Updated: Jan 10, 2019
On a night that could've been a great set of games, the first three games of the night were sort of a let down. The Sweden-USA game however, saved an otherwise bleak night with the best game of the tournament so far. Despite the lack of excitement in the first three games, there were a few interesting story lines, so I'll start with those.
Switzerland: 4, Denmark: 0
Poor Denmark. They finally run into a matchup on paper that should've been fairly close for them, and they still can't find a way to put a puck in the net. After the loss today, they have now lost all three of their games by a combined score of 22-0.
Switzerland, on the other hand, came out flying in this one following a fantastic showing against a much better team Canada squad. They got things started just shy of nine minutes into the first when Phillipp Kurashev netted his third of the tournament and first of the night.
Kurashev would later go on to net his second of the period to put Switzerland up 2-0 in the game. At that point, the Swiss had scored five goals in the tournament, with Kurashev sitting at four goals and one assist. It should be real interesting to see given how weak his team is, but I think Kurashev deserves a serious look as best forward in the tournament.
As for the rest of the game, there was next to no drama on either side, as the Swiss would go on to score two more goals (one more from Kurashev to complete the hat trick) and would end up outshooting the Danes 30-23.
The Swiss have quietly had themselves a fantastic tournament so far. In game one they managed to take a good Czech team to overtime; if they had their powerplay sorted out, they would've easily walked away with a win. After the previously mentioned game against Canada, and a strong showing in this one, you shouldn't be surprised if Switzerland is able to walk away with a playoff round win.
As for Denmark, it's hard not to root for the underdog team that really shouldn't be here. It's always fun when the bottom dweller teams put in a performance that gets the crowd going. The Danes haven't found a way to do anything of the sort. For the sake of quality hockey in the tournament I'm really hoping that they can bury at least one goal against a deflated Czech team, but I'm not holding out a lot of hope.
Finland: 5, Slovakia: 1
Finland looks like they're starting to come together as a team. Until this point, the Fins had a lot of trouble scoring against Sweden, and made Demid Yeremeyev look like he could win the Vezina trophy next year in the NHL. On Saturday however, they were firing on all cylinders against a respectable Slovakia squad.
I've mentioned before that Slovakia's style of play in this tournament has them doing just about everything right; On Saturday night it was the complete opposite. It was only 12 minutes into the third when Finland's NHL connection went to work on the powerplay. Nashville Predators' Eeli Tolvanen sent a perfect pass between the defenders to Chicago Blackhawks' Henri Jokiharju which he fired perfectly over the blocker shoulder of Slovakia goalie Samuel Hlavaj for his first of the tournament.
A little over four minutes later, Urho Vaakanainen made the Slovak defender look lost, putting the puck on his backhand, then between his legs, before dishing the puck to Santeri Virtanen who went forehand backhand to finish off one of the prettier plays you'll see in the tournament.
The young stars of the team decided to get in on the action with phenom Kaapo Kakko setting up fellow 17 year old Ville Heinola. Then, Heinola paid it forward to yet another 17 year old in Anton Lundell. The fourth goal saw the two youngest members of team Finland together to extend the lead.
Slovakia was able to net one on the powerplay before the period ended, but Finland fired right back on a goal from Oskar Laaksonen to bring the lead back to four. That's where it would stay as Finland cruised to a 5-1 win, their second of the tournament.
With five different goal scorers on the night, Finland was able to show off their incredible depth. Not only did their current NHL stars show up and produce (two goals and two assists combined), but their 17 year olds played a huge part in the win as well. While Sweden is still definitely the team to beat in the group, it's nice to see another team dominate a game not featuring Kazakhstan.
Czech Republic: 1, Canada: 5
It's tough to say a team needs to bounce back after a win, but that's definitely what the Canadians were looking for after an embarrassing performance against Switzerland the game before. All questions were answered with the effort they put out against the Czhechs.
You could tell things were about to go well for the Canadians just six minutes in when Maxime Comtois picked up a great pass from Owen Tippett and bounced a shot off the rear end of the Czech defender and in. It was Comtois' fifth goal of the tournament, tying him with Kurashev and Ryan Poehling for the tournament lead.
The lead didn't last long for Canada though, as just 37 seconds later Ondrej Machala narrowly beat Canadian goaltender Michael DiPietro on a two on one pass from Czech game MVP Jan Jenik. It was a great sign given that Jenik was just added to the roster for this game and played a big role for a team that desperately needs depth scoring.
Slovakia then started to beat themselves when arguably their third best player, Martin Kaut, took a boarding penalty when he drove Evan Bouchard into the boards from behind. The penalty left Kaut in the box for the two minute minor and a 10 minute misconduct as per IIHF rules.
