Saturday, December 26, 2015

Finland forces convincing win

The game was tied at 0-0 for 37 minutes and 14 seconds but once Finland got the ketchup flowing, they scored five goals in the remaining 23 minutes, and beat Belarus 5-0 in a convincing manner. Jesse Puljujarvi scored two goals and assisted one, and Sebastian Aho and Olli Juolevi collected two assists for Finland. Veivi Vehvilainen made 10 saves en route to a shutout.
There are two ways to solve a problem. Either you do it the smart way, and find the weaknesses in the opposition, or you use brute force and keep attacking the opposition from different directions until it gives up. Finland tried the hard way, with brute force, and it worked, but it took them almost 40 minutes to crack the Belarus defence.
At the outset, it was expected that Finland would take charge of the game, playing in front of the home crowd, with the President of the Republic of Finland in the attendance as well as Ville Peltonen, Saku Koivu, and Jere Lehtinen, who had their national team numbers retired in a moving ceremony before the game.
The Finnish team stormed out of the gate like “gorillas out of a cage” as Ilya Bryzgalov may have put it. They outshot Belarus 14-2 in the first period, and especially Finland’s second line with Patrik Laine and Puljujarvi, and their smart centre Sebastian Aho, had Belarus in the ropes several times but couldn’t bury their chances. Also, Ivan Kulbakov was solid in the Belarus net.
In the second period, Finland had their chance early on when Alexander Tabolin received 2+10 minutes for checking to the head when he stopped Finnish defenceman Joni Tuulola in the neutral zone with a blind-side hit. Tuulola got up and finished the game after a short breather on the bench.
At 17:14 of the second period, Sebastian Aho carried the puck over the neutral zone, then flipped it between the legs of a Belarus defenceman. Jesse Puljujarvi came storming from behind, deked the goalie, and gave Finland the lead it had chased for so long.
“We’ve been the better team and of course we know that we’ve got chances, but that doesn’t help if we don’t score goals,” Puljujarvi said after the second period.
In their first shift of the third period, the same line struck again. First Aho drove to the net but Kulbakov made a fine pad save, but Finland cycled the puck back up to the half wall and Puljujarvi sent a long pass across Belarus’s zone to Laine and he fired an unstoppable one-timer from three metres, giving Finland a two-goal buffer at 1:33.
And once they had solved Kulbakov, there was no stopping Finland. Four minutes later, they stormed the Belarus zone again, and kept on peppering Kulbakov with shots. The Belarus goalie made two stops, but couldn’t stop Sami Niku’s shot, as the defenceman fired a wrist shot into top shelf at 5:46.
Finland made it 4-0 and scored its first World Juniors power-play goal in over a year when Jesse Puljujarvi scored his second of the night off a rebound from Olli Juolevi’s shot from the point a minute and a half later. Belarus also made a goalie change after the goal, and gave Vladislav Verbitski a taste of the tournament.
Sebastian Repo made it 5-0 with seven minutes remaining in the third period, when he scored Finland's fifth goal also off a rebound and team captain Mikko Rantanen sealed the final score with a shorthanded empty netter with 21 seconds remaining.
Belarus plays tomorrow against Slovakia, while Finland rests until Monday when they'll take on Russia.

Swedes outclass Swiss

Nylander, starring this season with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, was the highest returning scorer from the 2015 World Juniors (10 points). Kempe, also in the top 10 overall, wasn't far behind (eight points).

In the Group A opener at the Helsinki Ice Hall, the Swiss apparently had not gotten the memo that hits to the head are no longer acceptable in hockey – not in the NHL and certainly not in IIHF play. Defenceman Fabian Heldner and forward Chris Egli were both penalized in the first period for that offence – and Kempe wasn't even hurt until the second period.

Of Egli's hit on Nylander, Kempe said: "I saw it was a blind-side. That’s sad for the team and for him too. He’s a really skilled player, a really good player, and really important for our team. I don’t know what to say."

Hellbent on trying to stifle the Swedes with physicality, the Swiss looked more intent at times upon running around than playing hockey. Rikard Gronborg, the Swedish coach, accused his opponents of "head-hunting" and said his team was just trying to survive the game.

