MANNHEIM, Germany – There is no white knight waiting in the wings for Canada.
Despite buzz at the IIHF World Hockey Championship on Thursday that Sidney Crosby could be joining the Canadian team, the Pittsburgh Penguins star has declined the invitation to come to Germany.
That leaves coach Craig MacTavish and his Canadian team to improve from within.
That job got a little bit tougher with the announcement that Steven Stamkos will sit out Friday’s game with a possible concussion. The star forward took an elbow to the jaw during a 4-1 loss to Switzerland and is being kept off the ice for a couple days as a precaution.
“I think it’s just a protocol that you follow when someone has the symptoms that he had,” said Canadian GM Mark Messier. “It’s not a blunt blow to the head, that kind of concussion. It’s a different kind when you get hit in the jaw. There’s still a protocol to follow and we’re going to do that because it’s the right thing to do. …
“We’ll get him a light bike ride tomorrow and see how he recovers from that.”
The only addition to the roster was junior forward Jordan Eberle, who has been practising with the team as an alternate. That leaves Messier with one spot left for a skater and he’s hoping to bring over a forward from North America.
“We haven’t had discussions with any teams right now,” said Messier. “But we’re making a wish list and we’ll start making some calls.”
In the meantime, MacTavish and his players gathered at SAP Arena a little over 12 hours after losing to the Swiss. They reviewed some videotape of the game and tinkered with the lineup—moving defenceman Brent Burns to the wing alongside Matt Duchene and Ray Whitney while elevating Brooks Laich to a spot with John Tavares and Corey Perry.
Above all, the focus was on moving forward.
“If you’re a winner, you’ve got to feel the loss,” said MacTavish. “Our guys did, definitely, they were somewhat dejected after the game. I think that was reasonable. But you come to the rink today … and you start to rebuild the confidence of the group.
“By the time you’re done practice, you’ve purged all the negative energy and you’re starting to look optimistically at the next game.”
Canada will play three final round-robin games starting with Norway on Friday (TSN, 10:15 a.m. ET).
The loss of Stamkos is particularly painful because the team is hoping to generate more offence and the 20-year-old is coming off a season where he scored 51 goals. The next highest output came from Corey Perry and Rene Bourque at 27, followed by Laich at 25.
MacTavish wants his team to start generating more traffic in front of the opposition’s net.
“When you have 32 or 33 shots and you only get one goal, you instantly want to see what your efficiency was around the net,” said MacTavish. “We put a lot of pucks there and should have been able to capitalize more than we did.”
The players aren’t concerned.
“We’ll be OK,” said Eberle, who had 50 goals in 56 games for the WHL’s Regina Pats. “We have a lot of guys with a lot of firepower on this team and I don’t think a lot of it’s been unleashed yet.”
Burns concedes that it takes a little time to get comfortable at forward—noting that all the stopping and starting makes his legs feel like he has “cement boots on.”
The Minnesota Wild drafted him as a forward before converting him into a blue-liner. He still bounces back and forth from time to time.
“It just takes awhile to get the legs used to it and get your brain ready for different situations,” said Burns. “When you play forward, you kind of turn it off and just skate around. When you play different, you’ve got to think out there.”
Laich broke into the NHL as a checking forward, but has scored 20 or more goals in three consecutive seasons for the Washington Capitals.
He was one of the first guys to offer Stamkos someencouragement and believes the team can overcome his absence.
“Steve’s a fantastic player and a big part of this hockey team, but injuries occur and now it’s an opportunity for other guys,” said Laich. “Jordan Eberle’s going to come in and play with excitement. There’s more minutes for other guys to eat up.
“Obviously, we’re going to miss Steve but I told him yesterday, ‘It’s a long tournament, don’t worry about it. You’ll be back soon enough.”‘