After the Czech Republic defeated Slovakia 2-0 in Group B action, two of the 2016 World Junior Hockey Championship's biggest team's kicked off a key game in Group A. Team USA, fresh off a big 4-2 win against Canada, took on a Sweden team fresh off an 8-3 win of their own against Switzerland.
Without top forward William Nylander, 2016 draft eligible centre Rasmus Asplund moved onto a line with fellow high-end draftee and William's brother, Alex, as well as Leafs prospect Dmytro Timashov.
And with first place in the group potentially on the line, both team's came out really pushing the pace. After three early penalties (two to the United States and one to Sweden), the two teams played several minutes without a whistle as Sweden applied some sustained pressure midway through the period on route to a 6-2 lead in shots at the 10-minute mark.
But after a Marcus Pettersson slashing penalty, the United States headed to their second powerplay. With the man-advantage, Team USA began to pick up some momentum with a great chance from draft eligible defencemen Charlie McAvoy sneaking off left side only to be gloved by Linus Soderstrom far side.
Despite failing to score, another chance from Coyotes prospect Christian Dvorak was one of five chance on the late powerplay.
With the momentum shifting, a third minor penalty to Team Sweden gave the Americans back-to-back powerplays in the final minutes of the first period. Unable to score again, the Americans continued to create chance on the man advantage, with top 2016 NHL Draft prospect Alex DeBrincat narrowly missing the post on a pass to the slot.
Ejected from the game against Canada, DeBrincat was active in the first period before having to leave the ice with 12.6 seconds left after being bloodied -- and leaving some on the boards -- after a hit behind the net.
Still, as tempers flared towards the end of the period and after the buzzer, the two teams carried a scoreless game into the intermission. Both Soderstrom and Hurricanes prospect Alex Nedeljkovic were forced to stand tall in flurries early on and came up big.
Despite a quiet first period, Timashov broke out early on in the second. Receiving a pass off the rush on the right wing, Timashov surveyed the ice and found Alex Nylander, who went forehand-backhand to beat Nedeljkovic up high and open the scoring for Sweden.
Unable to score on yet another powerplay, the United States continued to apply pressure only to be continuously denied by Soderstrom early in the first period.
Later in the period, on a Timashov high-sticking penalty, the United States went to their fifth powerplay of the game. And on the PK, captain Andreas Englund took his second minor penalty of the game to give the United States a two-man advantage for 1:12.
But Soderstrom wasn't ready for his shutout to come to an end, making a diving reactionary save after kicking out a rebound and another on a cross-ice pad save on Team USA captain Zach Werenski for one of his 17 saves on the PK in the first two periods.
Finally, after a careless Auston Matthews high-sticking penalty, Sweden was able to close out the second period with a reprieve from the onslaught.
But it didn't last, and 49 seconds into the second period Kings prospect Adrian Kempe took a holding penalty, Sweden's seventh minor of the game, where (again) they didn't score. As if they didn't get the message, Sweden took their eighth minor penalty moments later near the 15-minute mark of the final period.
Ultimately, the Americans powerplay wasn't meant to score. Or it was, and Soderstrom just out-did them.
With 7:39 left, it was Nedeljkovic's turn for a big save, robbing Carl Grundstrom with a glove save after the 2016 prospect was left all alone in the slot.
Even when the United States scored, they didn't really score. A 'goal' from Bruins prospect Brandon Carlo was called back in the final minutes due a crease violation.
Two late penalties to the United States after a mishap with the goalie-pull and a high stick from top draft prospect Matthew Tkachuk, the Swedes sneaked away with a 1-0 win thanks to a nearly 50-save shutout from Soderstrom and a lone nice play from Timashov to Nylander.
As a result, Sweden takes over first place in Group A and moves to 2-0 on the tournament.
- Quiet first period for the second line, their only shot on goal came from a floating shot from the outside from the diminutive Leafs prospect. He created a nice zone entry and pass to Nylander on the wing but the play was broken up. Lost a couple puck battles along the boards.
- Beautiful heads-up pass to find Nylander in-stride on the opening goal so that there was no chance of him being caught on the breakaway (third assist, fourth point of the tournament). Skated well heel-to-heel along the boards to create a chance on net on a mid-game powerplay with a soft pass intended to be redirected. Moved the puck well on a late-period PP on his two touches.
- Didn't play as much as he did in the first game of the tournament because of all the penalties. Was quiet in a penalty-laden third period as a result, though his stick handling was apparent on a move across the top of the blueline on an entry at the midway point.
- 2GP: 2G, 2A, 4PTS