ANGELHOLM, SWEDEN – Team Canada head coach Brent Sutter blasted his players following an uninspired 3-0 loss to Sweden in an exhibition game Sunday night.
"They're a team that plays hard, they skate, they play with emotion and skill and we had guys who didn't tonight and it just shows that skill's overrated unless you have a work ethic and a compete level that you have to have out there. We lost a lot of one-on-one battles. Outside of one guy, we lost a lot of face-offs ... We didn't have the puck, especially in the first period. We were just very passive and on our heels and basically we let them dictate the game and they did and we never seemed to get any momentum or control of it back," said Sutter.
"I think it's a good lesson for us."
Bob McKenzie takes a closer look at why Canada struggled against Sweden.
It was an assessment shared by his players.
"They're a big challenge, obviously, they showed it tonight," said defenceman Derrick Pouliot, "luckily for us it's still exhibition [season] so we got some time to improve and we'll see them down the road for sure."
Canada will need to play a lot better if they're going to beat the Swedes in the tournament, which starts on Boxing Day. The host nation is returning half of their players from last year's silver-medal squad and Carolina's Elias Lindholm and Nashville's Filip Forsberg, who were not in the lineup Sunday, will be on the ice by the time the round robin begins.
Canada and Sweden are in different pools in the opening round and can only meet in the playoffs.
"We didn't work, starting from myself," said left winger Jonathan Drouin, who sat out the first pre-tournament game on Friday. "I think the key guys have to produce offence and we didn't. We have to work harder against a skilled team like that."
"It's not a lot of things that really went wrong," said defenceman Aaron Ekblad. "We just have to work harder as a team. That team outworked us and that's about all you can say about it."
DROUIN RUSTY IN RETURN
Drouin will be a key factor in whether Canada ends a four-year gold drought. Sunday marked the 18-year-old's first game since sustaining a concussion on Dec. 6 while playing with the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL. Head injuries can be tough to come back from at first and rust was evident.
"I thought he was average at best," Sutter stated bluntly. "He didn't play very good at all, but it's his first game. It was a feel-out process for him tonight. I guess I'm not surprised the way it was. He hasn't played in a while and obviously we're playing a top, top team."
"Obviously, a little slow start," Drouin acknowledged. "It's been three weeks so first game is going to be a little harder. It was getting better and better as the game went on."
Canada wraps-up its pre-tournament schedule with a game against Switzerland on Monday. Drouin believes that one more game should be enough for him to be ready for the tournament opener on Thursday against Germany.
"I'm sure I'll be fine, like I said, it just took some time and as the game went on I felt better and better," said Drouin, who was picked third overall in last June's NHL draft by Tampa Bay. "There's one more game and I'm sure I'll be better."
DUMBA EJECTED; SUSPENSION LOOMING?
A lack of discipline also haunted Canada on Sunday as defenceman Mathew Dumba, named an alternate captain by Sutter on Thursday, was ejected in the second period for kneeing Erik Karlsson. The Swedes scored with one second left in the major penalty. Two of Sweden's three goals came on the man advantage.
It's possible that Dumba, loaned to Hockey Canada by the Minnesota Wild for the world juniors, may face a suspension for the hit. Canadian defenceman Griffin Reinhart will already miss the first three games of the tournament as he serves out a suspension picked up at last year's event. And Sutter made it perfectly clear that going into the championship's first game with fewer than six blueliners is not acceptable.
"No, it's not OK to go into the tournament with five D," he said. "I think you're grasping right now, reaching, thinking it's a possible suspension. I couldn't even answer that. He got ejected from the game, but whether there's a suspension label to it? I couldn't tell you."
Dumba was cut by Team Canada the last two years and has spoken about how much it means to him to be on the squad this time around.
Bob McKenzie breaks down the Dumba situation and how a suspension would put Sutter in a tricky situation
LONE BRIGHT SPOT
The one player that escaped Sutter's wrath was Jake Paterson. The Saginaw goalie kept the game scoreless in the first period as Canada was outshot 16-5.
Jamie McLennan takes a closer look at Paterson's performance
"He played great," said Sutter. "He played outstanding. From the first shot that was taken on him, he was really, really solid for us. He kept it close for us, especially in the first period, but we never responded in the way we wanted to and you have to score goals to win games. We just never generated enough offensively. He gave us chance and I thought he played extremely well."
Paterson is competing with Zach Fucale for the starting job. Fucale stopped 31 of 33 shots in Friday's 4-2 win against Finland.
"Obviously I'm looking, hopefully, to be the starter, but I have no idea what the coaches are thinking right now so I just got to be ready if they call upon me," said Paterson, who stopped 31 of 34 shots against Sweden.
Sutter hasn't announced who will start on Monday against the Swiss.