Canada loses to USA in men’s hockey

Canada won't be going undefeated at the 2022 Olympics. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Canada won’t be going undefeated at the 2022 Olympics. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Hockey Canada’s unblemished run in Beijing is over.

The United States upended Canada 4-2 on Saturday afternoon at National Indoor Stadium, leaning on goals from Andy Miele, Ben Meyers, Brendan Brisson, and Kenny Agostino to seize control of Group A at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.

Strauss Mann made 35 saves in the U.S. net and soundly out-performed his counterpart, Edward Pasquale, who struggled at times for the Canadians.

Mat Robinson and Corban Knight had the markers for Canada.

Here are the details from the game:

Time to see another netminder?

From a Canadian perspective, it’s unfair to hang the loss solely on Pasquale. The Canadians were thoroughly dominated through prolonged stretches of the game and markedly less disciplined on balance. All told, the two-goal loss was most certainly a just result.

That said, Pasquale was fighting it in Canada’s net from the drop of the puck. He was caught cheating to the far post on Miele’s rush goal, coughed up the puck behind the net on Brisson’s tally, and saw Agostino’s clean look blow right through him with Canada pressing for an equalizer in the third. It was the sort of game in which a standout performance from the goaltender could have reversed Canada’s fortunes, but Pasquale couldn’t provide it.

With China up next, it’s expected that head coach Claude Julien will turn to Matt Tomkins, who has served as Pasquale’s backup through two games, though former world junior star Devon Levi is also option. While it could be mighty difficult for Tomkins, or less likely Levi, to prove anything definitively in a game where the Canadians will be heavily favoured, Pasquale has opened the door.

First-line problems

I touched a little bit on the potential over-reliance on depth and secondary scoring following Canada’s win over the Germans in the opener after a forgettable performance from the top line.

After the loss to the United States, those concerns have only been exaggerated.

It’s possible that expecting Eric Staal, who was idle and essentially out of hockey before receiving a call from Shane Doan, to be a dominant top-line centre was a tad ambitious. Representative of several key issues for Canada in the game, taking two minor penalties and failing to generate much offensively, Staal looked slow versus a United States team with a mean age potentially closer to that of his children.

Unfortunately, Staal’s linemates haven’t fared much better from an individual standpoint. Mason McTavish showed flashes later in the game, but for the most part hasn’t resembled the player who looked too good for his competition at the world juniors. Josh Ho-Sang, meanwhile, has diced up the puck with feverish stick-handling and prolonged spurts of possession around the perimeter in the offensive zone, but has failed to do anything meaningful when ceding control of it.

With a third goal from the defensive corps plus another shorthanded marker in the game, Canada brass should be concerned about the team’s production in attacking conditions. And while its third game versus China represents an opportunity to build some rapport and connectivity, the hour glass spills its sand quickly in tournaments as short as this one.

The easy change

If Julien and the Canadian coaching staff is to make one sizeable change in search of scoring before the matchup with China, perhaps it should be a tweak to the top power play. Canada’s kids and the framework of the second unit — McTavish, Ho-Sang, Owen Power and Kent Johnson — snapped it around impressively on a late try with the man advantage, showing the signs of life and potential danger that the No. 1 unit hasn’t.

I don’t want to rag on Staal too much, but the veteran captain, and others on the top unit like Eric O’Dell, Jordan Weal and Adam Tambellini, have looked static and haven’t posed much of a threat. Canada’s youngest players are its most creative and potent offensively. Allow them the platform, and the extra ice, to showcase that.

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