Sunday, December 27, 2015

Danes shock Swiss – again!

Soren Nielsen and Mathias From scored for Denmark, which rallied in the third period from a 1-0 deficit. Noah Rod tallied for Switzerland. 

Things have only gotten worse for Switzerland after a disappointing and undisciplined 8-3 loss to Sweden to open the tournament. The Danes, though, have every reason to be happy after their first-ever regulation-time win at the World Juniors.

In Group A, which features gold medal contenders in the U.S., Sweden, and Canada, this game could have a huge bearing on who ends up in the relegation round.

Last year, the Swiss blew a 2-0 first-period lead in Toronto and wound up losing 4-3 to Denmark in a shootout. It was Denmark’s first win ever in the elite division, and the Cinderella squad vaulted into the quarter-finals. Switzerland had to beat Germany twice in the relegation round to stay up.

The Swiss played with a shortened bench due to three suspensions from their loss to Sweden.

Forward Chris Egli served the first game of a three-game suspension for a checking to the head violation versus William Nylander. Forward Calvin Thurkauf served his one-game suspension for a boarding violation on Adrian Kempe. Defenceman Fabian Heldner was automatically banned one game due to his match penalty for checking to the head on Joel Eriksson Ek.

On paper, the Danes have a less offensively potent squad this year, lacking the likes of Nikolaj Ehlers and Oliver Bjorkstrand. But that didn't stop them from being competitive in their tournament opener.

Denmark's Thomas Lillie won the goaltending battle with Switzerland's Joren van Pottelberghe. Shots favoured Switzerland 23-22.

The Swiss netminder had to be sharp to stop an early close-range attempt when Jonas Rondbjerg set up Kristian Jensen in front on the rush.

Switzerland opened the scoring at 8:21. Edson Harlacher floated a shot from the line that Rod tipped past a surprised Lillie. It was the Swiss assistant captain’s second goal in as many games.

Denmark thought Nielsen had scored to tie it up on a mid-second period power play, but the goal was promptly waved off due to a crease violation.

Before the Danish man advantage ended, the teams traded chances, with Dario Meyer narrowly missing at one end and From at the other.

In the third period, Denmark rallied, tying it up at 1:17. Nielsen blitzed in off the left side and unleashed a wrister past van Pottelberghe's glove.

The Danes grabbed a 2-0 lead at 6:20. Capping off a nice line rush, From went hard to the net and whacked in a loose puck behind the Swiss netminder.

With about six minutes remaining, Lillie was alert to foil Swiss sniper Tino Kessler from the slot. The Swiss pulled their goalie in the dying moments, but to no avail.

A scrum broke out at the final whistle after Danish assistant captain Mathias Lassen caught Swiss captain Tino Meier with a high hit in the corner to the left of the Danish net. Lassen got a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking to the head.

Still, the Danes jubilantly celebrated their victory in the opposite corner.

Swiss head coach John Fust went with six defencemen and had to juggle his lines. With Thurkauf out, Meyer suited up alongside Julien Privet and Nico Hischier.

Slovakia claws a win

Slovakia got off to a great start in the tournament as they beat Belarus in their first game, 4-2. Lukas Hursik scored the game winner 19 seconds into the third period and goaltender Adam Huska made 24 saves. 
On the outset, Slovakia was supposed to have the upper hand. After all, Slovakia had won all four previous World Juniors games between the two nations. Also, for them, the game against Belarus was the first one in the tournament whereas Belarus had played a tough game against Finland less than 24 hours earlier.
“I don’t think that gave us any advantages. I actually good for them to have played a game and be tournament ready,” Slovakia's forward Filip Lestan said.
“This game was our best chance to stay in the top division and we were prepared to do everything to win it,” said a disappointed Belarus forward Andrei Belevich.
Slovakia got the start it wanted when just seven minutes into the game, while playing with six skaters during a delayed penalty, they scored the important opening goal. Juraj Siska and Matus Sukel played the puck to Patrik Koch on the point, and his slap shop found its way through a lot of traffic and into the Belarusian net. Ivan Kulbakov didn’t see the puck until it was too late.
“It went pretty well but we planned to score more goals in the game," Lestan said. 
When Slovakia then got a power play a minute and a half later, it seemed that they had control of the game, but a good penalty kill gave Belarus an energy boost, and with 8:27 remaining in the first period, Belarus tied the game. A shot from the point was blocked, but Slovakia couldn’t clear it, and somehow the puck bounced to Vadim Malinovsk who was all alone in front of the net. He whiffed on the puck with his first try on backhand, but could control the puck and beat Adam Huska with a wrist shot from just outside the crease. 
Early in the second period, Belarus got their first power play opportunity and they capitalized on it. Danila Karaban got the puck at the hash marks and coolly passed it to Belevich in the middle of the Slovak box. Huska made the initial save, but Ruslan Vasilchuk grabbed the rebound and slammed it in to give Belarus the 2-1 lead in the game. 
“We were in the middle of a line change so we had to improvise a little bit,” Belevich said of the goal. 
But Slovakia came back. Belarus turned the puck over in their own zone halfway through the third period, and Maros Surovy didn’t waste any time with his fantastic backhanded pass that found Lestan all alone in front of Huska’s net. Lestan had an easy job to one-time the puck into the net and tie the game.
Both teams had excellent scoring chances in the second period, but both teams' goalies were just as excellent. 
Slovakia pushed its way back into the driver’s seat in the game in the first shift of the third period Matej Palocko won an offensive zone faceoff cleanly and Lukas Hrusik one-timed it top shelf, over Kulbakov’s glove just 19 seconds into the period. 
With 14 minutes remaining in the third period, Belarus made a goalie change and Vladislav Verbitski came in relief, only to leave the net again eight minutes later when Kulbakov returned to action. 
Belarus gave everything they got, but Slovakia held on to their lead all the way to the end and Juraj Siska scored Slovakia's fourth goal in an empty Belarus net with 19 seconds remaining in the game. 
"It was tough at the end of the game because we had to kill back-to-back penalties,” Lestan said. 
Now it's Slovakia's turn to quickly prepare themselves for the next game. Tomorrow at 14:00 they will take on their dear rivals, the Czechs.
“First win is naturally important and a good step forward. We hope to beat the Czechs tomorrow. It’s going to be a good derby,” Lestan said. 
“We want to make the playoff stage, and then we’ll see what happens,” he added. 
Belarus will rest tomorrow and then take on Russia on Tuesday. 
“Of course we have to prepare for every game as well as possible,” Belevich said. 

