Analysis

Canadian coach Julien should consider goalie change after Pasquale's implosion against U.S.

It was certainly a game to forget for Canadian goaltender Eddie Pasquale, whose struggles led to a 4-2 loss to the U.S. on Saturday. Now coach Claude Julien must decide whether to make a switch in net against China.

Beleaguered netminder had a game to forget in 4-2 loss

Goaltender Eddie Pasquale watches the puck slide into the net after a shot by American Ben Meyers on Monday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Claude Julien won the 2009 Jack Adams Trophy as the National Hockey League's top coach. He hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Boston Bruins and has more than 1,200 career NHL games on his resume.

So the Team Canada bench boss hardly needs advice from armchair general managers — and cynical media pundits — on which goalie to start Sunday against China in the men's Olympic hockey tournament.

But Julien will hear plenty of opinions, regardless. And should he fire up Twitter on his mobile phone, he'll see the clear consensus among Canadian hockey fans.

Give Devon Levi, a top goaltending prospect of the Buffalo Sabres, a chance between the pipes.

Let Levi show he can duplicate his NCCA success at Boston's Northeastern University, on the Olympic stage.

And do not, under any circumstances, go back to the beleaguered Eddie Pasquale, who fought the puck mightily in Saturday's 4-2 loss to Team USA.

It was certainly an afternoon to forget for the Toronto-born Pasquale. With Canada leading 1-0, Pasquale overplayed the pass on a two-man rush, allowing USA captain Andy Miele to roof the puck short-side.

It got worse. In the second period, American forward Nathan Smith stripped the puck from the wandering Canadian goalie behind the net.

In what will surely become a meme, Pasquale scrambled to his crease, spun 360 degrees and slid right past the far post, allowing American forward Brendon Brisson to pop the puck into the open cage.

WATCH | Highlights from Canada's loss to U.S.:

Hockey highlights: United States hand Canadian men 1st Olympic loss

6 months ago
Duration 4:56
Watch highlights of the United States' 4-2 win over Canada in the men's Olympic hockey tournament at Beijing 2022.

Misfortune doesn't end

The misfortune continued in the third period. With the USA leading 3-2 and Canada pressing for the equalizer, Kenny Agostino — previously best known in this country for being traded to Calgary in a package for Jarome Iginla — uncorked a slap shot from just inside the blue-line.

There was no screen. No tip. But the puck squirted through Pasquale's pads to restore a two-goal lead for the Americans and kill momentum for the buzzing Canadians.

"They are a strong team, and we gave the too much room on some of those goals," said Canadian defenceman Maxim Noreau. "We'll have to learn from that. There's no excuses. We have to get better."

After the game, Julien pointed out that a loss can never be pinned on just one player. And he's right.

Canada committed way too many turnovers and couldn't contain the speed of the youthful Americans. And while the Canadians outshot the U.S. 17-4 in the final frame and 37-27 overall, they failed to convert with the game on the line.

"We had a lot of good chances," said Team Canada right wing Josh Ho-Sang. "I think we hit three crossbars. It's a different game if those go in.

"It's definitely hard. We are working our best. We are watching video and we are talking to each other a lot. We will continue to get better as the tournament goes on, but that's just hockey."

WATCH | Kenny Agostino supplies the dagger for U.S.:

Agostino's blast restores 2-goal lead for United States

6 months ago
Duration 1:03
Kenny Agostino's goal in the third period gives the United States a 4-2 lead over Canada in the third period.

Decision to start Pasquale made sense

The decision to start Pasquale — for the opener against Germany and Saturday against the U.S. — made sense. After all, Pasquale was named the 2020-21 goaltender of the year in the Kontinental Hockey League, which is widely considered the second-best league in the world behind the NHL.

And this season, Pasquale has an impressive 1.99 goals against average and .916 save percentage with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl.

But Pasquale looked uncomfortable and unsteady from the opening whistle against the U.S. After the Agostino goal, he glanced at the roof and slammed his water bottle onto the net in disgust.

Backing Pasquale up Saturday was 27-year-old Matt Tomkins, who has a 2.32 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage this season for Frölunda HC of the Swedish Hockey League.

Prior to signing in Sweden, Tomkins appeared in 36 games over three seasons in the American Hockey League, posting an underwhelming .896 save percentage and 3.35 goals against average.

When it comes to goalies, NHL coaches generally opt for veteran savvy over youthful promise. But the case to start the 20-year-old Levi is compelling.

In 24 NCAA games this season, the Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Que. product has an eye-popping 1.55 goals against-average. a.948 save percentage and nine shutouts.

"Look at his numbers," Team Canada general manager Shane Doan said when naming the team back on Jan. 25. "It's absolutely incredible. He's doing things at the NCAA level that just don't happen.

Devon Levi watches teammates during a team practice on Saturday. He was named the 2021 world junior championship’s top goaltender. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Levi breaks hero's world junior record

At the 2021 world junior hockey championships, Levi broke his childhood hero Carey Price's tournament record with a .964 save percentage. He also tied the record for world junior shutouts with three.

The seventh-round pick of the Florida Panthers was also named the tournament's top goaltender with a 0.75 goals against average — and he was playing with a broken rib that would sideline him for the rest of the season.

So he's tough. And he knows how to perform under pressure. A loss in the Olympic preliminary round of men's hockey is not fatal.

Remember, Canada fell 5-3 to the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Games and we're still talking about Sidney Crosby's golden goal to beat the Americans in the final.

But in such a short tournament, there's little room for error and almost no time for a goaltender to regain his confidence after a sub-par performance - just ask 2002 Olympic starter Curtis Joseph

Levi's numbers this season, in the NCAA, are excellent. Canada needs excellence for a shot at a medal.

Now it's up to Julien to make the call.

WATCH | Full replay of Canada vs. U.S.:

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vicki Hall

Freelance writer

Vicki has written about sports in Canada for more than 15 years for CBC Sports, Postmedia, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. She has covered five Olympic Games, 10 Grey Cup championships and one Stanley Cup Final. In 2015, Vicki won a National Newspaper Award for sports writing and is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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