Canada's decade-long undefeated streak in preliminary round play came to a crashing halt today in a convincing 4-1 regulation loss to Switzerland. Canada therefore finishes second in Group B, and likely faces a slightly tougher path through the medal round as a result.
A bigger potential setback is the possible loss of offensive leader and assistant captain Steve Stamkos, who was on the receiving end of a wicked elbow from Swiss defender Timo Helbling early in the first. Looked like a headshot to me, although some Tweeters thought shoulder. Stamkos came back to play a regular shift through the end of the second, but sat out the third, hopefully for reasons which turn out to be precautionary. It's notable that after two games of leading the team with 6 and 7 shots, Stamkos never managed even one today.
Shots, schmots, today they didn't tell the whole story. For the first time in three games the score ran counter to the shot clock, and it happened three periods out of three.
Goals by period:
CAN ..... 1-0-0 = 1
SUI ....... 2-1-1 = 4
Shots by period:
CAN ..... 14 - 9 - 9 = 32
SUI: ....... 6 - 5 - 7 = 18
Canada outshot the Swiss but in no way shape or form did they outplay them. Switzerland played aggressive, bend-not-break defence that kept Canadian snipers to the outside for the most part, and former Dallas backup Tobias Stephan did the rest in his very first World Championship start with an extremely solid night's work. Switzerland always gets the great goaltending, don't they? Meanwhile they also counterpunched effectively, generating a handful of odd-man rushes and a plateful of ten-bell scoring chances, only some of which they converted. And as the game wore on, they carried larger stretches of the play. Skeletal details after the jump.
Switzerland got a little lucky on the first goal when Thomas Deruns semi-whiffed on a point shot only to have the puck slide perfectly to Ivo Ruthemann at the edge of the crease. But that was the third straight golden chance the line had generated, so the the goal was hardly unearned.
Minutes later Deruns and Ruthemann were back, working a beauty three-man cycle with Martin Pluss who circled out of the corner and outpositioned Tyler Myers in front to tip in a hard goalmouth pass. For the second shift running Myers and Kyle Cumiskey were exposed for the youngsters they are, outmanoeuvred, outworked, and outscored.
Canada bounced back with their only goal of the contest seconds later when John Tavares notched his third of the tourney, picking up the garbage after Matt Duchene made a dazzling move out of the corner. Newly declared captain Ray Whitney picked up the second assist on that one. 45 minutes remained and it seemed like the game was afoot.
But that was it. From there the Swiss just seemed to get stronger and Canada gradually more futile. Canada was held below 10 shots in each of the last two periods despite a string of four successive powerplays. Stamkos' nuclear weapon was missing from the left circle, and frankly none of the hotshots save Duchene (7 shots) really seemed to be bringing it today.
That goes double for Chris Mason, whose allowance of cheesy Swiss goals early in each of the second and third periods was killer. Mason did make other good to excellent saves, and was lucky when the Swiss missed a couple from point-blank range. But when the crafty Andres Ambuhl found a hole from behind the goal line and banked one in off Mason's butt to restore the two-goal lead 98 seconds into the middle frame, the writing was on the wall. The Swiss were inspired, the Canadians on their heels. And so it remained for much of the duration, further amplified when Deruns somehow squeezed a shot between Mason's catching glove and hip for his third point of the game. Both teams seemed content to play out the string after that, in fact the Swiss seemed downright delighted to play their role of shutting 'er down.
The Swiss played a disciplined, layered defensive system devised by their advisor/guest coach, the Canadian mastermind Andy Murray. How the hell Hockey Canada let the three-time champion coach of this tournament (in three attempts!) get away is beyond me. Are there really term limits for Canadian coaches? Whatever transpired behind the scenes, you have to know Andy Murray is a happy man tonight, and my hat is off to him.
But credit where it's due on the ice, the Swiss players executed that game plan to a T, by hustling their buns, outhitting the Canadians, and winning more than what this veteran observer considered their share of puck battles. From the goalie on out they played a fantastic game, and absolutely deserved to win it. Their first WC win over Canada after something like 22 losses and a tie. My hat remains off, to Swiss hockey and its landmark victory today. I wouldn't be one bit surprised to see this squad in the medals.
I'd write a little more about individual Canadian performances except I'm frankly more interested in watching Game 7 between Montreal and Pittsburgh! Suffice to say there are few "Canucks" (as we used to call the sometimes call the national squad pre 1970) that are happy with their most recent game. I guess you could say the same about Canucks on both sides of the pond. The difference being, the ones in red and white get another chance.
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Next up: TBD (3rd place, Group B, best guess Czech Republic), Friday March 14 @ 08:15 MDT.