WWHC Takeaways: Canada’s offence heats up ahead of gold-medal game vs. USA

Canada's Jocelyne Larocque (3) celebrates her goal over Czechia with teammates Laura Stacey (7), Blayre Turnbull (40) and Emily Clark (26) during first period semifinal hockey action at the IIHF Women's World Hockey Championship in Utica, N.Y., Saturday, April 13, 2024. (Christinne Muschi/CP)

Here we go again. 

For the 22nd time in 23 tournaments since 1990, Canada and the United States will battle for gold at the IIHF Women’s World Championship. 

Just a few hours after the defending champion Americans toppled Finland to get themselves back to the final on the power of Laila Edwards’ hat trick, Canada booked its ticket for Sunday’s showdown with a 4-0 victory over Czechia Saturday night. The team in red and white continued its scoring-by-committee approach in the semifinal matchup, with the third line shining in the spotlight this time to tee up another edition of everyone’s favourite rivalry. 

Linemates Blayre Turnbull and Emily Clark each scored their first goal of the tournament, as did defender Jocelyne Larocque. Top-line forward Sarah Fillier, meanwhile, woke up her own offensive game with her second of the tournament — and first since scoring an empty-netter against Switzerland early in the preliminary round. It was only a matter of time for Fillier, whose 20 shots through six games are the sixth most tournament-wide.

For as dominant as Canada has been once again, going into the gold-medal game with a 5-1 record, the offence hasn’t exactly been up to the usual standards. No forward has totalled more than two goals in Utica — defender Renata Fast is the only player on the roster with three. 

While that certainly speaks to the depth of this group, as all but two forwards have at least one goal to their name, it’s a far cry from the usual offensive output we’re used to seeing from this star-studded group. And it’s particularly surprising to see that one of those two goalless forwards is Marie-Philip Poulin — though, considering Captain Clutch’s track record in gold-medal games, she’s probably just waiting for the right moment. Poulin really hit her stride in the second half of this semi-final matchup, a good sign she’ll be at her best on the biggest stage. 

Canada outshot Czechia 47-9, the team’s highest shot output so far and its largest shot differential — that they only scored on one of their 20 third-period shots is a testament to the strength of Czech goaltender Klara Peslarova. The netminder has been the busiest goalie of the tournament, starting all six of her team’s games and facing 194 shots, and yet she’s second in tournament shutouts, with two — same as Canada’s Ann-Renee Desbiens, whose second in four starts came Saturday night. 

CANADA’S POWER PLAY WOES CONTINUE

While Canada’s offence is heating up, its power play remains cold. The team’s been frozen at just one power-play goal since defender Ella Shelton scored an insurance marker against Finland late in the first game of preliminary play. It’s not for lack of opportunity — the Canadians have found themselves with an advantage 16 times, including four times Saturday night, but the unit is operating at just 6.25 per cent. That’s worse than every other team but Switzerland (5.88 per cent). While their power-play woes didn’t necessarily stand out against the Czechs, considering Czechia’s PP percentage ranks just one slot higher than Canada’s, it’ll be something to watch against the Americans on Sunday. Team USA has the tournament’s second-best power-play, scoring on a quarter of its chances. 

Special teams battles so often prove to be the difference, so it’ll be something to watch when the top two teams face off. Of course, it’s not all bad news for Canada — its penalty kill has been stellar, allowing just a single goal on 17 penalties. 

ANOTHER SHUTOUT FOR DESBIENS SETS UP SUNDAY’S ELITE GOALIE SHOWDOWN

Considering Canada and the USA held each other scoreless through regulation when they met on Monday night to conclude the round-robin, it’s no surprise that goaltending is going to be the biggest story going into the gold-medal matchup. 

Desbiens didn’t face many shots against Czechia, but she’s been excellent all tournament — including, of course, in her first showing against the Americans in a 29-save effort that didn’t see a goal for either team until overtime. 

Desbiens holds the tournament lead in save percentage (.976) and goals against average (0.49) in four outings, but Aerin Frankel’s tournament-best four shutouts, well… that’s a number that really jumps off the page. Frankel allowed three goals against Finland in round-robin play, but otherwise has been a brick wall — including against Canada, her 26-save shutout ultimately backstopping USA to victory.

She’s the only opponent Canada has yet to best. Can they solve her on Sunday with gold on the line? 

CANADA LOOKING TO TAKE BACK GOLD IN ENEMY TERRITORY

The crowd at Adirondack Bank Center featured a heavy presence of the maple leaf against Czechia — unsurprising, considering its proximity to the border — but it might not feel so friendly on Sunday. 

Team USA claimed gold in Brampton, Ont., a year ago with a 6-3 win over Canada, stealing gold in front of a mostly red-and-white crowd. The Canadians won back-to-back golds before that, but it’s been a while since they’ve bested the Americans on U.S. ice. Canada last won gold south of the border in 2012, when the tournament was held in Burlington, Vermont.

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