KLOTEN, Switzerland – It used to be that Canadian teams would come to international hockey tournaments and risk being undone by undisciplined play.
The tables have been turned so far at this IIHF World Hockey Championship. Canada has made its opponents pay heavily when its been given a man advantage during four games here. After scoring three more power-play goals in Thursday’s 5-1 victory over the Czech Republic, the Canadians are a sizzling 12-for-24 so far in the tournament.
Another big key to the win over the Czechs was killing seven penalties – including six in a row after building a 3-0 lead.
“I didn’t think we played our best, but once again the special teams were great,” said Steven Stamkos, who scored twice and is tied for the tournament lead with five goals. “Our power play connected, our penalty kill was unbelievable in killing off those 5-on-3s there.
“And obviously (Chris) Mason was a big reason that the score was as lopsided as it ended up.”
The Canadian goalie is an interesting story in his own right.
He has twice come to this event as an alternate and now has back-to-back victories after finally getting into a game with the national team. Mason finished with 44 saves and looked even more confident than he did during an easy 9-0 win over Hungary earlier in the week.
“I felt really good,” said Mason. “(Against) Hungary, I didn’t get many shots, but I was nervous before the game. When you’re sitting around waiting for shots, it’s just a little bit different feeling.
“But tonight, I had a few more shots. It’s easier to get in the game that way.”
It also helped that his teammates built an early lead. Canada had three power-play goals in the opening 20 minutes for the second straight game and quickly chased Czech starter Jakub Stepanek from the goal.
Martin St. Louis added a goal and an assist to increase his tournament points lead to 11 while Dany Heatley also scored a goal for Canada (4-0).
Ales Hemsky replied for the Czechs (2-2).
In Thursday’s other games, Russia beat Sweden 6-5 in overtime, Belarus edged Norway 3-2 in overtime and Latvia beat Switzerland 2-1 in a shootout.
It was the second loss in as many nights for a Czech team led by Jaromir Jagr. Even though the 37-year-old spent the season away from the NHL while playing in Russia, he was easily the most dangerous player in a white jersey on this night.
Jagr showed poise with the puck and buzzed all around the Canadian zone.
“Any time you’re on the ice with him you’ve got to be aware and know where he is,” said Canadian defenceman Chris Phillips. “When he has the puck, you need one guy on him, another guy close (to him) and know where all the open guys are because he’ll find them.”
However, Jagr was stymied at every turn by Mason – just like most of his teammates.
The Canadian goaltender stood particularly tall during a stretch of 91 seconds in the third period when his team was two men short. Mason came within 2:40 of recording a second straight shutout before Hemsky scored on a partial breakaway.
“He’s really surprised me,” Stamkos said of Mason. “He’s a great goalie. Nowadays, the goalies go down quick a lot and he seems to stay up there and take the top half of the net. For a lot of shooters, that’s what the go-to is.
“He stands in there really strong.”
There were a lot of surprises to go around.
Jagr singled out Stamkos as a player that was better than he had thought. The two had never faced one another because Jagr left the NHL just as Tampa was drafting Stamkos first overall and bringing him into the league this season.
The Canadian team in general impressed Jagr.
“You guys don’t play the typical Canadian hockey,” he said. “You guys put a mix there. All the guys that are here are great players, skilled players.”
Everything has gone extremely well so far for the unbeaten Canadians. The players will be given Friday off and won’t play again until Sunday, when they’ll face Norway.
The power play has been fantastic but the players know they can’t totally rely on it to keep winning games.
“I think our power play is really carrying us offensively right now,” said Mason. “We’ve scored a lot of power-play goals. Five-on-five, teams are playing us pretty hard and I think if I were to pick one area that we could get better at, it would be 5-on-5.”
Stamkos was quick to note that there’s not a lot of reason to nitpick.
“That’s a pretty good team that we just beat so the confidence is definitely high,” he said.
Russia 6 Sweden 5 (OT)
At Bern, Dmitri Kalinin helped the defending champions win their fourth straight game by scoring just over four minutes into the extra period. It was his second goal of the game.
Oleg Saprykin, Ilya Nikulin and Sergei Mozyakin also scored for Russia.
Kristian Huselius, with two, Rickard Wallin, Niklas Persson and Anton Stralman replied for the Swedes.
Belarus 3 Norway 2 (OT)
At Kloten, Ruslan Salei scored 4:35 into overtime as Belarus erased a two-goal deficit and beat the Norwegians.
Alexei Ugarov and Mikhail Grabovski had the other goals for Belarus, which got 38 saves from Andrei Mezin.
Patrick Thoresen and Mats Trygg replied for Norway.
Latvia 2 Switzerland 1 (SO)
At Bern, Edgars Masalskis stopped 38 shots and turned away all three Swiss attempts in the shootout to help Latvia pull out a victory.
Aleksandrs Nizivijs scored the shootout winner while Martins Cipulis had a goal in regulation for the Latvians.
Switzerland’s Andres Ambuhl scored with 1:31 left in regulation to force overtime.