MANNHEIM, Germany — A struggling Team Canada is poised to get a desperately needed jolt of offensive firepower with the expected return of 51-goal scorer Steve Stamkos to face the Czech Republic on Tuesday.
What remains unclear is whether the other missing-in-action piece of the puzzle — Canadian-style passion and grit — will be part of Team Canada’s effort.
“We’re looking forward to having him back,” said captain Ray Whitney after Stamkos told the media he has been cleared by doctors to play against Jaromir Jagr’s Czechs.
“But it still doesn’t change the fact that we still have to change how the rest of us play."
Canada is hoping to bounce back from a 3-1 loss against Sweden on Sunday which, like a similar 4-1 loss to Switzerland last week, has raised questions about the team’s passion, ability to execute, and its knowledge of — and respect for — its European opponents.
Canada will qualify for the quarter-finals that begin Thursday even if it loses Tuesday, but the team will be searching for some momentum heading into the games that will determine the world champion.
Russia, with a star-packed lineup led by Alexander Ovechkin, is viewed as the favourite to win the gold
MacTavish wouldn’t officially confirm Stamkos’s return, but said the dynamic Tampa Bay Lightning centre’s presence will balance out the team’s lineup that has shown a distinct lack of even-strength scoring ability in important games.
Stamkos practised Monday with regular linemate Corey Perry and newcomer Mason Raymond, a pickup from the Vancouver Canucks.
Rene Bourque of the Calgary Flames, had been playing on the top line with Stamkos and Perry, was not playing on any of the four lines MacTavish had working together.
MacTavish, who pulled starting goaltender Chris Mason during Sunday’s game, wouldn’t reveal who will start in goal Tuesday.
Mason has let in some questionable goals in both losses, but he’s backed up by two players with limited NHL experience — Chad Johnson of the New York Rangers and Devan Dubnyk of the Edmonton Oilers.
The coach said Sunday he pulled Mason for Johnson early in the second period because he wanted to make sure his players weren’t “in any way, shape or form pointing fingers at (their) goalie.”
European media at the IIHF world hockey championship are gleefully suggesting that Team Canada, which has the most NHL players of any of the 16 teams in Germany, has arrogantly underestimated its rivals.
A Swiss newspaper published a cartoon showing its four goal-scorers standing victoriously over a disgruntled-looking moose lying flat on the ground.
Team Canada initially dismissed suggestions last week that it had underestimated the Swiss.
But general manager Mark Messier acknowledged Monday that his inexperienced players — six are age 20 or younger — may have felt unjustifiably overconfident after looking at their opponents’ rosters before each game.
Sweden had only six NHL players on its roster, and none are star players of the calibre of players such as the Vancouver Canucks’ Daniel and Henrik Sedin, or the Senators’ Daniel Alfredsson. Switzerland doesn’t have any.
“They may not have (many) NHL guys but they’re skilled players. There are good leagues over here,” Messier said.
“We’re realizing that the hard way.”
Canada has struggled at the start of all five games, including its easy wins over tournament weaklings Latvia, Italy and Norway.
Team Canada has to “come out hungrier and desperate,” Stamkos said.
But the Canadian players also need to learn not to be so aggressive that they fall into the trap set by both the Swiss and the Swedes, MacTavish said.
Both teams clogged the neutral zone, frustrating the Canadians who tried to use their formidable one-on-one skills to break through. That in turn led to turnovers seized upon by Canada’s opportunistic opponents.
“They’ve got a counter-punch mentality here, and we’re falling prey to it,” MacTavish said.
Canada, he said, has to play a more Canadian-style game that includes aggressive forechecking and simpler plays.
“Our overall game has got to improve,” he said. “Otherwise we’re not going to be around very much longer.”
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