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McDavid leads Canada past Germany at WJC

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL - Connor McDavid got his first goal in what appeared to him to be an eternity.

In reality, it was three games.

But McDavid's opening goal in Canada's 4-0 win against Germany at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship on Saturday was the first time he had experienced that thrill since Nov. 11, when he broke his hand in a game with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, an injury that put his presence at this tournament in a little bit of jeopardy.

After scoring, McDavid jumped into the corner boards at Bell Centre and punched the glass with the same hand he had injured in a fight. This time, however, he had a glove on.

"It was just exciting," McDavid said. "I haven't scored in a long time, I missed a whole bunch of games, and scoring goals is fun."

McDavid also assisted on power-play goals scored by Curtis Lazar (Ottawa Senators) and Madison Bowey (Washington Capitals), relieving some of the pressure he says he didn't actually feel after he went pointless in Canada's 8-0 win against Slovakia a night earlier and had one assist in two pre-tournament games after returning from his injury.

"It wasn't a whole lot of difference. It's just the puck was going in, that's about it," McDavid said. "You guys probably thought I played terrible [Friday] night, but in reality I had my fair share of chances and couldn't cash. That's just the way it goes sometimes."

However, Canada coach Benoit Groulx did see a bit of a difference in how the consensus top prospect for the 2015 NHL Draft played Saturday, particularly after he scored on the power play at 4:11 of the first period to give Canada a 1-0 lead.

"Having been out for so long and coming back to play in a tournament like this, where the quality of hockey is so high, is not an easy thing to do," Groulx said. "Then going two or three games with so few points is not something that's normal for him either.

"I think people put a lot of pressure on Connor McDavid and he just needs to come to the rink and play hockey the way he knows how, just relax and take care of himself and nothing else. We saw tonight with his performance that if he was thinking too much before, he didn't tonight. He played."

Eric Comrie (Winnipeg Jets) made 17 saves for Canada, creating a dilemma for Groulx and his staff as to who will start against defending champion Finland on Monday. Zach Fucale (Montreal Canadiens) also had a shutout in his start Friday, so there is not much to differentiate the two goaltenders right now.

"[Comrie] was good. He had to make stops. He's a very well-structured goalie, he competes hard. He was sound. I liked his game a lot. It's obviously going to be a tough decision that we have to make," Groulx said. "You want to see how they play, how they react and if one goalie is going to separate himself from the other one. Obviously both of them have been very good. We want to sleep on that."

Canada and its roster stacked with first-round NHL draft picks came out of the gate roaring in its first few shifts, looking every bit like it would dominate Germany, a team without a single NHL-drafted player on its roster.

McDavid's goal gave Canada a 7-0 lead in shots on goal. But Germany outshot Canada 14-9 during the next 35 minutes, grabbing the momentum in the second period by cutting off the middle of the ice and pressuring Canada into turnovers and penalties.

"We looked more like what we wanted to look like in the second period," Germany coach Pat Cortina said. "We lost to a better team and we have to learn from this experience."

It was only when Max Domi (Arizona Coyotes) scored his second of the tournament at 9:14 of the third period to make it 3-0 that any doubt Canada would win was erased.

Germany played a strong skating game and focused on keeping Canada away from goaltender Kevin Reich. The strategy worked for a long time, at one point preventing Canada from getting a single shot on goal for more than 12 minutes during the second period. Ultimately, Germany held Canada to one even-strength goal in 60 minutes.

"First game against Team Canada we were all nervous a little bit, but after [in] the second period we just kept going and wanted to keep pressure," Germany defenseman Tim Bender said. "I thought we dominated in the second period. It's a special experience playing against Canada in Canada, so we just wanted to have some fun tonight and I think we had that."

Canada had a role to play in its ineffective second period as well, turning pucks over on unsuccessful attempts at pretty plays that fell right into Germany's defensive game plan, a plan not unlike what Canada might see against Finland on Monday.

"We tried to go for the home run a little bit too much, and that's an area we're going to need to focus on to get ready for the Finns," Lazar said.

Canada dominated the opening shifts of the game, doing what it pleased in the offensive zone as Germany struggled to touch the puck. That led to Canada's first power play opportunity and McDavid's opening goal, a play on which he sent a puck towards the crease and jammed away, ultimately poking it in.

Canada scored again on the power play at 12:42, with McDavid finding Lazar alone in the slot for a one-timer that beat Reich to make it 2-0.

As Germany continued to make things tight in the second period, Comrie was forced to make his biggest save of the game at 15:49 when Marc Michaelis got behind Canada's defense for a breakaway. Michaelis attempted to beat Comrie five-hole but couldn't.

McDavid had another excellent chance to score about nine minutes into the third period when he went wide on the German defense with great speed and cut hard to the net, but passed off to no one cutting on the backdoor instead of shooting.

Domi gave Canada some breathing room off a lost offensive-zone faceoff, beating defenseman Jonas Muller to a loose puck and feeding a pass to Sam Reinhart (Buffalo Sabres) at the faceoff circle. Domi then circled the net and took a no-look, backhanded return feed from Reinhart for a tap-in goal on the back door at 9:14 of the third period.

Bowey made it 4-0 at 15:44 when he rifled home a feed from Nic Petan (Winnipeg Jets) for Canada's third power-play goal of the game.

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