Today is going to be an exciting day at the World Cup of Hockey. On tap are two games which both feature big rivalries and high stakes.
Like previous games these will be broadcast on Sportsnet and ESPN. You can also watch on NHL Gamecentre Live. In Toronto you can join me and watch live at the World Cup of Hockey Fan Village adjacent to the Distillery District. I will buy you a beer!
3:00PM EDT Team Sweden vs. Team Finland
Given what is coming up at 8:00 this game is really the undercard of the day, but is that justified? I think this will be a good tilt.
Team Finland won the first pre-tournament game in OT, but have not won any games since. Most notably they were trounced by Team North America in their opening game last Sunday. The Finns appeared unprepared and unequipped to handle the speed and rhythm of the young guns. They basically created the moment where Team N.A. became the darlings of the tournament by getting blown out by the team of young, fast, and entertaining future stars which hockey fans weren’t quite sure they were allowed to like.
On the other hand, Team Sweden has a little breathing room after defeating Team Russia in their first game 2-1 last Sunday. That game was won despite Henrik Lundqvist sitting out with the flu.
We don’t have official confirmation of the lines yet, though it is expected Sweden will keep things the same as their last game. We do have confirmation on the goalies, including the return of Hank.
Henrik Lundqvist back in net for SWE vs. FIN today after missing Sunday's game with an illness.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) September 20, 2016
FIN going with Tuukka Rask against SWE this afternoon. Pekka Rinne was shaky against Team NA on Sunday.— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) September 20, 2016
Someone definitely playing tonight is Patrik Laine. His mini-rivalry with Auston Matthews from the draft is on the line tonight, and he needs a goal to match him. I suspect he’s really going to push for one. From watching the previous games though, you want to actually keep your eye on the other wing, and Sebastian Aho. He has been sneaky good.
My eye test of Team Finland is small, but I have seen a lot of foul ups from the Lehtera line. Basically, their coach is stuck with a top-6, grinder, and emergency line setup. I don’t know if that will work against Sweden, especially with their penchant for their blue liners to collapse to the net when on defence.
On the other side the Carl Hagelin line has impressed me for Team Sweden. I’ve always thought he was underrated.
If you are a Maple Leafs fan you will be watching for Leo Komarov crashing and banging again tonight.
8:00PM EDT Team Canada vs. Team USA
Team Canada has had two days of rest after steamrolling Team Czechia 6-0 last Saturday. Tonight is the start of a back to back; they will play Team Europe tomorrow.
Needless to say, this is a team of stars, and there isn’t any significant alteration expected to lineups, and Carey Price is still expected to start in goal again.
No changes expected to Canada's lineup tonight. pic.twitter.com/2EnuvUHmYX— Jonas Siegel (@jonassiegel) September 20, 2016
This game is going to be huge. Outside of the historic Canada vs. USA rivalry, tonight Team USA is facing elimination from the tournament. A win for Canada means the Americans cannot catch either Team Europe, and are done but for playing a lame duck game vs. Team Czechia on Thursday night.
John Tortorella’s coaching in this tournament hasn’t exactly endeared himself to fans, and likely not his players either.
Tortorella on thinking of Abdelkader on line with Kane: "There isn't any thinking. You're overthinking it." Insists US lineup not set.— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) September 19, 2016
After starting the tournament oddly placed as a fourth line forward, and then later scratched while Jack Johnson stayed on defence, Dustin Byfuglien will apparently return for tonight’s game.
Tortorella on Byfuglien: "We hope he scores a power play goal."— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) September 20, 2016
Mentions that Buff could be an option as a defenceman or forward.
Forward? Defence? Who knows with Torts hockey! He will probably shake up his lines again before and after the start of the game so what is the point of even trying to figure them out.
Brandon Dubinsky, Jack Johnson and Cory Schneider out for Team USA.— Nick Cotsonika (@cotsonika) September 20, 2016
Despite Crazy Uncle Torts, Team Canada coach Mike Babcock understands he has to impress on his players that this game is still very important. This is only Canada’s second game, and while a win here would cement their birth in the semi-final, a loss will throw them into elimination tomorrow against the surprisingly strong Team Europe.
Babcock noted the Americans will be desperate to win this game, and a desperate team... finds a way. Let’s also not overlook that Torts does have a few aces in the hole here. Ryan Kesler for one has been a big time pest this tournament, drawing penalties, while also earning some serious points. Expect him to be matched against Canada’s ZZZ line and to try and intimidate them.
Patrick Kane has had only one goal, way back on September 9th in a pre-tournament game on 14 shots on goal while averaging about 18 minutes in the past four games. That is a slump that could easily break tonight.
There’s also our favourite Maple Leaf, James van Riemsdyk!
When not busy driving fire trucks, JvR continues to get in front of the opposing goalie so he can jam rebounds from in to the net; in the case of this tournament, usually from Derek Stepan. But when there aren’t any rebounds, there’s nothing for him to put in the net. Thanks for nothing, Stepan!
JvR actually did get one in there in the last game vs. Team Europe, but it was called back because he shoved Stepan, who, in turn, shoved the goalie back causing an interference call.
So who will win this clash of the titans? My money's on both Team Canada and Team USA. Team Canada for winning the game, and also Team USA for finally having Torts dumped forever as a coach by USA Hockey.