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Third wheel Johnny Hockey's gritty effort boosts North America over Europe

7-4

MONTREAL, Quebec — The combination of Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel on the top line earned the attention for Team North America, but it was the third player on that line who stole the show.

Team North America got two goals from Johnny Gaudreau, along with a pair from Aaron Ekblad and Dylan Larkin, to beat Team Europe 7-4 and remain undefeated in early pre-tournament play.

But the Americans weren’t perfect. For the second consecutive game, Team North America came out flying and regressed as the game went on, with their inexperience showing at times while protecting a lead. There’s a high ceiling for the youngest team in the tournament, but they still need work before playing with the world’s best.

What we learned in the Team North America win:

Johnny Gaudreau's effort was a little reminder that he's a big part of the team too. Eric Bolte/USA TODAY Sports

Dangerous duo: Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin were definitely a dangerous duo for Team North America and earned an opportunity to keep the Halifax reunion beyond one game. There were at least two high-end passes by Drouin to MacKinnon that set up scoring chances: one generated by Drouin working behind the net, then sending a puck in the middle to MacKinnon, who wasn’t able to connect in what could have been a goal.

They’re together on a second power-play unit that looks good enough to push the top unit for time.

This was the second consecutive game in which MacKinnon was playing on the game’s best line — no coincidence as he emerges as an early-tournament standout.

Larkin leaves a mark: Dylan Larkin played like a guy trying to keep a spot in the lineup after sitting Game 1. He scored Team North America’s second goal of the game, banging home a rebound after an odd-man rush. His empty netter clinched it. At one point, he laid out Team Europe defenseman Zdeno Chara and didn’t shy from physical play.

Playing in his first game, Team North America defenseman Colton Parayko was a consistent presence, showing off deft stickhandling and a willingness to join and lead the rush. He was hard to miss out there.

Developing an identity: Team Europe coach Ralph Krueger doesn’t want to use the underdog label on his team as a motivating tactic, but it’s clear after two games against North America that they’re a major longshot in this tournament. Early on, there was no identity in terms of style of play, and the kids made veterans such as Chara look slow.

Europe was at its best when it was playing with structure and physicality, which it started to do with earnest in the second and continued into the third. The team showed it has high-end skill on the Frans Nielsen goal, set up by nice passing from Mats Zuccarello and Roman Josi. Krueger can build on this game, but it’s still a steep climb.

No question in goal: Team North America goalie John Gibson was going to need a shutout or a monster night to make things interesting in goal, and it didn’t happen. Gibson allowed four goals, and in doing so, Matt Murray should be the No. 1 goalie when the real games start.

This game also solidified Jaroslav Halak as the guy in goal for Team Europe. Team North America chased Thomas Greiss with four first-period goals, and Halak did a nice job settling the game down while his teammates battled back from the early hole.

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