Canada defeated Europe last night to win Game 2 of the finals, and the World Cup of Hockey, in a 2-1 comeback victory.
They played terribly.
Team Europe was nominally the home team for this one, which meant that they got the last change, and thus the line-matching advantage. Perhaps as a result, Canada looked hideously sloppy and uncoordinated to start, whereas Europe played sound hockey. Multiple times, Canada won o-zone faceoffs that sailed past their point men and out of the zone. Canada's normally immaculate passing seemed to keep missing the mark, and the broken plays led to breaks for Team Europe. Prepare for a theme.
The Europeans scored on a nifty little wrister from Zdeno Chara that was deflected in front of, and over, Carey Price.
another angle of the Chara goal pic.twitter.com/45t3brFFyI— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 30, 2016
The goal that actually went in was hardly the best chance the European Union had. Marian Hossa had a partial breakaway that Brent Burns took a hooking penalty to stop. Jay Bouwmeester did a good job blocking up a three-on-one that could easily have ended in the back of Canada's net.
Europe simply looked more energetic, and when pushed, they blocked a lot of shots. Canada occasionally flashed the skill they possess, and had a few good chances that could easily have beaten Halak had he not been on the ball. But the shots for the period ended 12-8, and that was an accurate reflection of the play. For what it's worth, Canada was ahead in EV Corsi, but Europe in EV Fenwick. Score after one: 1-0 Europe.
The Canadians got on the power play when Marian Hossa was called for a gentle hook on Jonathan Toews. After a minute or so of offensive impotence, Canada finally developed something approaching a cycle and fed John Tavares with a wide-open net. Tavares banged the puck off the post and out, thereby ending all fanbase carping about him coming to Toronto forever, or so I hope.
While it's tempting to focus--and I have--on how much the Canadians were underperforming, the Europeans continued to make a case that they've never been given enough credit. Europe's strength has been an opportunistic pouncing on odd-man rushes, an aggressive forecheck, and a resistance to getting caught pinching. But in the second, they set up in the Canadian end for extended EV cycling twice, and looked as slick and dangerous as any team at the WCH. If Canada was under the illusion that Europe wasn't quality competition, it should have been permanently dispelled by this point.
Meanwhile, Canada continued to make inaccurate, unsuccessful passes that Europe hoovered up like a transnational vacuum cleaner. Ryan Getzlaf sprung Team Europe for a two-on-one that Jannik Hansen couldn't finish; shortly after, Alex Pietrangelo bobbled away a puck to Nido Niederreiter for a three-on-one, which ended in Carey Price's glove. Price was one of the rare Canadians playing at 100%; he absolutely robbed a Hansen finish of a Kopitar pass shortly thereafter. Marian Hossa ran Price over later and was roundly booed by fans who realized who was keeping the game close. The only Canadian skater I saw much from this period was Corey Perry, who looked very, and uniquely, dangerous.
According to the boxscore, Canada had 13 turnovers (to Europe's 10) by the end of the second. Normally turnovers mean you have the puck more, or that the scorekeeper doesn't like you. Here I think they very accurately reflected some sloppy, disjointed play on one side and some persistent forechecking on the other. The line-matching advantage certainly helped Europe. But a team of all-stars should not have looked as bad as Canada did this period, or been as grateful as they likely were to end the second down only one.
Shots for the second were 15-13 Europe, with the score still 1-0. At this point, I seriously would have turned off the game if I weren't doing this recap.
Europe kept right on playing their game for the first half of the third, and Canada kept screwing up and giving them rushes. Alex Pietrangelo (who, while it won't be remembered, had a truly miserable game) coughed up the puck a couple more times. Nafio jokingly wondered if Canada was trying to throw the game; if they had been, it wouldn't have looked all that much different.
Finally, though, a mere 52 minutes into the game, Canada seemed to consider that they might actually lose.
It started with a couple of shifts in Europe's zone. Characteristically, both shifts ended in European rushes; one of which Hossa dumped for a change, and one of which Mats Zucarello wired off Price and out of the rink. But the Canadian first line began to look extremely dangerous EV, with Crosby, Bergeron and Marchand buzzing around Jaro Halak. Hold that thought.
It was Patrice Bergeron who finally got our home and native land on the board. Anze Kopitar took a penalty for mugging, and after a bit more Keystone Kops action on the passing front, the Canadians got back to the European zone and set up. Brent Burns rifled a puck from the point, which Bergeron spiked down with a not-too-high-stick, and it bounced in past Jaro Halak.
Patrice Bergeron ties the game pic.twitter.com/UBxLactfzA— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 30, 2016
Drew Doughty took a definitely-not-a-makeup-call high-sticking penalty with just under two minutes left, and suddenly the most boring game in history got really exciting, really fast. Roman Josi fired a one-timer off the post and out, and Marian Hossa set up a gorgeous net-front play that Carey Price absolutely stole. And then Jonathan Toews and Brad Marchand found themselves rushing two-on-two on the PK.
Toews bought Marchand some time and space and then back-passed it to him. Marchand, who is the most talented rat I've seen in a long time, did not miss.
Brad Marchand may have just won the tournament with a SHG, nice set up from Toews pic.twitter.com/CrjQRPXhcU— Stephanie (@myregularface) September 30, 2016
And that was that.
Crosby was named tournament MVP, an honour he unequivocally deserved. Canada won the World Cup of Hockey, which tonight they probably did not deserve. Carey Price held the score to 1-0 long enough for Canada to wake up, and after that, special teams skill told the tale. It may actually say more for the talent of the Canadians that they played this poorly most of the night and won anyway with a late charge.
Some last thoughts on a game whose first 50 minutes none will remember:
-Marian Hossa was the best skater tonight, in my opinion. He's so good at everything, from forechecking to penalty-killing to perfect set-up passes. He's 37, but tonight you'd never know it.
-Carey Price is unreal.
-A good forecheck can make a lot of teams look bad, but I'm still a little confused as to how Canada looked as bad as they did. Whether it was attempting too much--lots of long passes--or holding it too long, or simply getting careless, they really did have a spectacular number of bad giveaways tonight. Europe played excellent hockey, but Canada should simply not have been as close to losing as they were.
-This tournament is done, and aside from the pure joy of Team NA, I can't say it was much to write home about. We were reminded that Sid is the best player in the world, that Connor McDavid is going to be the best player in the world, and that Auston Matthews is going to be the best player on the Leafs. The rest was just a depressing reminder that no country is even close to Canada in hockey anymore. I hope Team USA gets it together soon, because the last two best-on-best tournaments have been more like best-on-best-we-can-do.
-I'm ready for the Leafs.