"We wanted to play physical," said Swiss captain Timo Meier. "Obviously, you know, we didn’t want to injure any players. We wanted to play hockey, we wanted to win that game. Obviously those two hits that happened weren’t on purpose."

Dmytro Timashov paced the Swedes with two goals, and William Nylander, Oscar Lindblom, Rasmus Asplund, Jakob Forbacka Karlsson, Jacob Larsson, and Adam Ollas Mattsson added singles. Alexander Nylander contributed three assists.

But the Juniorkronorna would happily have given all those goals back to get through this game in good health.
Sweden’s 2016 championship bid could be in jeopardy due to mounting injuries. They entered these World Juniors without two top defencemen, Sebastian Aho and Gustav Forsling. Aho is out for the tournament after getting hit in the larynx with a puck during a 7-6 exhibition loss to Canada. Forsling did not play in the opener due to an undisclosed injury.

Tino Kessler scored twice and Noah Rod had the other goal for Switzerland.

Starting goalie Linus Soderstrom got the win for Sweden, which outshot the Swiss 39-18.

The Swiss had a glorious chance to open the scoring in the first minute, but Soderstrom foiled Kessler on a breakaway with a right-pad save. The Swedes drew first blood at 1:21, as William Nylander circled the Swiss net and whacked in a feed from his brother Alexander.

Near the five-minute mark, Heldner cut Joel Eriksson Ek’s mouth with a high hit in the neutral zone. The result was a five-minute major for checking to the head and a game misconduct. However, the Swiss defended tenaciously and Sweden couldn’t generate any serious chances.

Just after the man advantage expired, Holmstrom and Lindblom did some spadework around Descloux’s crease, and Lindblom shoveled home a backhand at 10:17 for a 2-0 lead.

At 15:37, Egli caught a circling William Nylander with a huge blind-side hit at center ice and was ejected – again for checking to the head. Nylander got up shaken, and would not return to action.

"I think they know that he’s one of the best players in the tournament, maybe the best one," said Timashov. "I think they knew what they did. I don’t know. I hope he gets back."

With the teams playing four-a-side, the Swiss capitalized on an odd-man rush. Soderstrom got a piece of Denis Malgin’s quick shot with his glove, but couldn’t corral it, and Kessler batted the puck into the gaping cage at 17:23.

Sweden regained its two-goal edge just 2:08 later. Alexander Nylander sent a beautiful, diagonal cross-ice pass to Timashov in the right faceoff circle, and he whipped one over Swiss goalie Gauthier Descloux’s glove.

A scrum along the boards broke out at the end of the first, reflecting the dislike building up between the two teams.

"We were a little bit careful after those hits, but we still played our game and kept on scoring," said Timashov.

Just 1:48 into the middle frame, Timashov stretched Sweden’s edge to 4-1 with another power play marker. He danced around the perimeter of the zone and then threw a high wrister down the middle that beat Descloux to the blocker side.

Asplund made it 5-1 Sweden at 4:17, beating Descloux with another long, high zinger, this time to the glove side.

At 7:11, the Swiss cut the deficit to 5-2 when Rod went to the net and smartly deflected Edson Harlacher’s wrister from the side boards through a screened Soderstrom.

Past the midway point, Switzerland’s Calvin Thurkauf jolted Kempe with a hit from behind deep in the Swiss end. Kempe also left the game, although no penalty was assessed on the play.

"I lost my balance there just before he hit me," said Kempe. "You always get those kinds of hits in the game. So I got my head into the glass right there. But I feel good now."

At 12:50, Forbacka Karlsson put Sweden up by four, stealing the puck in the neutral zone, cutting in from the left side, and tucking it past Descloux on the forehand. That was it for the Swiss starter, who was yanked in favor of Joren van Pottelberghe.

Late in the period, Switzerland’s Damien Riat inadvertently bloodied a linesman’s hand with his stick when he bashed defenceman Marcus Pettersson over the edge of the Swedish bench. It was symptomatic of how the game unfolded for the Swiss.

In the third period, Larsson put Sweden up 7-2 at 2:34 with a rising center point drive.

