Canada wins in shaky start
- Canada earns victory, Latvia earns respect
Team Canada had much to celebrate this afternoon, but it wasn't all good
news for last year's gold medallists
By Andrew Podnieks
Team Canada opened its World Championship title defense with a
hard-fought 6-4 win over the Latvians this afternoon in Innsbruck,
scoring four power play goals and chasing starting goalie Edgars
Masalskis in the process. Rick Nash led the way for Canada with a hat trick.
The first two Latvian scores came on glaring giveaways by the Canadians
who were otherwise too overpowering for their smaller, less skilled
opponents. As a result, there was a steady stream of Latvians to the
penalty box for hooking and tripping, classic obstruction fouls
indicative of lesser strength and speed.
Of course, long before the opening faceoff the largely Latvian crowd was
whipping itself into a drum-beating, foot-stomping frenzy, but less than
three minutes into the game Brendan Morrison blew a slapshot past
Masalskis from the faceoff circle to the goalie's right to give Canada
the early lead.
Far from being unnerved by the score, the Latvians picked up the tempo
and struck less than a minute later when Sheldon Souray lost the puck in
the corner. This created a 2-on-1 in close, and Leonids Tambijevs made a
great, cross-crease pass to Aleksandrs Semjenovs to tie the game.
The second period began the same way. After a brief time of being hemmed
in by the Latvians, Canada struck for another power play goal. Dan Boyle
made a sensational pass while falling down away from the goal to Scott
Walker in the slot, and he set up Joe Thornton at the side of the net.
Again, the Latvians tied the game when goalie Martin Brodeur's clearing
pass was intercepted. Girts Arkipans was all alone in front and put the
puck in the open side, but Brodeur reached across to grab it. The
Latvians claimed that the glove, however, was inside the net when he
reached back, and video replay confirmed their hopes, making it 2-2.
At even strength, the Latvians did, indeed, create a wall in the neutral
zone, but that defensive strategy was useless when they were down a man.
With the game tied 2-2 in the second, the Canadian power play took
control. It scored for a third time at 14:00 when defenceman Ed
Jovanovski made a great backdoor pass to Rick Nash, and a minute and a
half later Patrick Marleau converted a perfect pass from Dany Heatley
from behind the net to give Canada a 4-2 lead.
The eventual game-winner came two minutes later, though, when Nash
stormed the length of the ice on the right wing, his off wing, with
Karlis Skrastins draped all over him. Nash just ploughed his way to the
goal and as he was being pulled down he slid the puck under Masalskis,
who gave up on the post and allowed the puck to slide under him. That
was the end of the night for Masalskis, as coach Leonids Beresnevs
inserted the veteran Arturs Irbe.
A wild third period ensued in which the Latvians scored on two long
shots to draw to within a goal. They stormed back and almost tied the
game, but Leonids Tambijevs blew a slapshot way wide on a partial
breakaway. Nash ended the rally with his third of the game off a
beautiful pass by Thornton from behind Irbe.
The Canadians will take the win, of course, but they are certainly not
in peak form. Brodeur was a little shaky (rusty?) and the team's play
inside its own blueline was hardly acceptable if they hope to advance
far. The Latvians, however, must be buoyed by a strong offensive
showing. If they can get better goaltending and keep the goals coming,
they might go farther than previously expected.