The opening day of the 2015 IIHF World Championship kicked off with Canada facing Latvia, taking them down 6-1 just over a year after their memorable Olympic battle in Sochi.
A long stretch of play saw both teams have solid chances on either end with both goaltenders starting strong. A lot of scrambles in front provided some exciting action during that time but play was eventually whistled down after around seven minutes straight of play. The Latvians continued to buzz around the net after the TV timeout with the puck just barely staying out of the Canadian net a few times.
Nathan MacKinnon opened up the scoring with a one timer from the top of the faceoff circle, beating Ervins Mustukovs at 9:57 in the first. Jason Spezza provided the assist with a short yet meaningful pass as the Canadians took the 1-0 lead at the halfway mark in the first.
Latvia would try to counter back not to long after with another scramble chance in front. Once again Mike Smith somehow kept the puck out of the net, leaving the Latvians wondering what they needed to do.
Some more nifty passing by the Canadians at the 13 minute mark ended up resulting in another goal. Once again, MacKinnon and Spezza would look good as Spezza would find a loose puck around the net to help give Canada a 2-0 lead.
Only a minute and seven seconds later Canada strikes again as Matt Duchene gets the third Canadian goal as a shot goes off a Latvian defenders stick and up over the glove of Mustukovs forcing Latvian head coach Alexander Belavski to call his time-out to settle his squad down.
The Latvians kept pressing later on in that first period, lead by captain and former Ottawa Senator Kaspars Daugavins. Daugavins looked good, but he would get denied by Mike Smith not once but twice in a single shift. Then, Mikelis Redlihs had a couple chances of his own, but again Smith would shut the door for Canada.
Canada picked up right where they left off in the first period. Only two minutes into the second, Tyler Toffoli got a stick on the original Dan Hamhuis shot which was going into an empty net anyways after Mustukovs got lost in his net trying to make a save on a previous shot.
Just 44 seconds later, Jason Spezza scored his second of the night with another scramble in front That spelled the end of the night for Ervins Mustukovs, as he allowed five goals on just 20 shots.
Edgars Masalskis, making his 11th, yes 11th World Championship appearance, came in relief of his teammate lg to change the momentum for the Latvians. Masalskis posted average numbers for both Dinamo Riga in the KHL and Ambrì-Piotta in the NLA, but is easily one of the most experienced World Championship goaltenders in the tournament.
Near the end of the period, Masalskis absolutely robbed Crosby on a cross-ice one timer keeping the Latvians clinging to life in the second. In the last minute Masalskis made another ridiculous save as he denied Tyler Seguin point blank, but Latvia would still trail 5-0 after 40 minutes of play.
The third period started off slow as both teams looked to know their respective fate. The first real chance of the period came eight minutes in when Mikelis Redlihs looked like he had a breakaway chance but was called offside.
Latvia got on the board as Kaspars Daugavins put what looks like a home crowd on their feet as he beat Mike Smith at the 12 minute mark in the third, it was too little too late though for the Latvians.
With 23 seconds left in the game, Sidney Crosby got his chance to shine when Roberts Bukarts hooked him on a breakaway. Crosby made no mistake as he went top glove on a perfect shot, giving Masalskis no chance, making it 6-1.
That is how the game would end with Latvia playing a much better third period than the rest of the game. A few positives to take out of the game for Latvia as well, mostly being that Edgars Masalskis played outstanding as the relief goalie. The play of Kaspars Daugavins was also very inspiring as he was in my mind the player of the game for Latvia. Add in that the Latvians hung around the net and had a bunch of great chances in front and the future of this tournament looks bright for the Latvians.
For Canada, it is a solid win with a lot of positives to take out as well. For a team playing their first game together there is nothing but up from here if they can continue in the form they are playing in.
To note, players of the game were Jason Spezza for Canada and Janis Sprukts out of nowhere for Latvia.
Latvia will face the Czech Republic tomorrow while Canada has a day off and won’t play until Sunday when they take on Germany.
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