MOSCOW -- Round 2 of Connor McDavid vs. Auston Matthews is upon us.
McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) and Canada will take on Matthews (2016 draft eligible) and the United States in the semifinals of the 2016 IIHF World Championship at Ice Palace here on Saturday (1 p.m. ET; NBC Sports Live Extra, TSN, RDS).
Matthews enters after scoring the only regulation goal for the U.S. and scoring shootout winner in a 2-1 win against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals on Thursday. He leads the U.S. with five goals and three assists, and coach John Hynes (New Jersey Devils) is putting him in positions where he can be the go-to player in critical game situations. Matthews is rising to the occasion.
Two weeks ago in St. Petersburg, McDavid, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, went head-to-head against Matthews, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of international skaters for the 2016 draft, in Canada's 5-1 win.
"It's definitely nice to be on the other side [of the draft]," McDavid said after that game when asked about the circumstance Matthews is now in as the presumptive No. 1 pick. "It's a fun experience, but there's a lot of pressure that goes with that, and a lot of attention. I'm sure he's trying to do the best he can, trying to enjoy it."
The winner of Canada-United States will face the winner of Finland-Russia on Sunday for the gold medal.
McDavid and Matthews have drawn a good deal of praise for the maturity of their games throughout the tournament. By the end of the preliminary round, McDavid was skating on a line with Taylor Hall (Oilers) and Matt Duchene (Colorado Avalanche) for Canada; Matthews worked himself up into the top-line center role between Dylan Larkin (Detroit Red Wings) and Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets) for the U.S.
"Auston's such a great player, and I really like playing with Dylan Larkin," Foligno said. "That's what I like about coming over here. You get to play with different guys and kind of see what makes them tick. We've been able to build some chemistry."
Despite tremendous offensive skills, McDavid is one of two Canada forwards who hasn't scored a goal in the first eight games of the tournament. He's finding other ways to chip in and has made some great plays with Hall.
Canada coach Bill Peters (Carolina Hurricanes) has increased McDavid's ice time during the tournament.
"It's one thing to skate in practice and do all the things that we do to stay in shape," Peters said. "Game shape's a whole different animal. All three guys (McDavid, Hall and Duchene) can skate. There's chemistry both ways. Dangerous line."
Though McDavid's seven assists in eight games has him on nearly a point-per-game pace, that's only good enough to tie for sixth place in scoring for Canada, which is averaging a tournament-high five goals per game. McDavid has yet to make a game-changing contribution in the tournament the way Matthews did in the quarterfinal against Czech Republic.
Though Canada (6-0-0-1) significantly outperformed the United States (3-0-1-3) in the preliminary round, Canada goaltender Cam Talbot (Oilers) said he sees similarities between how two young rosters have evolved in the tournament.
"I think they've grown every game, just like we have," Talbot said.
On what to expect against the U.S., Talbot showed Canada's next opponent plenty of respect.
"It's going to be a battle," he said. "They took out a very talented team in the Czechs, and they're going to work hard. It's not going to be the same game it was last time. We're going to have to be ready."
Following Canada's 4-0 shutout loss to Finland in its final game of the preliminary round, Peters was rewarded for his decision to give the team a day off to rest and recuperate. Canada rebounded with a 6-0 win against Sweden to advance to the semifinals. As Canada traveled from St. Petersburg to Moscow on Friday for its final two games of the medal round, Peters again elected not to skate his players on their off-day.
"We're excited about getting to Moscow," Peters said. "That's been the goal all along when you're in St. Petersburg and the semifinals and finals are in a different city. You've got to get to that city.
"We've been able to do that."
This is the second straight appearance for Canada and the U.S. in the medal round. Canada defeated Russia 6-1 a year ago to win its first gold medal since 2007. The U.S. finished third and earned its first bronze medal since 2004.