Toews doing it all; Canada yet to hit peak ahead of semis; Stamkos due to score
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TORONTO — Canada rolled into the semifinal of the World Cup of Hockey with a 4-1 win over Team Europe on Wednesday night.
Here are five things we learned from the victory:
1. Canada has yet to be tested
The Canadians rolled through the preliminary round basically unchallenged.
They outscored the Czechs, Americans and Europeans by a combined 14-3, trailing only once for a total of 89 seconds. Canada led each game for more than 50 minutes, grabbing leads early in each first period and never letting go.
Europe actually hung around longest, even cutting Canada's lead to 2-1 less than five minutes into Wednesday's second period. But the Canadians upped the lead back to two 10 minutes later on the second of two goals from Jonathan Toews.
"I think (if) there's one thing we're doing well is that we're never getting too comfortable," Toews said.
2. Toews remains Canada's jack-of-all trades
Toews scored twice, added an assist and won 72 per cent of his faceoffs in a hearty 17-minute performance. He remains Canada's jack-of-all-trades, capable of filling any role for head coach Mike Babcock.
"I'd say it hasn't changed much since I played at the Olympics in Vancouver," Toews said of his role, referring to the 2010 Games in which he emerged as one of Canada's better players at age 21.
Toews typically lines up as Canada's top checking centre, matched up against the opposition's top line. He's filling those duties again this time, joined by Logan Couture and Corey Perry. His special teams duties have changed slightly, with Toews playing more on the power play at the World Cup and lining up less on the penalty kill.
He played 3:41 on the man advantage against Team Europe and only 28 seconds shorthanded. It's possible Canada ramps up his penalty killing duties in the semifinal though when the stakes rise considerably.
3. Canada hasn't hit their best — yet
Babcock thought his team did what it had to in sliding by Europe. He likes his teams to keep rising in short tournaments such as this.
Canada edged by Norway 3-1 in the first game of the Sochi Olympics, eventually toppling the United States and Sweden by shutout in the semifinal and final.
"Our guys know what we want to do," he said. "Now we've got to do it though. I think the best of the best deliver when it matters. And to me in the end that's the measure. It's the measure of the coach. It's the measure of the goalie. It's the measure of players. It's the measure of scorers.
"What do you do in the big moments?"
4. The Canadians will face either Russia or North America in the semifinals
Each presents its own challenges, but Canada will be favoured regardless.
North America is exploding with young speed and skill, led by the No. 1 overall pick duo of Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. Typically a disappointment at best-on-best tournaments, the Russians are still threatening behind a wealth of offensive weapons like Evgeni Malkin, Alex Ovechkin and Vladimir Tarasenko.
Canada topped Russia 3-2 in their exhibition finale, Ryan Getzlaf scoring the overtime winner.
"We know we're going to get our chances as the game goes along, but whether it's the Russians or the North American team in the next one, defensive play is going to have to be a huge focus for us given that fact," Toews said.
The Canadians might prefer to face North America given their limited experience.
5. Steven Stamkos is due
Stamkos had five shots against the Europeans and 11 attempts on goal, turned aside on each potential chance by Jaroslav Halak. He's yet to score in the World Cup thus far, empty in three pre-tournament games as well.
"I've had stretches like this before," Stamkos said. "I think I've matured in a way where you don't get frustrated, you don't get down, you're excited that you're having those chances because the odds are one of them's going to find a way."