The first pre-tournament games in the World Cup of Hockey showed that the players were as hungry for hockey as us fans. Except Team Europe, that is. The second go for six of the teams today showed how fast that hunger wears off when the games don't mean much.
Russia at Czech Republic
The Czechs hosted the Russians on what was reported to be a hot summer day in Prague in a hot summery O2 arena.
The Czechs, who came close to embarrassing the Russians at home in the first game, worked really hard for the full game. The Russians did not.
You can see in the second period where the Russians shook themselves awake—they'd had four shot attempts that period so far—and scored one goal, and then went back to, at best, keeping pace with the Czechs.
It was a chippy affair, and useful only for an examination of the effect of English profanity on Slavic languages. There was pushing and shoving; there were not very many good zone entries.
Leafs players distinguished themselves in various ways. Milan Michalek got in a fight with Alexei Emelin that got broken up before it got serious. Michalek had a good game, particularly around the net and on the power play, but Semyon Varlamov was doing his stop all the shots even while being outshot 37-23 routine.
Roman Polak was his solid self, taking on the job of backing off Alex Ovechkin when he got angry and using his patented, "this is my caring face" look of total disinterest. He also, in keeping with his position of top-scoring Leaf in this tournament so far, got an assist on the lone Czech goal that tied the game in the third.
At one point in the deadly dull second period, Polak ringed the puck around the boards so hard from deep in his own end that Nikita Zaitsev, in the opposite corner, whipped it around back at him.
Zaitsev got his skates under him a lot in this game. He sorted the defensive duties out with Dmitry Orlov, with Orlov doing all the board work, and Zaitsev doing a lot of the puck carrying. The problem was, once he carried the puck somewhere, no one cared. The forwards for team Russia had no interest in offence and he was frequently left holding the bag.
His play in the three-on-three overtime was excellent, but at five-on-five, he suffered largely from the actions of others, although his defensive play was not great at times.
Zaitsev got off quite a few shots from the point. So did Polak, and the difference is so stark when you see them in the same game. Polak is a rocket with no guidance system, and Zaitsev is laser-site precision fire that shoots as hard as it needs to be.
The Czechs won it in a shootout and are proving that their teamwork is overcoming a lot of shortcomings in skill.
Finland at Sweden
The animosity was plain, but the luck bounced all Sweden's way at first and the game grew a bit lifeless. Finland had won the first one on a poor performance they got away with, but they were worse today, and Sweden was tighter, more controlled, and their power play connected for two goals.
The Nicklas Backstrom line connected for three more, and they are the class of this tournament so far.
Henrik Lundqvist was good enough, letting in three, but like with Carey Price, the rust showed, as you should expect.
Finland is suffering from a top unit that includes Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov who are not producing any zone time, top defenders in Rasmus Ristolainen and Olli Maatta who are the worst players on the ice, and sub par performances from their grinder line that includes Leo Komarov. In short, they're terrible so far and nothing at all like their World Championship team. Tuukka Rask did not look sharp.
Sweden has some issues to address, but they are nearly at the level of Team Canada if Lundqvist can turn up the quality in net just a little.
The final score was 6-3 Sweden and the shots were 29-14 for the winners while the shot attempts were 42-33.
USA at Canada
Mike Babcock sat Sidney Crosby to give him a rest on a back to back, and in retooling his lineup, he chose to troll Boston. Win one on the night.
Babcock moved Tyler Seguin on the wing with former Boston teammates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Hey, it worked for Sweden, Filip Forsberg was great with Nicklas Backstrom.
John Tavares levelled Ryan Kesler in the first minute of play. Win two on the night.
Babcock left my favourite line untouched at first, the perfect pairing of Joe Thornton and Matt Duchene, with Claude Giroux in at centre. Joe provided the excitement on the night, taking the second run at Kesler. (win three) But they were also good as an offensive line.
other angle pic.twitter.com/ITJC2npnWr— Stephanie (@myregularface) 10 September 2016
Babcock was having trouble getting a power play unit that clicked, while the USA penalty kill was excellent. The USA has no discipline and their coach has no idea how to instil it, so Canada got a lot of practice trying out various alignments. Tavares ended up accidentally getting a goal while trying to pass. Whatever works.
The goals poured in, unlike last night, and the score at the end of the first was Canada two, Kesler ouch. Er no, Canada 3, USA 1.
Shea Weber actually deflected in the USA goal.
looks like it went off of Weber in front pic.twitter.com/oqUeDD6oFd— Stephanie (@myregularface) 10 September 2016
Weber is not good defensively much of the time, and if people would just accept that, they could see his offensive value. Meanwhile, he dithers around in his own end like he is only just learning how hockey works. At five-on-five, he is actually very effective, but keeping him off the penalty kill and leaving him on the power play would be an improvement for the whole team.
Wait, never mind. Habs, just keep him out there working the tough minutes—he's a defensive star. PK it is for Shea.
The USA opened the third period with a five-on-three, and that made it 3-2 really fast. The power play was still on until Brad Marchand drew a penalty with a fast breakaway.
For all the Kesler bashing, the game was a lot lighter on hitting, and heavier on the turnovers and odd man rushes.
Babcock got the line blender going a little, trying to get the scoring wingers, Duchene and Seguin primarily, putting pucks on net. The shots on goal in the first half had come from Bergeron, Marchand and Tavares.
Corey Crawford played the second half with Braden Holtby on the hook for the two USA goals in the first half.
The blended lines paid off, and Duchene and Seguin combined on a goal where Duchene sprang Seguin on a pass and then caught up very fast to take the pass and put it in. Beautiful goal. 4-2 Canada.
James van Riemsdyk was on the ice, moving fast, looking ready to play and on the bench gnawing on that green mouth guard. He had good chances throughout the game. Win four.
crow save pic.twitter.com/MFmy4T8ynE— Stephanie (@myregularface) 11 September 2016
There were a lot of penalties in the first half of the game, and it took time for the USA to get any five-on-five play going. Once they did, they were better than on Friday night, but the skills gap is really obvious between these two teams.
The USA just could not stop giving power play time to Canada, and Tavares made it 5-2 playing with Stamkos again. They are really good together, Tampa, I'm just saying. I hear Tavares is UFA soon.
Cory Schneider started the night, was on the hook for most of the goals, and Ben Bishop came in to finish it in the third, but all the goalies were fine. The difference in the game was more power play time for Canada than even the good USA penalty kill could deal with. Canada had the shot attempts advantage with 64-48.
Both teams head off to take on new teams next week on the road.