Even if the IIHF World Championships’ importance pales next to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, watching hockey in the morning should never be seen as a bad thing.
Here are 15 observations with just one week remaining in the best-on-best* tournament being waged in Prague and Ostrava, Czech Republic.
1. Finnish goalie Pekka Rinne passed Slovak netminder Jan Lasak for the longest shutout streak in the history of the IIHF World Championship. Ten periods of perfect play gave Nashville’s No. 1 an unbeaten streak of 237:05, trumping Lasak’s old mark of 206:26, set in 2004.
Evgeni Kovyrshin of Belarus finally solved Rinne, but the Finn responded well and helped his country to a 3-2 shootout victory.
2. Team USA’s Jack Eichel, who scored his first goal of the tournament during Sunday’s playoff-clinching 3-1 win over Slovenia, was fitted for a Sabres T-shirt by sneaky WNYorker.com reporter Olga Khmylev.
Then some PR guy separated the certain No. 2 overall pick from the tee like it was sprayed with SARS.
The IIHF posted a vine of the Eichel video on Twitter but deleted it shortly thereafter. Scandal!
Eichel played overtime hero Tuesday. His game-winner in extra time gave the U.S. a 5-4 win over Slovakia and secured the top spot in Pool B for his country.
3. Anze Kopitar only has four points in seven games and Slovenia is stuck at the bottom of Pool B, but this montage of the L.A. Kings star running over people on the big ice is fantastic:
In other Slovenia hockey news, national head coach Matjaz Kopitar (Anze’s dad!) resigned from the position following elimination.
4. France’s Cristobal Huet got chased by Sweden during Monday’s loss, but the 39-year-old goaltender is considering playing into his 40s.
“I have one more year left on my contract, [in Switzerland] and maybe another one – I’m thinking about it,” he told the IIHF website. “I don’t look too far ahead. My body feels good. My head is in the right place. I like what I do. We’ll see.”
Huet made his World Championship debut 18 years ago and is tied with Team USA’s Tim Thomas for the goaltender with the longest World Championship career. The record is all Huet’s if he returns in 2016.
5. Speaking of old dudes, Jaromir Jagr made his World Championship debut at age 18, in 1990 — the same year The Simpsons began airing.
The oldest player to score at the tournament (he already has four goals for the host nation) doesn’t finish on this play, but his one-on-one move here does not befit a man of his age. Pulled a groin just watching this:
6. America’s Brock Nelson, a restricted free agent, continues to increase his negotiating power.
Piling up points — a USA-high nine in seven games — Nelson credits his linemates, Trevor Lewis and Jack Eichel, for the success.
“I’m trying to shoot more, trying to find open areas. Playing with Jack [Eichel] and Trevor [Lewis], they’ve made a couple of nice plays to set me up. A couple easy goals, but it’s a credit to them making the plays,” Nelson told the Islanders site.
“[Eichel] is definitely a one-of-a-kind player. He’s unique. He has a lot of creativity, a lot of skills, sees the ice very well and has made a couple of nice plays already to set up Trevor and me. He’s a strong skater, strong on the puck. He demands the puck and likes to have it on his stick. He’s definitely going to be an elite player.”
7. Please adjust your Babclocks accordingly. Babwatch has moved to six hours ahead, with free agent coach Mike Babcock (and Ken Holland) now in the Czech Republic taking in some international action and — who knows? — maybe even discussing the NHL coaching carousel.
According to multiple reports, Babcock will meet with the Toronto Maple Leafs among others while abroad and is expected to return stateside May 17 after the tournament wraps.
8. Whatchu know about Dadonov?
The tournament’s leading scorer through six games was Russia’s Evgeny Dadonov, who skates on the same club team (SKA St. Petersburg) as Ilya Kovalchuk. Dadonov is scoring on a silly 28.6% of his shots, amassing four goals and 10 points. A third-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2007, Dadonov returned to the KHL after just 55 games (and 20 points) in the NHL. But he’s only 26.
Could his standout performance this spring garner interest in another look in North America?
9. Aaron Ekblad, 19, not only became the youngest Canadian defenceman to score a goal at the Worlds, he became the youngest Canadian defenceman to score four goals at the Worlds. Seven points in seven games — second among blueliners only to Sweden’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson (a silly-good 11 points).
10. What affect, if any, will Mike Smith’s performance at the Worlds do for his confidence?
After a miserable season on a horrible team, Smith has seven wins behind the best IIHF team on paper. This is the good news.
The bad news? Smith’s numbers (2.20 goals-against average, .903 save percentage), which should be padded considering the competition (Austria, France, Latvia) place him only 11th among goalies with at least four appearances. He’s depending on all that run support.
11. Canada is dominating.
Despite average play from Smith, Team Canada is on pace to capture its first gold medal at the tournament since 2007 and/or its first medal of any colour since 2009 (silver).
The only undefeated side remaining, Canada has been on cruise control, outscoring its Pool A opponents by a tournament-best plus-35 goal differential in round-robin action, dressing three players with at least 10 points (Jason Spezza, Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle), and drawing Belarus in the quarters. The Red and White even gave Sidney Crosby the Austria game off Tuesday to rest.
With the U.S. tops in Pool B, we are on target for a North American gold medal showdown.
“Winning the group doesn’t mean much for us,” Spezza told reporters. “We are here for the gold medal.”
12. Oilers Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall like what they’ve seen from coach Todd Mclellan.
“He’s been great,” Hall told the Edmonton Sun of what could be the Oilers’ next coach. “We have a lot of respect for him and I think that’s really shining through.”
Said Eberle: “I’ve been impressed… In a short-term event like this, sometimes the coaches can be a little lighthearted, but so far McLellan has been on track and on the ball every step of the way.
“He showed us what he’s all about when we went down by three to Sweden and he kind of rallied us. I have nothing but positive things to say so far.
“Hopefully he’s one of the candidates. I look forward to see what’s going to happen there.”
13. Think these guys don’t care? Slovakia’s Marian Gaborik has been scoreboard-watching. He cheered on Finland via Twitter after a big 3-2 win over Belarus Monday:
14. The question is not “How did Jordan Eberle defeat NHL 13 coverboy Claude Giroux at his own game?” The question is “Is Giroux so vain he travels with an edition of NHL that’s two years old?”
15.This no-look Ilya Kovalchuk goal is something, isn’t it?