The world junior hockey championship is unfolding the way it should for Canada.
The Canadians acquitted themselves fairly well in a tough test against Russia in the opening game, then cruised to a 5-0 win Tuesday night against Slovakia in a considerably easier challenge at Air Canada Centre. The final shots on goal were 44-6 for Canada, with the juniors moving into first place in Group B of the tournament with a 2-0 record.
"We were good at puck possession for sure," Canadian head coach Dominique Ducharme said. "We were good at pursing the puck when it got out of the offensive zone, we were good at forcing chip-ins and dump-ins and good at retrieving the puck when it went outside the offensive zone. It made it hard on [Slovakia] and that's what we wanted to do."
The Canadians dominated on shots for the second night in succession. But a 19-year-old freshman from the University of Connecticut had everyone wondering if a second major upset, one to rival Denmark's afternoon win over defending champion Finland, was in the cards. Adam Huska, selected in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL entry draft by the New York Rangers, looked more like an immediate successor to Henrik Lundqvist than the 184th player taken over all.
By the end of the first period, the shots were 14-2 for Canada, and Huska was the only person on the Slovakia team doing a reasonable impersonation of a hockey player. More than reasonable, actually, although somehow he was not selected as the team's player of the game. The Canadians came at him in waves, and he brushed them aside for the first 25 minutes of the game.
But it was only a matter of time before Canada broke through Huska's fancy stats and Jeremy Lauzon scored the first goal of the game 51/2 minutes into the second period. He took a nice drop pass from Tyson Jost and beat Huska to the top corner on the stick side from the high slot.
Three more goals followed over the rest of the second period, two of them on the power play, as the Canadians built a 4-0 lead heading into the third. Taylor Raddysh, Anthony Cirelli (on a double deflection) and Thomas Chabot did the scoring. By the end of the second period, the Canadians held a 31-3 lead in shots, with the Slovakians unable to muster as many shots as the Canadians had goals. Michael McLeod scored early in the third period to extend Canada's lead to 5-0.
The power play continued to click for Canada, and after 40 minutes the unit accounted for a total of five goals once the three against Russia in Monday's win were counted. This is a lot more production than the power play showed in pretournament games, although the members of the unit said they were not concerned.
"We were working really well the last couple of practices," centre Dylan Strome said after the 5-3 win over Russia. "Pretournament went well. We didn't get as many goals as we wanted, but the opportunities were there. We kept saying: If we get the opportunities, they're going to go in eventually. Winning battles [for the puck], that was huge."
What Ducharme likes is the players are willing to read the options available to them on the power play and take advantage of them. However, he would like to see less fancy play, common on tournament teams made up of elite players, and a little more mucking around the net.
"The message we give out is use your options, shoot the pucks," Ducharme said. "At the same time, you have to keep it simple. Being aggressive at the net is the biggest challenge when you get to that type of tournament with all-star players. They want to be tic-tac-toe all the time.
"By being aggressive at the net and keeping it simple and taking what the other team is giving us and setting up our shots is where we have success."
The question now for Ducharme and his staff is just which goaltender to use for the bulk of the tournament.
Carter Hart started for Canada against the Russians and did not play up to the standard needed to win this tournament. The 18-year-old native of Sherwood Park, Alta., who was drafted in the second round this year by the Philadelphia Flyers, gave up three goals on 17 shots. All three could have been stopped, as they came from long range and he was only partially screened on one.
This probably played a role in the decision to start Connor Ingram against Slovakia. The problem here is making a judgment on his play, considering Slovakia could only muster six shots over the entire game.
Ingram, a 19-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, should be given full marks simply for staying awake. The problem is that if he starts again in Canada's next game, it may still be difficult to make a decision between Ingram and Hart: Canada plays Latvia on Thursday, and if Tuesday's 9-1 win by Russia over the Latvians is any indication, seeing double figures in shots in that game may be a long shot.
"He was perfect," Ducharme said jokingly of Ingram's night against the Slovaks. "Obviously, we didn't get 20 or 25 shots but that's part of the game. We'll adjust and we'll see."
Ducharme declined to say who he plans to start against Latvia, only that he has confidence in both goaltenders.
"We're not there yet," he said. "We need to talk with the group. We'll see for the next game and we'll evaluate from there."