Kessler got a shorthanded breakaway goal with 8:03 left to make it 7-3.

Late in the third, Malgin was sent off after taking multiple shots at William Lagesson after a wrestling match, in a sequence that summed up the spirit of this game.

Ollas Mattsson rounded out the scoring at 8-3 at 16:40.

"We played pretty good as a team, and it went pretty good for me," said Timashov. "We just followed the game plan and we won the game. So it feels good."

Sweden is questing for its third gold medal of all time, having previously prevailed in 1981 and 2012. The Swedes, who finished fourth last year, have earned a medal of some shade at six of the last eight World Juniors.

Switzerland came ninth in 2015, its worst finish since 2008 (ninth), and is looking to improve on that result. The Swiss have only medaled once at the World Juniors (bronze, 1998).

On Sunday, the Swiss will face Denmark, while Sweden takes on the U.S. on Monday.

"We want to learn from our mistakes that we made," said Meier. "Obviously, it’s tough losing 8-3, but at the end of the day, we just lost one game. We’re going back to it tomorrow, and we want to prepare now for the game tomorrow. It’s a long tournament."

The last time Switzerland beat Sweden at the World Juniors was on January 4, 2003 in Halifax. The Juniorkronorna have now defeated the Swiss seven straight times at this tournament.

Georgiev Russia's hero

Russia and Czech Republic played in the tournament’s opening game that was entertaining, even if slightly tentative. The teams split the points after a regulation time 1-1 tie. Maxim Lazarev shot the game-winning goal in a shootout and goaltender Alexander Georgiev stopped all three Czech shots.
Last year, the Czechs beat Russia in the last game of the preliminary round, in a game that they had to win to get to the quarter-finals. An inspired Czech team steamrolled Russia 4-1, and grabbed the second place finish in the group ahead of Russia.
"We were confident before the game because we have played well against them in the under-18 tournament and last year at the World Juniors," said Czech forward Michael Spacek. 
This year, the meet was the tournament’s opening game, and it showed in the first period in which both teams were both feeling each other out and trying to show the other team who’s boss.
"We were a little nervous in the beginning, but it got better afte rthe first period," Czech goaltender Vitek Vamecek said. 
The shots were tied at six, and scoring chances were also equal, but Russia had a great opportunity halfway through the period when Jakub Zboril received a game misconduct for his hit on a Russian player.
However, during the power play, when Sergei Boikov took a slapshot from the point, his stick broke and as he chased a Czech forward without his stick, he pushed him with both hand and got a two-minute penalty for holding, ending the one-man advantage.
The Czechs were the more active team, the one that held on to the puck and made offensive plays, and therefore controlled the flow of the game until Russia got another power-play opportunity. The Czechs, led by goaltender Vitek Vanecek, managed to keep the pucks out, though.
A couple of minutes later, the Czechs got their first power play, which resulted in a goal when Michael Spacek shot a hard shot from three metres and beat Alexander Georgiev to give his team the lead. Unfortunately for him, and the Czechs, David Kase was on the crease before the puck and the goal was disallowed.
Just 71 seconds later, Spacek had a breakaway against Georgiev again but missed the net when a Russian defenceman slashed him enough to earn him a penalty shot. And this time Spacek waited until Georgiev was down and lifted the puck to the roof of the net.
The Czechs held on to their lead through the rest of the period, even if Russia had a couple of scoring chances.
The Czech Republic outshot Russia 17-12 through two periods.
"We knew they'd try to push us to our heels in the third, but we probably also got a little too passive," Spacek said. 
Most of the crowd expected Russia to pick up steam in the third period, and as is often the case, the team nursing the lead got a little too cautious. With 10:51 remaining in the third period, Russia got the puck in the Czech zone, and managed to create a scoring chance and even keep the puck in the zone when the initial shot missed the net. Radel Fazleyev carried the puck towards Vanecek’s net, and passed it to the front of the net where Artur Lauta slammed it in to tie the game.
Both teams had their chances during overtime, but Georgiev and Vanecek couldn’t be beat. And Georgiev not even in the shootout.
The Czechs were a little disappointed, but also happy with the way their start of the tournament. The point against Russia can turn out to be an important one.