good,” said Sutter.
“Tavares. Skinner and Patrick Sharp looked real good together. They got better in this game,” he said of the line that produced Canada’s first and final goals of the game.
“Tavares and Skinner have played together before and Sharp adds smarts and dependability to their speed and skill.
“And I liked the progress by Ryan O’Reilly, Ladd and Kane.”
So? Ready? Or not?
“The thing I have to work out right now is who fits best with Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins,” said Sutter of the top item on his to-do list.
“Who fits best with those two guys. We need enough grit on that line on the boards,” he said.
Teddy Purcell of the Tampa Bay Lightening clearly didn’t prove to be a good fit in this one.
So the bottom line is that they’re about as ready as could be expected. But that isn’t saying they’re ready.
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