Coming off a seesaw 6-4 victory on Thursday over their rival Americans that saw projected the first-overall pick in this coming NHL draft Alexis Lafrenière dominate with a goal and 3 assists, the Canadian World Junior team was right back at it on Saturday against yet another rival in the Russians.
The Canadian team is led by the aforementioned Lafrenière, Arizona Coyotes prospect Barret Hayton, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Nolan Foote, Colorado Avalanche prospect Bowen Byram, among other blue-chip NHL affiliated and even 2020 draft-eligible prospects. As per usual, the expectations placed on the squad are gold or bust and their schedule thus far has done them no favours.
The Russians, though not as deep or prospect-heavy, have always posed a threat to the Canadians and even beat them 2-1 in their last matchup in Vancouver.
The game got off to a rocky start for the Canadians, as the Russians scored a minute and 45 seconds into the game after defenseman Jared McIsaac turned over the puck attempting a breakout pass in the defensive zone. Alexander Khovanov of Russia picked the pass off at the Canadian blue-line, shot the puck aimlessly and caught Canadian goalie Nico Daws by surprise as the puck deflected off his blocker and squirted behind him.
The goal was controversial as it appeared to be offside, yet the Canadian Head Coach Dale Hunter did not challenge the call.
It did not get any better for the Canadians as a defensive breakdown led to Pavel Dorofeyev being left all alone in front of the Canadian net, deking out Nico Daws, and putting the Russians up 2-0 halfway through the first period.
Only 3 minutes later, it got worse for Daws as he could not control defenceman Daniil Pylenkov’s shot from the blue-line and Rtishchev tapped the rebound in on his backhand. As if a 3-0 deficit was not bad enough, Canadians (and surely NHL scouts) held their collective breath, as phenom Alexis Lafrièniere went down with an apparent leg injury.
As he was driving towards the net, Lafrièniere’s skate got caught in Russian Goaltender Amir Miftakhov’s pads, awkwardly twisting his foot and ankle.
In what seemed to be a nightmare affair for Coach Hunter and his squad, the Russians increased their lead to 4-0 when Nikita Alexandrov danced around defencemen Bowen Byram and Ty Smith, slipping the puck passed Daws’s sprawled pads.
Daw’s night was over less than 23 minutes into the game as he was pulled for Joel Hoffer. Though Daws did his team no favours, the Canadian squad was heavily outplayed up that point, leaving Coach Hunter no choice but to provide some sort of spark to his deflated team.
The game took a chippy turn, as an obviously frustrated Canadian team took out their anger during post-whistle- scrums in hopes of once again gaining momentum and lead a come-back effort, to no avail.
Right after an unsuccessful Canadian powerplay, the Russians scored again, as yet another point shot led to trouble when forward Yegor Sokolov deflected a shot past Hoffer to give the Russian’s an unlikely 5-0 lead over their archrivals.
The Canadians were clearly outmatched in this game, and Canadians lost all hope for a comeback when the Russians scored yet another goal when Russian Captain Grigori Denisenko’s wrist shot squeaked off Hoffer’s glove and into the net, increasing the lead to an embarrassing tally of 6-0 and the score remained that until the final buzzer, leaving Canadians stunned and looking for answers.
The final shot count ended up being 39-28 in favour of the Russians, the Canadian squad was clearly mismatched against an older, faster and more physically opposing team.
Even upon the rare occasion, the Canadian team was presented with a scoring chance, goaltender Amir Miftakhov stood tall with 28 saves. Furthermore, the Canadian powerplay, stacked with prominent stars, produced nothing, going 0 for 3.
Despite coming off an inspiring win over their rival Americans, the Canadians looked extremely dull and the second game of their quest for World Junior gold gave fans little to cheer for.
The Canadians exuded their frustration after whistles but played with very little passion in-between.
As if the historically lopsided loss was not bad enough, losing Lafrièniere makes the thumping that much worse. Going forward, the Canadian squad will inevitably need to play with more passion and drive, as names on a scoresheet, as promising as they may sound, will clearly not suffice in this tournament.
In the wake of the blowout loss and Lafrièniere’s injury, hopefully, Team Canada has received the inspiration and drive they clearly need.