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Canada defeats Sweden in McDavid’s return

Following Team Canada’s first full practice since the announcement of their final roster, the home team met Sweden in Ottawa for the second of three RBC Road to the World Juniors pre-competition games.

After a tough 2-1 loss to Team Russia on Friday, coach Benoit Groulx hoped Canada could bounce back and find their finishing touch around the net.

Groulx said he wasn’t worried about the offence though.

“I really like our forwards,” Groulx said following the team’s morning skate. “Now it’s about getting inside and winning the races to the net.”

For Canada, the lines looked considerably different up front against Sweden, with Senators forward Curtis Lazar and top-ranked draft prospect Connor McDavid drawing into their first game and lining up with Nick Ritchie on the team’s second line.

The team’s third line also had a different look, as returnee Nic Petan (WPG) made his pre-competition debut alongside Nick Paul (OTT) and Robby Fabbri (STL).

The new faces proved to provide a boost in the first period for Canada, as they controlled the early play, opening the scoring with a Max Domi (ARI) goal with an assist from Joe Hicketts (DET), who made his pre-competition debut.

Unable to put together continued pressure, Sweden found themselves outshot heavily, with a Josh Morrissey (shot finding it’s way through at 8:23, unassisted. 

Sweden finished the period with three minor penalties, outshot 15-5 as a consequence. 

A holding penalty to Madison Bowey (WAS), his second minor of the game, would open things up for Sweden with 2014 first round draft pick William Nylander (TOR) finding Gustav Forsling (VAN) at the point with the man-advantage.

As Sweden began to control play, Anthony Duclair (NYR) would find the puck in the slot with Swedish goaltender Samuel Ward down and out.

A couple of chances from Connor McDavid in his highly-touted return from a hand injury would be all Canada could manage, as Sweden picked up their play. 

Still, Sweden’s two-goal deficit would remain, despite outshooting Canada 9-4 in the second period.

Were it not for some great goaltending and a post off a Nylander shot, the third period would have seen Sweden get back into it.

Instead, shortly after an Anthony Duclair penalty expired, McDavid would finally get on the board with a pass into the slot to Shea Theodore (ANA) off the rush.

After another Swedish penalty, a passing play between Sam Reinhart (BUF) and Hicketts would end in Reinhart finishing short-side for Canada’s fifth goal.

A late period penalty shot goal after Nylander was hauled down would bring Sweden within three as time wound down, Canada edging the returning silver medalists 5-2.

Groulx was happy to see his top two forward lines perform and happy with the way McDavid dominated in the second half of the game, he said. 

Despite keeping the shots against low for a second consecutive game, Groulx was less impressed with the defence than he was with the forwards.

"I think we can be better defensively, we have to work as a unit of five. At times tonight I thought there was too much of a gap between our defensemen and forwards," he said, adding that Sweden attacked hard than Russia, challenging Canada. 

Groulx wouldn't commit to the way he's leaning with the goaltenders or the captaincy, but spoke highly of Lazar. 

"He’s loud on the bench, he likes to communicate with his teammates, he likes to cheer for them and tell them about positioning," he said. "It comes naturally for him."

Sweden head coach Rikard Gronborg hopes his young team can learn from the loss. 

"We know we have a young team and have a lot to learn," Gronborg said.