The preliminary round of the world juniors produced seven one-goal games, including three on opening day. No one player dominated the scoresheet, and through the first batch of games there are six players within two points of Ryan Poehling’s tournament-leading eight. In goal, the Russians have stonewalled the competition having allowed just six goals against through their first four games.
Quarterfinals action picks up Thursday. For now, here are a few preliminary round takeaways:
As predicted the final preliminary game between Canada and Russia determined the winner of Pool A. Russia’s 2-1 win was fantastic. It had pace, scoring chances, physical play, great goaltending and last-minute drama. Add another game to the long list of classics between these two hockey powerhouses.
POWER PLAY PROWESS
In each of the past four tournaments, the team with the best power play has won the gold medal. Through preliminary play, the Americans have a tournament-best 35.3 per cent efficiency. Russia and Sweden are next in line tied at 30.77 per cent.
For the better part of 50 minutes, the Swedes were in complete control. They had outworked and outscored the Americans to the tune of a 4-0 lead. But shortly after Mikey Anderson’s shutout-breaking goal, the Americans came alive thanks to Montreal prospect Ryan Poehling. He scored three times over a 6:02 span and tied the game with 24 seconds left to send it to overtime.
The two teams traded great chances in a thrilling extra frame before London Knight and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist completed a two-on-one to win it for the Tre Kronor.
After beating the Americans, Sweden won 4-1 over Kazakhstan to extend their winning streak to 48 consecutive preliminary round WJC games.
The streak dates back to December 21, 2006 when the Swedes lost to the Americans 3-2 in overtime. Unfortunately the preliminary round success hasn’t translated into medal round success. The Swedes have won the world juniors just once during the streak, back in 2012 when they defeated the Russians 2-1 in overtime.
POEHLING PAYING OFF
A junior at St. Cloud State, Poehling has lit the lamp five times to tie for the most goals in the tournament so far. His eight points are alone atop the leaderboard. Poehling was selected 25th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 2017 draft.
MacKenzie Entwistle of the Hamilton Bulldogs has been a great revelation. He’s got size, smarts and versatility. With goals in each of Canada’s first three games, the Chicago prospect is building an impressive resume on his way to the NHL.
Jack Hughes, who will go wire-to-wire as the top rated prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft, missed the final three games of the preliminary round. As usual, there is no definitive prognosis on his “lower-body” injury, but it’s clear the US is not the same without him in their lineup.
He had one assist in 12:44 of ice time in the Americans’ 2-1 win over Slovakia to open the tournament.
Wow, can Jack Hughes skate. Edge work off the charts. Light, fast feet. Appears to be hovering above the ice. Best skater on USA squad. Still 17 (18 in March). He’ll make immediate impact next year playing with pros. #WorldJuniors . pic.twitter.com/6Wj5DPcsR7
— Bucci Mane (@Buccigross) December 27, 2018
LEASON IT OUT THERE
The best story in the CHL continues as Brett Leason is proving he can extend his game to the next level. Through the preliminary round, Leason has five points with a plus-7 rating.
Talk about a wild and crazy game, the Russians and the Swiss left the paying public with their money’s worth and more.
The teams combined for 11 goals. Kirill Slepets, who was a menace during the CIBC Canada-Russia Series, had two short-handed breakaways. The Swiss led 2-0 and 3-1, but the Russians came back to tie it through two. The Russians outscored the Swiss 4-1 in the third period to win it 7-4.
And there was this unique moment: the Swiss were awarded two penalty shots on the same play, and they missed them both.
For years, Russia has had the reputation of being an offensive juggernaut. Skilled player after skilled player developed year after year through their U20 program. And while they continue to produce high-end offensive players, under Valery Bragin they have become much more defensive-minded.
He requires his players to play physical, block shots and collapse around their goalie to make it difficult on the opposition. Through four preliminary round games, the Russians allowed just six goals.
Goalie Pyotr Kochetkov is the real deal and leads the tournament with a 1.00 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage. The 19 year-old has not been drafted by an NHL team and has spent most of the season playing in the VHL where he has a .931 save percentage in 12 games.
Don Cherry didn’t like Canada piling on Denmark in their 14-0 win. On Coach’s Corner during Hockey Night in Canada he predicted the hockey gods would have their say. Canada lost 2-1 to Russia in their final preliminary game, sliding the Canadians into second place in the pool and earning them a date with Finland in the quarters. The Russians get an easier draw with Slovakia in the quarters.
A 2-1 Russian win doesn’t sound like an outstanding game until you consider all three goals were scored on special teams. What’s more, the Russians scored both of their goals shorthanded. It’s not often a team wins a game in this manner.
Chicago prospect and Swiss star Philipp Kurashev has flown under the radar in his three years in the QMJHL, despite averaging a point per game through 157 career games. He’s tied for the tournament lead with five goals.