MONTREAL—Sitting in attendance at Monday’s exhibition game between Canada and Finland, an NHL scout was more than surprised to see the visiting side down 4-0 after one period.
"The Finns are better than this," he said.
They were in Periods 2 and 3 of the affair — an eventual 5-0 win for Canada — but not quite good enough to inspire confidence that they’ll repeat as World Junior Hockey champions in 2017.
And that first period … woof.
Goaltender Veini Vehvilainen kicked out a juicy rebound to Canada’s Tyson Jost and allowed the game’s first goal 11 seconds in.
One minute, 28 seconds later Finnish defenceman Robin Salo let OHL leading scorer Taylor Raddysh blow right by him, and Vehvilainen was promptly deked out of his jock strap.
When Mathew Barzal made it 3-0 Canada on a wraparound in the 15th minute of the opening frame, it became pretty clear this wasn’t going to be much of a contest.
Perhaps Canadian fans watching this one should caution themselves before getting overly excited about what their side offered. This tournament runs until Jan. 5, and this team has a long road ahead to undo last year’s sixth-place finish.
But the signs were almost all positive through their first pre-tournament game.
Here are five things we took away from Team Canada’s victory over Finland.
Carter Hart good from the start … sort of
There’s nothing like leading your team onto the ice for its first game at the Bell Centre, and there’s truly nothing like how Canada’s goaltender did it.
Hart got through his whole pre-game routine in the visitor’s net before he realized his teammates were all on the other side of the rink.
"I realized it when I saw the players skating around me and saw it wasn’t my own team, it was Finland," Hart said with a laugh. "I tried to quickly get out of there before anyone realized, but I think everyone realized."
Once Hart settled into his proper net, he delivered an impressive performance.
As Sportsnet’s Gare Joyce pointed out last week, goaltending has been questionable on the Canadian side dating back to Carey Price’s golden run in 2006.
If Hart can play like this when the games start to matter, that trend is going to change.
"He makes us feel confident," said Canadian coach Dominique Ducharme in French. "He made important saves."
Hart’s best save of the night was a left pad stretch on Finland’s Kasper Bjorkvist, who got a clean breakaway at the halfway point of the game.
Barzal’s got the goods
The 16th overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft may very well be Canada’s most skilled forward, and he showed it nearly every shift with Raddysh and Mathieu Joseph.
Barzal is dominant with the puck, composed, and incredibly gifted in the playmaking department. His play to set up Raddysh’s first of the game was a display of all those skills, as he worked his way through two checkers and launched a backhand saucer pass to send his linemate in all alone.
Barzal’s goal was a sign of the hockey sense he possesses. He recognized he had space to take the puck to the front of the net from behind it, and he buried it without hesitation.
And his best play of the game was a give-and-go with Dylan Strome on the power play, with his one-timer taken away by the Finnish netminder.
"Their goalie played pretty hot tonight on the P.K.," said Barzal. "We just have to keep shooting and not passing up opportunities."
Canadian power play looked fine, almost too fine
Set up in a one-three-one formation with a lone trigger man at the top, the Canadian power play notched five shots on its first opportunity.
Most impressive was the way the players stayed in motion and created different looks from different parts of the ice.
"I liked the way we moved the puck and the chances that we had," said Ducharme. "Obviously we need to stay aggressive and not try to become too perfect; keep a shooting mentality. I think we all did a pretty good job and there was different options that we used, which becomes unpredictable and hard to defend."
If Canada continues in that direction, their power play will not be held off the board as it was in this game.
Stay on the right side of the puck, man!
A lack of discipline cost the Canadians at last year’s world junior tournament (there’s Finland’s Patrik Laine burying on a 5-on-3 to score the goal that knocked Canada out), and it could’ve cost them in this game, too.
Six of seven penalties Canada took on Monday were stick infractions.
What does that tell Ducharme?
"It starts by the way we move and making sure that we get back in front of guys," he said. "We’re aware of that, and we’ll make sure we correct that."
The start Jost was looking for
When Jost scored nine points in four games at last year’s World Junior-A Challenge, he turned a lot of heads.
When he led the World Under-18 tournament in scoring and broke Connor McDavid’s record with six goals and nine assists for Team Canada, he served notice that he was more than worthy of being a Top-10 pick at the 2016 NHL Draft.
Colorado’s prospect, drafted 10th overall, was named the Canadian player of Monday’s game for scoring two goals and playing brilliantly alongside Julien Gauthier and Nicolas Roy.
"It’s nice to kinda get your confidence up," he said. "I’m the small guy on that line and those two guys are monsters, so I can really benefit from how big they are and how they work down low."
Ducharme bristled when one reporter referred to them as the third line.
If this performance tells us anything, it’s that Jost’s line is going to help carry this team offensively.