"It's truly disappointing ... it happened in practice. It's hard because I love playing for my country, and it's an honour to be here.
"We've got the whole summer to heal. I'll be itching and ready to go when September rolls around."
-- the irrepressible Ryan Smyth, speaking about the fractured ankle that ended his World Championships but didn't apparently dampen his optimistic outlook on life. What a champ.
Well, that's a drag. Ryan Smyth's eighth World Championships are over after just one game, Captain Canada's record 60th WC game in the Red Maple Leaf. It sounds like the same injury that very nearly cost him the Salt Lake City Olympics in '02, did cost him what was surely his last worlds. Give the guy all the credit in the world: after being passed over for the Vancouver team, after playing a round of playoffs and absorbing the usual nicks and scratches that come with his game, he was there with bells on ready to give 'er another go. It sucks for him that he's hurt, and it sucks for us. The five-time gold medallist will be missed.
What's worse is that restrictive IIHF regulations do not allow injury replacements for the entirety of the first round, meaning Canada had to go a player short against Latvia today and will again against La Suisse on Wednesday, despite the availability of Jordan Eberle to step into the line-up. Kind of a nonsensical rule if you ask me, given that two players can be added after Game Three. Why not now when the player is needed? Dumb rule which may deny, or at least delay, international hockey fans an opportunity to see yet another of Canada's Next Gen unveiled in what is supposed to be a showcase tournament.
The absence of Oilers past and future was a piss-off all the way around, but so it is. The other 21 guys all played and contributed to a resounding Canada victory over Latvia. More on the game after the jump:
Short a man, Craig MacTavish had to shuffle his wingers around a little to get Smyth's former linemates into the game, but succeeded to such an extent that Evander Kane and Rich Peverley were actually 1-2 among forwards in TOI. The 18-year-old Kane was the only F to play as many as 18 minutes. It helped that both are on the PK unit, which as the penalties mounted made Smyth's absence something of a moot point. The game summary breaks down TOI by period rather than the NHL's breakdown by special teams, but the team as a whole was shorthanded for 14:09, so for sure the top PKers including these two plus Ott and Laich, likely got 5 or 6 minutes apiece when down a man. The penalty kill had a great game, and was one of two primary reasons this game became a laugher.
The other was the Canadian powerplay which will rightly will garner the headlines for this one. The unit was on the ice for just 7:27, but generated 4 beautiful goals that put this one away before the midway point:
- 50 seconds into the first powerplay, and just two minutes in to the game, Corey Perry made a deft flip pass at the blueline to Kris Russell, who walked into the slot before feeding a pass to Tavares on the goal line below the right circle. Tavares wired a perfect one-timer in under the water bottle to beat the goalie to the nearside post. 1-0.
- The second powerplay, late in the first, took just 28 seconds for Russell make another beauty feed, this time to the left circle for another perfect one-timer, this one by Steve Stamkos. Two powerplays in, the last two first overall draft picks had shown their stuff, and Canada had an insurmountable lead. 2-0.
- The third powerplay was early in the second, and was pretty sluggish before scoring in the last second of the powerplay. The scoring play was perfect execution of the umbrella formation, with the puck zipping from Cumiskey on the top of the right circle to Whitney atop the left into the middle where Mark Giordano blasted one home. The Latvian goalie, Edgars Masalskis, appeared to be in shock, his arms upraised, shaking his head. I could just imagine him muttering (in Latvian) "These @#$%^&* guys are too @#$%^&* good!" in resigned admiration. 3-0.
- Another powerplay, another wrinkle. 55 seconds into the fourth PP, Stamkos took a draw, then slipped back to his sniping grounds atop the left circle while Brett Burns came in off the point to crash the front of the net. As Burns occupied both Latvian defencemen, Perry made a beautiful move to his backhand before slipping a goal mouth feed to Tavares in his own favourite fishing spot beneath the right circle. 4-0, and say goodnight Edgars.
That was pretty much all she wrote for this one. The second Latvian goalie, Martins Raitums, played OK to limit the damage, but it was pretty much self-limited by a Canadian squad that clearly lost interest in the later stages. For the second game running, neither the scoreboard nor the shot clock was lying:
Goals by period:
CAN ....... 2-4-0 = 6
LAT ........ 0-0-1 = 1
Shots by period:
CAN ...... 10 -15 - 7 = 32
LAT ....... 5 - 7 -12 = 24
Steve Downie, who played a very strong game before spoiling it with three (3) dumb penalties in the third, popped home Burns' rebound on a delayed penalty to make it 5-0, then Giordano got his second in a 4-on-4 situation late in the second. With the game safely in command, MacT rested starter Chris Mason after 40 very solid minutes, and gave Chad Johnson an opportunity to see a few shots. His teammates obliged by letting the Latvians fire away, finally breaking the shutout midway in the third with the game's only true 5-on-5 goal, by one Georgjis Pujacs for the record. One of those games that some people say causes bad habits for the next game, and others say the coaches actually like to see because it gives the team something to actually work on before the next game.
On the blue, the pair of Russell and Giordano was particularly impressive with their skating, puckmoving, and shooting. MacT employed them primarily with the top offensive line, in much the manner that he used Lubo Visnovsky and Denis Grebeshkov in 2008-09; it seemed like that fivesome always had the puck.
I still have no idea who the shutdown guys really are, maybe Burns and Marc Staal among the current pairings. Or perhaps we can learn something about MacT's true leanings from the TOI log. 7 of the defenders played between 12 and 15 minutes; the 8th played over 21. That would be Francois Beauchemin, 30 next month and by far the greybeard of this young talented blueline. Doubtless a huge chunk of that 21:11 was on the PK, but I have little doubt that the former Stanley Cup champion has already earned MacT's trust and will play a key role on this team.
Maybe even as captain. (Sob!)
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Next up: Switzerland, Wednesday May 12 @ 12:15 MDT.