The preliminary round at the 2018 IIHF World Championships are wrapping up with two more days of games Monday and Tuesday. All teams have either one or two games more to play, so the standings picture is a little clearer.
In Group A in Copenhagen, Sweden and Russia are dominating group play, with Sweden undefeated and Russia only down one game (to the Czechs, of course, who can always find a way to trouble the Russians). The Czechs are almost guaranteed third place now.
Russia plays the surprising Slovakia on Monday and Sweden on Tuesday, and that game could decide the final placings in the group. Sweden is off today, so they are just waiting for that last game.
Nikita Zaitsev, playing the third most minutes on the team, has four assists in five games. Russia was really rolling in this tournament, not giving up a goal in their first three games, and then the Czechs added David Krejci and David Pastrnak (yes, them) just in time to overwhelm Russia and take an overtime decision by capitalizing on some Russian mistakes.
Zaitsev has played well in a more offensively focused role, with one big error in the Czech game coming while defending a two-on-one. It’s a good question to ask if this recurrent problem on the Leafs is coming from the players or the coaches.
The Slovaks are in a position, one point back and with two games to play, of knocking out Switzerland for fourth place in Group A. They play winless Belarus, but also Russia. France barely has a chance with a game over the Swiss that if they win, puts them in fourth place, but they’d need Slovakia to lose out their remaining two. That’s not likely, but France has gone from a team that was riding the relegation elevator to a team that has climbed up to almost quarterfinal status.
In Group B, even more strange things are happening. The USA has emerged as the top team, driven almost entirely by offence, although Keith Kinkaid has been good. They have gone undefeated through six games, albeit with two overtime wins cutting into their points a bit.
Finland, nearly as strong offensively with 32 goals in six games (the USA has 37) are in second place on the strength of four wins and one overtime loss to the Germans. They have one more game to play, and it’s against the USA on Tuesday. A regulation win for the Finns gives them top spot in the group. Any other outcome gives it to the USA.
Kasperi Kapanen has two goals so far, and he came oh, so close to repeating his WJC golden goal against the Germans in OT. Sometimes that move doesn’t work, but he sure does keep trying it.
Canada, in fourth place now, can come close to the top two, but they can’t win it, since they lost to both teams and hold no tie-breaker. With two more games to play, Canada’s job is to try to get second place. Latvia is first up for them today, and they are only one point ahead of the Latvians (a team that is all goalie, nothing else). On Tuesday, Canada plays Germany, who have been weak in this year’s event and have really only played well against the Finns.
And about that team in third place in Group B? That would be Denmark, dragged there by Frederik Andersen and a very smart approach to tournament play by the team. Denmark have one more game against Latvia on Tuesday, and a win in that game will almost certainly give Denmark fourth spot. Help from Canada to keep Latvia from adding any more points on Monday is not necessary, but it would make the Danish job easier.
Denmark have the greatest number of points of any team with a negative goal differential. In fact, they are the only team in range of a top-four quarterfinal spot who aren’t in a positive position. They’ve efficiently used their one big strength, Andersen, in the games they had any hope of winning. Canada, meanwhile, who with 27 GF to 11 GA should be a top team, are struggling because they have no reliable netminder. It seems as those the World Championships are where the illusion of Curtis McElhinney has finally threatened to unravel.
He has a good-looking Save Percentage, but in this tournament, goalies get to pad stats against atrocious teams. He was pulled in the first period against Finland, after letting in three goals on five shots. Darcy Kuemper, a goalie who suddenly got good this season in the NHL, much the way McElhinney did after he came to Toronto, has fared much worse.
In the Latvia game, Canada faces Elvis Merzlikins, a Columbus prospect, and one of the reasons that team put McElhinney on waivers in the first place. They had enough depth in goal, he was expendable. Merzlikins has all of Latvia’s wins, is on a hot streak, and is in fifth place, just behind Andersen by Save Percentage. The top three are Harri Sateri of Finland, Keith Kinkaid of the USA and Anders Nilsson of Sweden. Goaltending wins short tournaments.
On Tuesday, Canada finishes against Germany, so for this group, those three games on Tuesday will decide everything.
When to watch Kasperi Kapanen:
Finland vs USA on Tuesday at 6:15 a.m. Eastern Time
Russia and Nikita Zaitsev:
Russia vs Slovakia on Monday at 10:15 a.m. and Russia vs Sweden on Tuesday at 2:15 p.m.
Canada vs Latvia on Monday at 2:15 p.m. and Canada vs Germany Tuesday at 10:15 a.m.
Denmark and Frederik Andersen:
Latvia vs Denmark on Tuesday at 2:15 p.m.
Check listings on TSN for broadcast times. Some channels have the games re-broadcast in the evening in North America.