While the shot clock declared Canada's opening game of the 2017 world junior hockey championship an artistic success, there were still a few kinks in the team's game on Boxing Day.
However, the Canadians finished with a relatively easy 5-3 win at the Air Canada Centre over Russia, as the visitors could not muster a response to the openings the Canadians allowed at various times. By the third period, the Canadians were in control and finished the night with a 37-17 edge in shots.
The Canadians held a wide lead in shots throughout the first two periods but took most of that time to get their game together. There were a lot of missed passes and turnovers that the Russians were unable to capitalize on before Canada got enough of a handle on things to take a 3-1 lead into the third period.
Russian defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, a first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, agreed that his team squandered the opportunities left for them by Canada.
"We've got to execute better," said Sergachev, who scored a first-period goal on Russia's second shot of the game. "They're a pretty fast team. We can beat them all the time. They get weak in the second and third periods. They're just pretty good in the first. We should have won that game."
After Canada outshot Russia 12-5 in the first period, only to see the score tied 1-1, the Canadians started the second by tripping all over themselves. They could not get the puck to behave, it seemed, and the result was several minutes of sloppy play. Fortunately for Canada, the Russians were not much better and their best scoring chance was hitting the post just past the halfway mark of the second.
The wobbly play was epitomized by Canadian defenceman Thomas Chabot on an early power play. He was stripped of the puck in his own end by Russian forward Denis Alexeyev. Chabot then slashed Alexeyev to draw a penalty at 7:08 and end the Canadian power play.
However, a strong bit of lunch-bucket hockey while Chabot was in the penalty box may have inspired the Canadians to start skating harder and take over the game. While he was helping to kill the penalty, defenceman Blake Speers lost his stick during a long stretch without a whistle.
Speers valiantly tried to put his body in front of the Russians and the puck, and his best move came when he skated in front of a defenceman at the point, kicked out his foot and blocked a blast from the point. Speers was given an appreciative ovation from the crowd when the play finally stopped and from that point Canada's play picked up.
His teammates certainly noticed Speers's excellent shift.
"Those penalty guys are heart and soul," said Canadian centre Dylan Strome, who finished with two goals. "They go out there and throw their bodies on the line, blocking shots.
"Speers had a couple with no stick in his hand, he was hitting guys. I thought he was the hardest-working guy tonight."
After Sergachev was penalized for hooking, Strome scored his first goal on the power play at 13:15 to send Canada on the way to the win. Four minutes later, forward Nicolas Roy did a nice job of digging the puck out of a crowd in the high slot to give Canada a 3-1 lead.
"Maybe," Roy said when asked if there were some lapses in Canada's game. "Sometimes they had momentum but overall we played a good 60 minutes."
By this point, Canada was fully in charge of the game for the first time since the opening five minutes of the first period when Tyson Jost, a first-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, roofed a backhand to open the scoring. It was a nice finish to an equally nice setup, as Jost skated into the high slot, found himself alone and yelled loud enough for a pass to be heard in the last row of the building.
Canadian defenceman Phillipe Myers heard him loud and clear and put the puck right on Jost's stick. Myers himself is an interesting story, as he was passed over by all 30 NHL teams in the 2015 NHL entry draft. The native of Moncton, who plays for Rouyn-Noranda of the QMJHL, later signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and they found themselves with a genuine NHL prospect when Myers, who was injured in his draft year, made big strides in his skating.
Matt Barzal scored on the power play for Canada and set up Strome for his second power-play goal to give Canada a 5-2 lead. But each time the Russians came back with goals on long shots (Kirill Kaprizov and Yegor Rykov) against Canadian goaltender Carter Hart, which raised questions about his status as the No. 1 goaltender.
Hart surrendered three stoppable goals on 17 shots, all from the high slot or the point. This may give Connor Ingram the opportunity to start in goal for Canada on Tuesday night against Slovakia.