During the powerplay, Brett Leason had a perfect tip on a Ty Smith point shot that went between the legs of Czech goalie Jiri Patera to reain the lead for team Canada.
Just five minutes later, 17 year old Alexis Lafreniere (whose minutes were seriously dwindled down in this one) unleashed an absolute rocket of a wrister over the shoulder of Patera to extend the lead to two. It was the Canadian's first goal of the tournament, which was surprising given the lack of playing time he received in this one.
The goal seemed to rattle the Czech squad as they began to look more like the team that took eight penalties against Switzerland in game one. First, Comtois finished a check on Martin Necas before clipping his head on the way back down. Necas followed that by suckering Comtois in the face as he tried to skate away. The exchange left both teams shorthanded, but left Necas visibly frustrated for the remainder of the contest.
In the second, MacKenzie Entwhistle buried a goal to bring the score to 5-1. It was the third goal in as many games for the teams former 13th forward. Entwhistle has arguably been one of Canada's most versatile players in all three of the games so far. So much so, that he pulled himself out of the 13th forward slot, and onto the third line.
In the third, Necas continued to show his frustration by burying Evan Bouchard from behind, earning himself a two minute penalty and a 10 minute misconduct. On the ensuing powerplay, Nick Suzuki showed off his incredible vision with a pass that gave Morgan Frost a wide open cage to give Canada their second powerplay goal of the night.
It was a complete game from the Canadian boys, who were great on both end of the ice, including DiPietro who made 23 saves including a few huge saves while the score was close. He nearly pulled out the shutout had Josh Brook done a better job of covering the two on one.
The biggest thing to take away from the win for team Canada is the success they saw on the powerplay. Before this game, the Canadian unit went one for nine while looking terrible against the Swiss. In this game however, the powerplay went two for three while firing on all cylinders. The team better hope this continues if they want to take home the gold.
United States: 4, Sweden: 5
The one exciting game of the night showed all signs of being just like every other game.. So much so, that I switched it off my main screen to watch Jones fight Gustafsson. But boy did I ever make a mistake.
Early on it looked like nothing could go right for team USA. The team was all over the Swedes, keeping the puck in their end for what felt like the majority of the first period. Unfortunately for them, Sweden kept on flexing their offensive muscles, taking advantage of every chance they got.
It all started just 4:47 into the first, when Samuel Fagemo got the puck off the rush and fed a wide open Filip Westerlund. He proceeded to fire a wrister that was narrowly tipped over his glove hand to make it 1-0.
The score stayed the same throughout the first, with shots nearly identical at 7-6, but the tide started to turn in the second period. After a flurry of chances from the Americans, the Swedes once again turned the puck up ice on the rush. Emil Bemstrom took a drop pass from Philip Broberg and muscled his way to the bottom of the faceoff circle. He threw a pass out in front of the net that Rickard Hugg got a small piece of to give Sweden a 2-0 lead.
Just three minutes later, Bemstrom stepped off the bench and received a breakaway pass from David Gustafsson who had just forced a turnover. Bemstrom pulled a forehand backhand move that opened up Keyser enough to slide the puck through his five hole to give the Swedes a 3-0 lead.
After a strong move in the third from Erik Brannstrom gave him a goal and a 4-0 lead, it felt like the game was done and over with. There was no way a Jack Hughes-less team could score four goals in less than 15 minutes, right? Ryan Poehling says you're wrong. The forward scored two goals in four minutes to bring them within two with just over six minutes remaining.
Down by two, with under a minute left, things still seemed pretty bleak for the United States. That was until Poehling picked up the loose puck and rifled home his third of the night and pulled the Americans within one with 44 seconds left.
Not even 15 seconds later and Poehling decided to put on his Superman cape one more time. After forcing a turnover that landed right one the stick of Joel Farabee, Poehling took a pass and perfectly placed a wrist shot over the blocker of Swedeish goalie Samuel Ersson. It was the second four goal game from a player in this tournament following the performance from Max Comtois in Canada's first game.
The high only lasted about nine minutes, as another USA turnover gave Sweden a two on one with just over a minute left in overtime. Chicago Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist fed Montreal Canadiens prospect Jacob Olofsson who gave it right back. The quick passes pulled the defender and Keyser over to Olofsson, leaving the net wide open for Boqvist to fire home the game winner.
It was a tough loss for the Americans to take, but a huge sigh of relief for anyone that thought this tournament was going to be a two horse race. If team USA can come this close to beating Sweden without one of the best prospects in the tournament, then there's no telling what they can do when he comes back in the playoff rounds.
As for Sweden, as long as their offence can stay this potent, I don't think they have too much to worry about. From what we've seen out of their defence so far, this seems like a bit of a one off. The team looks poised to try and extend their round robin win streak to 48 when they play Kazakhstan on New Years Eve.