Canada’s players have echoed a familiar refrain about “getting better every day” at the world hockey championship.
As the defending champions head into a pivotal match-up with Finland today at 4:30 p.m. at the Metro Centre in a rematch of last year’s gold-medal game, they’ll have to improve upon near perfection to follow through on their words.
Canada pounded Germany 10-1 in effortless fashion Saturday, dominating from the opening faceoff.
“We played the way that we’d like to but it doesn’t matter,” captain Shane Doan said. “We have to do it again, we have to play similar hockey, we have to stay out of the penalty box, and our power play has to be a little bit better.”
Added Jamal Mayers: “You can never play a perfect game.”
It’s a battle of unbeaten teams today, and on the line is first place in Group F. In a nutshell, the winner earns the right to avoid the United States in Wednesday’s quarter-finals.
Saturday was arguably Canada’s most complete effort yet, as it had more goals that Germany had shots when it grabbed a 9-0 lead late in the second period. The star-studded squad is 5-0 this year, and has a 14-game winning streak at the event.
Eric Staal had four goals and an assist and his second line with Martin St. Louis and Derek Roy combined for 12 points to finally provide backup to Dany Heatley’s top unit.
“The Canadians don’t have any weaknesses and they’ve been flying by everybody,” Finnish head coach Doug Shedden said. “It’s a challenge for us to see how we stand up.”
The Finns have three solid NHL lines featuring all-star calibre players in Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu, but high-scoring Olli Jokinen won’t play because of a suspension.
Minnesota Wild goalie Nicklas Backstrom has been steady behind a defence corps with just one NHLer.
“They’ve forged an identity very similar to (ours), so I’m curious and excited to see how we play against a team with that blend of youth and experience,” Canada’s head coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’ve got the same thing going on here.”
Finland is coming off a hard-fought 3-2 win over the U.S. last night and fatigue could be a factor.
This is the final game for Canada before the playoff round as the tournament ramps up. Only one Canadian game remains in Halifax after today — Wednesday’s quarter-finals.
“The games are harder, the intensity and speed of the game is more upbeat,” said former Halifax Mooseheads goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who will start for Canada today.
“We’re excited the last part of the tournament is kicking off and we’re starting to play the games that count.”