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Reasons for Optimism

Team Canada, Team Czech Republic set for opener

Favorite, underdog to meet Saturday in second game in Group A at World Cup

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

Team Czech Republic and Team Canada each play its first game in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; ESPNEWS, SN, TVA Sports). Each team is feeling good about itself after winning two of its three pretournament games.

Team Czech Republic edged Team North America 3-2 on Wednesday, the same night that Team Canada defeated Team Russia 3-2 in overtime.

Here are the reasons for optimism for Team Czech Republic and Team Canada: 

1. Solid goaltending: Michal Neuvirth allowed one goal on 46 shots in his two pretournament starts for Team Czech Republic and would appear to have the inside track to the No. 1 job, though the coaching staff has yet to name a starter. He outplayed Petr Mrazek during pretournament action, but their save percentages in the NHL last season were very close (.921 for Mrazek, .924 for Neuvirth). Mrazek is more aggressive; Neuvirth relies on patience and efficient movement. 

2. Tom Terrific: With Jaromir Jagr and Jiri Hudler turning down invitations to play for Team Czech Republic, Tomas Plekanec was named captain and stepped up during the pretournament. He finished with three goals in three games, including the winner in the victory against Team North America on Wednesday.

3. Awash in talent: Team Canada has so much speed and skill that matching lines is almost impossible. Sidney Crosby has found chemistry with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the top line, and Team Canada is so deep that John Tavares and Ryan Getzlaf usually aren't top-six players - and center Claude Giroux, whose 367 points since the start of the 2011-12 season are the most of anyone in the NHL, will be a healthy scratch against Team Czech Republic.

4. Mike's the man: One problem for a team that's swimming in talent is getting players who are All-Stars in the NHL to accept lesser roles. No one is better at this than Team Canada coach Mike Babcock, who proved during the past two Winter Olympics that he's a master of getting everyone to concentrate on the details that lead to wins and leave their egos at home. On a team with a hockey IQ that is off the charts, Babcock knows how to coach at a higher level and keep Team Canada focused on the task at hand. 

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