Canada can win games and dominate play all it wants at the world hockey championship — but it can’t please everyone.
Four straight victories and the best offensive and defensive records in Group F weren’t enough to quiet questions about a perceived “slow start” as Canadian players addressed the media on their off day Friday at the Westin Hotel in Halifax.
“We’re 4-0,” tournament leading scorer Dany Heatley said with a baffled laugh. “At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. I don’t think people realize how close (this tournament) is.
“These are good players, we’ve run into some real good goalies, and the bottom line is, we’ve found a way to win.”
Apparently, back-to-back one-goal victories over the United States and Norway have some observers in a mild state of panic. Canada admittedly didn’t play its best against the U.S., but several lineup adjustments paid huge dividends against Norway.
Canada dominated Thursday’s game, and only the outstanding goaltending of Pal Grotnes kept the score 2-1.
“I don’t think we’re starting slow,” said Heatley, who has been red-hot offensively with six goals and four assists in four games. “Having said that, we do have to get better.”
Canada, which has outscored opponents 21-6 and out-shot them 183-102, hasn’t played its best hockey yet. The power play hasn’t quite clicked, several line combinations are still searching for chemistry, and discipline has been lacking.
They’re eyeing improvement in those areas against Germany on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at the Metro Centre.
“It’s a process,” Heatley said. “We’ve played pretty well through four and our goal is to get better every night.”
>> Canadian head coach Ken Hitchcock said he expects the Germans to play a similar style to Norway as far as the defensive trapping system they’ll play, but said the physical component will be a big adjustment for his troops.
Among the most physical Germans is hard-hitting Ottawa Senators defenceman Christoph Schubert.
“They can tune it up physically like they did against the Americans (on Thursday in a 6-4 loss),” he said. “They have guys who like to play that game and it’s going to be a hard game for us.”
>> One of Canada’s biggest concerns from Thursday’s game against Norway was a lack of goal-area traffic, which the players felt contributed to Grotnes’s success in goal.
“A trap team, they want to keep you on the outside, and we’ve got to do a better job getting to the net,” Heatley said. “We’ve got to get guys at the net and getting into the greasy areas.”
As an example, Hitchcock said he plans to “retool” the Dany Heatley-Rick Nash-Ryan Getzlaf power-play unit so that Getzlaf is parked close to the goal for tips and deflections.
Traffic in front will help a power play that has struggled, in relative terms, at a 5-for-25 clip. The Americans, conversely, have gone an incredible 11-for-27.
>> Canada had a “family day” yesterday and didn’t skate. Hitchcock said it’s important for the players to get time away from hockey in a tournament as long as this one.
>> Hitchcock said the adjustment from the NHL to the IIHF is very difficult when it comes to officiating.
“I could be here for five weeks and not know what a penalty is,” the Columbus Blue Jackets bench boss quipped.
>> Dany Heatley is a Calgary native who was born in Freiburg, Germany, so Saturday’s game will have special significance. His dad, Murray, was a high-scoring 5-foot-8 forward for Freiburg at Germany’s second- and third-tier pro leagues in the 1980s, at one point recording 133 points in 43 games.