Day one of the 2019 World Junior Championships is done, and three Leafs prospects saw action, while Ian Scott gets ready to play today:
Czechia: 2, Switzerland: 1 (OT)
In the first game of the tournament yesterday, defenceman Filip Kral was on the ice for the Czechs. Kral is in his second WJC for Czechia, and last year, he had one goal and no assists in seven games. While he was held off the scoreboard in his first game this year, he’s going to get chances if the team keeps using him the way they are.
The Czechs, who have to win with their high-flying forwards Filip Zadina and Martin Necas, tried to play an offensive game, but they got in their own way with a lot of penalties. The PK defenders worked very hard, and that left Kral as the lone defender on the power play some of the time. He played the full two minutes at least twice as the point man on a four-forward and one-defender setup.
Martin Kaut, who is always overlooked for the two big stars on the team (just like I just did) got one goal and set up the game winner early in overtime from David Kvasnicka, one of the top two defenders.
While nominally on the third unit, Kral played the fourth most minutes of all the defencemen, and since he doesn’t PK much, that means he logged a lot of the five-on-five as well as the power play time. He played with the Zadina line a great deal, and both of them are very comfortable on the small ice. They looked good together most of the time.
Kral is a puck mover and carrier, and he is very aggressive offensively. He spent a considerable amount of time joining rushes and driving the net. But don’t think he’s not a good defender. While he’s obviously not in the class of someone like Jakub Galvas (Chicago’s 150th pick in 2017) when judged on pure defence, he’s got a modern style that looks remarkably like a fellow we all know who plays for Sweden. He’s not that good, but he sure is interesting.
He is #11 in red in the highlights, and is unfortunately on one of his few PK shifts when Switzerland scores.
GAME HIGHLIGHTS: David Kvasnicka gave the Czech @narodnitym an opening win at the #WorldJuniors thanks to his overtime goal against @SwissIceHockey. Read more: https://t.co/VlFxDxn5EB pic.twitter.com/MlAFn1O6jD— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 27, 2018
USA: 2, Slovakia: 1
The USA just barely won a game they should have taken in a rout.
Canada: 14, Denmark: 0
Oh, here’s the rout. I hope you like Pitbull.
And here are the first highlights of the host team. Canada (@HC_WJC) blanked Denmark (@DKIshockey) 14-0 to start the #WorldJuniors! #Represent More from the game: https://t.co/bvwhwjEpZr pic.twitter.com/4wvaxMPDVs— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 27, 2018
Michael DiPietro was not tested, but that was the test. He’d been performing poorly in games where he saw few shots, and this outing was meant to get his head in the game. It’s all the way in, and he will be the starting goalie barring any injuries. Ian Scott will play today, however.
Sweden: 2, Finland: 1
The late game was the best game, and not just for the two Leafs prospects on display. This game was fast, with a lot of Swedish-style puck movement, and one very hot Finnish goalie in Ukka-Pekka Luukkonen. The score doesn’t tell the real story of this game.
Sweden dominated possession — safe to say even from an eye test — and they laid heavy pressure on the Finns throughout the game. Finland responded with a lot of penalties, and Erik Brännström, Sweden’s top defender, made them pay with two power play goals.
Do not be surprised if Brännström leads the Swedes in points by January 5, as he is the key to this team. On the power play, he and Adam Boqvist team up to run what looks like a conservative setup with two defenders and three forwards. But for the Swedes, that’s how they get their big weapon on the ice, and set him loose.
Boqvist played the rest of the game with Rasmus Sandin, who has offensive gifts of his own, and they work very well together. They would be the top pair on any other team in this tournament, or challenge for it. Sandin also showed up as one of the defenders on the second unit power play.
Pontus Holmberg centred the second line, which put him on the ice with Sandin a lot. He played his usual solid offensive game mixed with total commitment to play in the defensive zone. You don’t feel at all like you’re seeing a player like Kappo Kakko, the only really impressive skater for Finland in this outing. What you won’t ever do is find him out of position or lagging behind the play. Holmberg is the workmanlike forward that this Swedish team is made up of.
This is, of course, their big weakness. They got a lot of shots on Luukkonen, but they never looked dangerous. The Finns, on the other hand, woke up and started taking it to Sweden offensively in the last five minutes of the game. They have some offensive weapons, but they ran out of time.
Sweden played to their strengths perfectly, moving the puck with incredible speed, and to win it, they need to get some forwards on a hot scoring streak. Or just keep relying on the defenders. Sandin can score. Today’s game against a tougher checking team in Slovakia who will want to slow them down will be an interesting test for them to see if they can break out of the mire in the neutral zone and overwhelm the weaker opponent.
Sandin is #8 and Holmberg is #29:
ICYMI: We had a thrilling Nordic clash on Day 1 of the #WorldJuniors. Two PP goals from @BrannstromErik gave Sweden's @Trekronorse a 2-1 win over archrival Finland (@leijonat). More from the game: https://t.co/mdlrsZ6T3p pic.twitter.com/ynVgKlmFML— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 27, 2018
45 preliminary-round wins and counting for Sweden, but no one on Sweden cares about any game but the last one. Canada - Sweden final? After day one, it sure looks like it will happen, but we haven’t heard from the Russians yet.
Check out our schedule for times and channels of all the games: