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Team Canada

Team Canada erases doubt, drama

Little to fret over in dominant win against Team Czech Republic

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / Columnist

TORONTO -- The crisis is that there is no crisis.

Over what is there to fret? About what is there to worry? On what is there to harp for Team Canada coach Mike Babcock as he repeats his mantra of improving from day to day in the World Cup of Hockey 2016?

Team Canada ruined talk radio for an entire country and created a challenge for Babcock, at least for a couple of days, by opening the preliminary round with a 6-0 victory over Team Czech Republic on Saturday night.

"I've been to a number of these events," said Babcock, who led Canada to gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver and 2014 Sochi Olympics, "and the team that loses today usually gets better tomorrow, and the team that wins today gets a little fatter tomorrow.

"So the important thing to do is just live scared and get better tomorrow."

Scared? Of what?

Better? How?

Video: CZE@CAN: Crosby opens the scoring from a sharp angle

Criticism of the national team is as Canadian as poutine. But all the usual angst was eased on Saturday night. All the typical questions were answered.

What's wrong with Sidney Crosby? Nothing, not that there ever was. He had a goal and two assists in six games at the 2014 Sochi Olympics; he had a goal and two assists 27:22 into the first game of this tournament.

Who's going to play with Crosby? Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. They have been on his wings since the start of training camp, and they gave Babcock no reason to tinker against Team Czech Republic. Bergeron had a goal. Marchand had a goal and two assists.

Who's going to start in goal? Carey Price, as if there were a doubt even with him coming off a knee injury. He looked rusty in the first pretournament game Sept. 9 against Team USA, when he played for the first time since Nov. 25. He looked like his old self here in a 27-save shutout.

Yes, Team Canada gave up a few scoring chances, especially early, before it settled in, and took too many penalties.

But the penalty kill went 6-for-6, the power play went 2-for-3 and Team Canada outshot Team Czech Republic, 50-27. The score could have been worse. Team Czech Republic captain Tomas Plekanec said goaltender Michal Neuvirth was his group's best player "easily."

Babcock will have to pick nits to show his players areas in which they can improve.

"Whoever plays them has to play 60 minutes, put pressure on them in their zone," Plekanec said. "When we played in their zone, they didn't like it, and we had some quality pressure on them. But we weren't able to play that for 60 minutes. There's no chance you can succeed against those guys."

To be sure, Team Czech Republic might be the weakest team in this tournament. It does not have a player on the roster who scored more than 16 goals in the NHL last season. Team Canada had 12 in the lineup Saturday night and scratched another, Claude Giroux, who scored 22 goals last season and led the League in points over the past six seasons with 443.

Team Canada also scratched Braden Holtby, the reigning winner of the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's best goaltender.

Video: CZE@CAN: Price shares thoughts on 6-0 win

This was a mismatch.

But this was the kind of performance that makes Team Canada the modern version of the Red Machine. The opponent doesn't seem to matter. Team Canada plays its game and plays it clinically, coming in waves, diffusing the drama, never letting up. It didn't make only pretty plays; it made gritty plays too, hitting to force turnovers, going to the net. The defensemen gapped up tightly; the forwards came back relentlessly.

"I thought we had a good team tonight," Babcock said. "I just rolled them out the door as much as I could, tried to get everyone on the ice and be important."

No forward played less than 11:06; none played more than 18:29. Crosby played 13:04 -- Sidney Crosby -- and only 4:08 of that was in the first period, when he was making plays all over the ice.

No defenseman played less than 18:02; none played more than 21:47.

"Well, when you have the depth that we have, you can do that," Team Canada defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "I mean, you've got four lines, six D, and everybody's on the same page. Everybody has a role here, but we're all buying into the same system. … If we all play the same system with the amount of skill of the players that we have here, it's going to be effective."

Team Canada is supposed to have a bigger test Tuesday night against Team USA (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, SN, TVA Sports), built to be an in-your-face, hard-to-play against group with this matchup in mind.

But Team USA didn't look like a threat earlier Saturday in a 3-0 loss to Team Europe, comprised of European players from outside the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden, and you wonder now if Team USA made a mistake by trying so hard to establish its identity and winning the first pretournament game 4-2.

Team Canada responded by defeating Team USA in Ottawa the next night 5-2, and it knows what's coming. It isn't the type of team to let down anyway. It kept pouring it on against Team Czech Republic: 3-0 after one period, 4-0 by the midway point, 5-0 after two, 6-0 in the end.

"The other thing I liked about our team was our discipline and our sticking to the plan in the third period," Babcock said. "We stayed with it. We didn't get careless."

Sound like a team that is fat and satisfied to you?

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