It took only 48 seconds for Sidney Crosby to make a dent in Team Canada’s World Cup of Hockey opener.
And while he didn’t score on that early breakaway attempt, after being robbed by the glove of Michal Neuvirth, Crosby ultimately could not be stopped in Canada’s 6-0 win over the Czech Republic on Saturday evening.
Canada’s captain spearheaded four goals, posting one goal himself and two assists while winning six-of-seven faceoffs in 13 minutes. He also had five shots.
“Let’s not get carried away,” said head coach Mike Babcock, asked if Crosby had gotten better from earlier Team Canada performances, specifically the past two Olympics.
“He was a star in Sochi. He was a star in Vancouver. What you saw tonight though is he got points.”
Crosby’s line buzzed all evening.
Brad Marchand finished with a goal and two assists and Patrice Bergeron scoring once while landing four shots on goal. It was Crosby, though, who drove the action. He had Canada’s first two shots, first goal and then helped set up the three that followed in a blowout win.
It was the same kind of dominant performance Crosby offered at the end of the last NHL season, in which the now-29-year-old won the Conn Smythe Trophy in helping the Pittsburgh Penguins to a second Stanley Cup.
“Sid is obviously an incredible playmaker with a very high hockey I.Q.,” Marchand said.
That intelligence was evident early.
Grabbing hold of a rebound as he swung behind the Czech goal, Crosby flung a shot off the back of Neuvirth and into the cage for Canada’s first goal.
“That’s all I really had from where I was,” Crosby said afterward, wearing a Team Canada hat, shirt and flip-flops as well as black Pittsburgh Penguins pants. “Even if it doesn’t go off him in the net then the puck’s laying there with guys in front.”
Then late in the period, after Bergeron won an offensive-zone faceoff, Crosby sent a backhand pass to Brent Burns at the point. The NHL’s leading goal-scorer from the back-end last season fired a blast that Marchand tipped past Neuvirth.
It didn’t stop there for Crosby. He forced a Czech turnover in the offensive zone with just seconds left in the opening frame, the puck freed up for Marchand, who dished cross-ice to Bergeron. The 31-year-old’s shot eluded Neuvirth with the help of a screen from Crosby, who leapt in the air to avoid it.
Lots of chemistry
Linemates with the Boston Bruins, Bergeron and Marchand have been a seamless fit alongside Crosby since the opening day of training camp. Babcock believes Crosby is best when surrounded by speedy, intelligent players who pursue the puck. Crosby and Bergeron have been an effective tandem numerous times for Canada.
Marchand said the trio has been working constantly to find synergy, talking on and off the ice about what works best. Both Nova Scotia natives, Marchand and Crosby skated together this past summer, too.
“He’s obviously an incredible player and he’s very easy to play with,” Marchand said.
Babcock said that what made Crosby so special was his ability to operate in tight spaces. His explosive speed and intelligence helped him create in tight areas.
That was evident on the fourth Canadian goal when Crosby, veering to his right across the slot, whipped a wicked backhand pass to his left, with Joe Thornton there to tap it in on the doorstep. It was the first goal the 37-year-old had scored for Canada since the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
Also finding the back of the net in victory were Jonathan Toews and Alex Pietrangelo, the latter two coming on the power play.
Perhaps more significant was the performance of Carey Price, who pitched a 27-save shutout. The 29-year-old’s best stop may have come just 41 seconds into the game when he turned down a dangerous Ondrej Palat opportunity in tight.
Shots actually favoured the Czechs 6-1 in the early going.
Square to pucks and limiting rebounds, Price looked much like the highly-reputed goaltender he was before injury last season. His shutout was nearly upended late in the second period when Roman Cervenka rung a shot off the crossbar.
“The goalie was really good,” Babcock said. “[Especially] at the start until we settled in and got playing.”
Heavy favourites heading into the tournament, Canada ultimately took care of their first preliminary-round opponent as required on Saturday. Division rivals from the United States couldn’t say the same earlier in the day, dropping a 3-0 afternoon affair to Team Europe.
The Canadians face the Americans on Tuesday night.
“I think we understand the position we’re in,” Crosby said. “We’re at home and there’s high expectations, but I think that’s just part of it. If anything, hopefully that’s something that gets the best out of us.”
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press via CBC News | Photo: rdsimages
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