MANNHEIM, Germany — Canada needs to find some urgency at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
The team saw another tepid start turn into a 3-1 loss to Sweden on Sunday, leaving open the possibility that they’ll see the Russians as soon as the quarter-finals.
The Canadian players offered a number of different explanations for a flat performance and none of them were particularly flattering — lack of preparation, not enough emotion, no accountability.
“We’ve got to come out and play the way we want to play at the start of the game,” said forward Corey Perry, who smashed a stick in frustration during the second period. “(We’ve got to) show the other team that we’re not going to back down, we’re going to be gunning the whole game. We’ve just got to be prepared.”
He wasn’t pointing the finger at coach Craig MacTavish or his assistants, either.
Perry expects the 24 players in the dressing room to make sure they’re ready for the final round-robin game against the Czech Republic on Tuesday. A loss in that one would likely set up a quarter-final date with two-time defending champion Russia, which has won 23 straight games at this event.
“We have to put a lot of accountability on ourselves to be prepared,” said Perry. “It can’t be the coaches getting us ready every game. It has to be the guys in that room, the guys that step on the ice, the guys that play.”
Sweden dictated the terms early in Sunday’s game.
Johan Harju put his team on the board just 2:35 into the first period when he raced into the Canadian zone with speed and beat Chris Mason to the blocker side. The Swedes controlled the puck for long stretches and built a 13-4 shots advantage halfway through the frame.
Canada seemed unable to muster much of a response — no big bodychecks or signs of life to swing the momentum in their favour. It’s been a disturbing trend at this tournament.
“Definitely our starts I think almost every single game have been a little bit concerning,” said Mason. “We’ve always kind of waited around and eased our way into the games instead of coming out and playing our style of hockey right away.”
Added MacTavish: “We weren’t good enough in a lot of the traditionally strong areas of the Canadian game.”
Mason’s night came to an abrupt end after surrendering two goals to Jonas Andersson just 2:54 apart early in the second period. The Swedish forward beat Mason through traffic off the rush at 1:47 before finding himself with time in front and going high to the glove side at 4:41.
MacTavish called a timeout and sent in backup Chad Johnson because he wanted to make sure the players weren’t “in any way shape or form pointing fingers at (their) goalie.”
Canada started to gain back some of the play late in the second period and began exerting themselves physically, with forward Steve Downie repeatedly going at Victor Hedman — his teammate in the NHL with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Brooks Laich ended Jonas Gustavsson’s shutout bid at 6:57 after stripping the puck off a Swedish player and beating him high with a backhand deke. But that was the only puck they’d get behind him.
“Maybe I thought they would come out harder than they did,” said Gustavsson. “We played pretty good. We thought they were going to come out hard so we tried to match them and we did a really good job.”
These teams have faced one another in the semifinals at this tournament for four straight years, with Canada winning the last three after Sweden came out on top in 2006.
The Swedes (4-1) are now guaranteed to get a lower-ranked opponent than Canada (3-2) in the quarter-finals. But Sweden won’t be surprised if it ends up facing Canada again down the road.
“I think it’s going to be a different team in the playoffs,” said Gustavsson. “They’re going to play more aggressive and more desperate. I think it’s going to be a different task to beat them in the playoffs.”
The Canadian team has a couple potential excuses at its disposal. Ryan Smyth fractured his ankle during a routine practice drill a couple days into the tournament and top forward Steven Stamkos has now missed two games with a head injury.
But veteran Ray Whitney, who replaced Smyth as captain, will have none of it.
“I thought we got outplayed for two periods,” said Whitney. “I thought they were better with their systems, they were better on the puck than we were. Battling for the pucks they were much better than we were. ...
“You can’t a spot a team like that three goals.”
He’s going to demand a better effort against the Czechs.
“I think there’s urgency now,” said Whitney. “The seriousness which we’re going to have to play with from here on out is going to have to be raised a lot.”