With only three more days to go in the WJC preliminary round, it seems like there won’t be a lot of surprises in the quarterfinals. The truth is: There rarely are. The format of the WJC makes it easy to pick the bottom four or five teams before the puck is dropped. That doesn’t mean the early games are meaningless. The relative strength of the top five or six teams changes from year to year and where each team gets its power from varies even more. There are a couple of top-six team matchups today, and the action should heat up.
Yesterday there were two games.
Russia: 2, Czechia: 1
The only chance of an early upset fizzled as the Czechs could not do anything good on their power play. It looked very structural to me, not based on the choices of forwards, but once Russia scored their second short-handed goal, the game was over. The Russians didn’t really put in much effort until the third period, and their power play was horrible too, so who knows what Russia will bring to the table in their only tough challenge: the New Year’s Eve battle with Canada.
Both Russia and Czechia are playing a style that looks very Leafs-like. Ray Ferraro mentioned this on the broadcast, but the Russians are doing the lob the puck out of the defensive zone and then race for it trick (they don’t quite have the horses the Leafs do) and the Czechs are using puck-handling defenders like Filip Kral to start them off on stretch passes.
Kral didn’t have the best game in this outing, but he sure does have the right style for the Marlies or the Leafs.
ICYMI: @Russiahockey_en beat the Czechs 2-1 at the #WorldJuniors thanks to two shorthanded goals. @narodnitym had an odd goal via a players head and neck area. Watch it in this video!— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 29, 2018
Read more: https://t.co/Gl9LOAGjxg
En français : https://t.co/gSL2logakA pic.twitter.com/53PzluT6Og
USA: 8, Kazakhstan: 2
Any idea that Kazakhstan might be significantly less prone to blowouts than Denmark was blown out by the USA. Kazakhstan might have a better goalie, and that might keep them afloat for another year in the top division, but that’s it.
ICYMI: Second win for @USAHockey and second loss for Kazakhstan as the Americans beat the promoted team 8-2. Watch the goals and @FarabeeJoel's hat trick in this video! #WorldJuniors— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) December 29, 2018
Read more: https://t.co/2VrHCdJLEx
En français : https://t.co/eWtjHoXaSm pic.twitter.com/oEX6aNnZ7m
Denmark play the Swiss at 4 p.m. Toronto time. The Swiss are much stronger this year, so the risk to them of slacking off against Denmark isn’t as high as in past years.
Slovakia and Finland play at 6:30 p.m. Finland is worth watching for Kaapo Kakko, and Anttoni Honka, both draft-eligible. Slovakia’s deeply boring and annoying defensive strategy might hamper the Finns a little.
Canada plays the Czechs at 8 p.m. and the Czechs are not up to Canada’s level, simple as that. They have three really good forwards, some good defenders, a very good goalie, and they can’t put it together into a complete package. This is very unusual for a Czech team, but it may actually be that those top three forwards are all AHLers and they aren’t classic Czech players anymore, although the team is attempting a more wide open style based on a speed game. Canada will stomp them.
This game is worth watching if Ian Scott gets the start — with a day off between games for Canada, he likely won’t, however — but also for Filip Kral who wasn’t great in the loss to the Russians. A bounce back from him would be fun to see. It will also be interesting to see how the youngest Canadian, Alexis Lafrenière, responds to a public shaming that was gentle and loving relative to how angry men in Dallas behave:
The Swedes get the late game again at 10:30 p.m. against the USA, and this game will test the Americans and show us where they really sit in the top four. Sweden, so far, has looked to be nearly equal to the Canadians, if cut from a much different cloth (power from the defence, and very yellow). Rasmus Sandin has one point, and Pontus Holmberg none, but both have played very well.
Heading into today’s action, Canada leads Group A with six points, but the Russians have six as well. In Group B, the USA and Sweden each have six.
Maxime Comtois leads the scoring race with five points, and it’s hard to imagine a Canadian not winning that honour now. It’s just a question of which one.