U.S. tops Canada

The American defenceman floated a long shot that beat Canadian goalie Mason McDonald high to the glove side.

Canada, the defending champion, failed to capitalize with a five-minute power play in the first period, and that proved to be costly in the long haul.

"It was a tough game," said Canada's Jake Virtanen. "They played strong and finished their plays when they got their chances."

It was another exciting, hard-fought tilt between the North American powers, if neither as physical or recklessly offensive as, say, the 31 December, 2008 showdown in Ottawa that Canada rallied to win 7-4 with a John Tavares hat trick.

It was the first time since the 2013 tournament in Ufa, Russia that this round-robin grudge match hasn’t taken place on New Year’s Eve, but the date on the calendar really doesn't matter when these two foes square off.

Depending on what happens when each side faces Sweden (28 December for the Americans, New Year’s Eve for Canada), the result of this game could end up determining the top seed in Group A.

Colin White, Zach Werenski, and Auston Matthews each added a goal and an assist.

"Getting Canada right off the bat, we needed to be ready," said Matthews. "I think everybody played well. We were up for the challenge. It was a good win for us."

Matthew Barzal and Dylan Strome replied for Canada.

The U.S.'s Alex Nedeljkovic won the netminding duel. Shots on goal favoured Canada 27-25.

Unsurprisingly, the teams started at a dizzying pace.

At 1:34, Strome was called for slashing in the offensive zone on Delpedio, but Canada confidently killed it off. Captain Brayden Point was dangerous in the American end, testing Nedeljkovic from the right faceoff circle. Meanwhile, the U.S.’s Sonny Milano was a playmaking dervish with the puck on a string. But there were few bona fide chances.

With just over three minutes left in the period, Canada's Brendan Perlini raised his arms in celebration, thinking he’d beaten Nedeljkovic, but the U.S. goalie got his blocker arm on it and the puck squirted out behind him on the far side of the crease.

At 17:20, Canada got a golden opportunity when an undisciplined Alex DeBrincat got a five-minute major for his flagrant spear on Travis Konecny in front of the Canadian bench. The OHL's leading goal-scorer was out of the game. Yet Canadian coach Dave Lowry’s crew struggled to get organized with the man advantage, often bobbling the puck.

"That’s one of the areas that we talked about before the game," said U.S. coach Ron Wilson. "We’ve got to initiate, not retaliate. That’s the one time, maybe the only time all game that we retaliated."

"It was a big kill," said White.

Canada finally opened the scoring at 5:06 of the second off the rush. Julien Gauthier blocked Chad Krys’s shot attempt at the Canadian blue line and raced away on a 2-on-1. Rourke Chartier couldn’t convert the cross-ice pass, but Gauthier retrieved the puck down low with Nedeljkovic scrambling and sent it to Barzal, who whipped it high into the net.

Strome cut to the slot on the rush with under seven minutes to play in the middle frame and forced Nedeljkovic to make a tough right-pad save. The Canadians kept the Americans hemmed in with savvy puck possession.

After looking out of sync in the early going, Matthews, the projected #1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, nearly finessed the puck behind McDonald with four and a half minutes left in the period, but there was nothing doing.

The Americans tied it up at 16:33. Off a faceoff in the Canadian end, Milano fired the puck off the end boards past McDonald’s left post, and it bounced out to White at the opposite edge of the crease. He backhanded it home.

The U.S. carried the play in the early stages of the third. With John Quenneville in the box for interference, Werenski floated one from the line that eluded McDonald high to the blocker at 7:22.

"I made a suggestion to our D about getting the shots through," said Wilson "They managed to do the job in the third period."

Werenski, the U.S. captain, temporarily negated his timely marker when he took a slashing minor while backchecking a couple of minutes later. Strome got the equalizer, sniping one top shelf at 10:45, and a sea of Canadian flags erupted across the arena with cowbells ringing. That joy would be short-lived.

With 2:37 remaining and the U.S. up 3-2, Matthews salted away the victory for Wilson's boys, poking home a loose puck behind McDonald. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" blasted from the P.A. for the fourth time this night.

"It felt especially good because I haven’t won a game in four years," said Wilson, a two-time Olympic coach who was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2012. "So what better way to get back on the horse? Beating Canada meant a lot to me."

Canada's next chance for a win is against Denmark on 28 December.

Overall, even though the Americans have won two out of the last six World Juniors (2010, 2013), Canada still retains the edge in this rivalry.

Canada’s record against the U.S. in World Junior play now stands at 33 wins, three ties, and eight losses. Dating back to 2005, Canada has won 11 out of its last 14 meetings with the Americans.