World Cup Takeaways: Czech Republic 3, North America 2

Tomas Plekanec scored the winning goal as the Czech Republic defeated North America.

Team North America predictably wiped up Team Europe in two games, then closed their pre-tournament schedule with an even, 3-2 loss to the much tougher Czech Republic.

So, are they ready to take on the big boys in a World Cup of Hockey pool with Finland, Russia and Sweden? Well, if we were forced to make a prediction we’d forecast a 1-2 tournament for this group, but of all the teams this one is by far the hardest to handicap.

Here are some more takeaways from Team North America’s pre-tournament games:

Search Still On For McDavid Linemates

North America has 13 goals to its credit, and McDavid does not have a single point. A single point! Despite the fact we can recall at least four primary assists that somehow did not get deposited behind a goalie during pre-tournament play, the truth is, McDavid has not clicked with any linemates here.

He started on a line with Jonathan Drouin and Mark Scheifele, was moved to a line with Johnny Gaudreau and Jack Eichel, and opened Game 3 on a line with Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon. By the time the goalie was pulled at the end of their loss to the Czechs, McDavid was playing with Auston Matthews and Eichel, as head coach Todd McLellan searched desperately for some chemistry around his captain.

Czechs Have the Goaltending To Knock Anyone Off

Michal Neuvirth stopped all 16 shots he faced in the first half of this game, and was spectacular at times. He’ll be the No. 1 as this tournament kicks off, and the team in front of him might just be better than we predicted.

The Czechs surrendered four goals in their opening pre-tournament game against Russia, beat the Russians 2-1 in Game 2, and gave up only two Wednesday. Could they win a round-robin game against Canada or the USA?

Anything is possible…

Auston Matthews Will Play Every Night

It was fair to wonder prior to this tournament where Matthews would fit among this group, or if the youngest player — the only North American player who has never played an NHL game — would become the 13th forward.

Through three games we have discovered that, at worst, he is a Top 9 player on this team and destined to be a top line NHLer in the very near future. Matthews poked in a goal Wednesday, and when McLellan pulled his goalie at the end of the game Matthews was on the ice with McDavid and Eichel.

Unlike some recent No. 1 overall draft picks, Matthews has NHL size right now — and obviously the skills to match. He fit in on the wing on Team North America with Dylan Larkin and Mark Scheifele to open the game, and appeared to take over at centre after some faceoffs Wednesday.

He is ready to be an every day Maple Leaf, if there was ever any doubt.

Shayne Gostisbehere — Made in the USA

There are plenty of young defencemen in the pipeline to stock Team Canada down the road, but are any of them as dynamic offensively as US-born Shayne Gostisbehere? The Flyers defenceman was born in Pembroke Pines, Florida, and has shown to be the top powerplay quarterback on North America.

Will he ever have the all-around game of a Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith? Will he rack up points like Sweden’s Erik Karlsson?

Whichever, Gostisbehere is a fantastic player who will play many a year in the Stars and Stripes of USA Hockey.

Roster Settles

Here’s what we’ve figured out about North America’s 23-man roster: Matt Murray is the undisputed No. 1 in goal, Colton Parayko has edged out Winnipeg’s Jacob Trouba for a regular shift on defence, and it’s a dogfight to see who is the 13th forward.

The 6-foot-5 Parayko has shown he clearly has the foot speed to play at this level, has the size that North America’s defence lacks, and possesses a shot that allows McLellan to play two defencemen (along with Gostisbehere) on his powerplay. At forward, Vincent Trocheck acquitted himself very well in the first two pre-tournament games, and sat out Wednesday.

I’ll bet he plays Sunday versus Finland, which leaves McLellan to find someone else to sit out.

Roman Polak Will Bring His Gritty Game to Toronto

Polak, the much travelled defenceman with a reputation for taking runs at anyone — especially players who are unlikely to fight back — isn’t changing any. He received two minutes for cross-checking McDavid at the end of the second period, and really laid the lumber on McDavid again as the two went down to the ice.

Good for Polak for getting in the face of the opponent’s best player. And in this format, with no fighting expected, he’s home free to play that way every night.

He’ll bring that game to the Toronto Maple Leafs when this tournament closes. But the Leafs better have someone around to clean up the mess Polak tends not to want to finish himself.

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