Sunday, September 18, 2016

Young Guns shoot holes through Finns defence, Swedes shut down Ovie's Russians

The kids remain a major story as
Day Two of the World Cup of Hockey
comes to an end

(photo from WCoH website)
Day Two of the World Cup of Hockey delivered a pair of games that left hockey fans with more than a few themes to chew over until Monday's action, with Team Sweden and the youngsters of Team North America both claiming victory in Sunday play.

The Swedish/Russian game was firmly in control by Tre Kronor for 59 of the 60 minutes, the Swedes employing a solid game plan and building on the confidence that Jacob Markstron showcased in the nets left the Russians somewhat flustered for the majority of the game, making the 2-1 final somewhat much closer than the play really suggested.

Markstrom was pressed into action with little warning after Henrik Lundqvist was a game day scratch owing to illness, and if the fill in had any nerves prior to puck drop he didn't show them once the game was underway, holding off the Russians and their 28 shots, surrendering but one in a flurry of action in the final sixty seconds.

And while the Swedes looked like all their had work was about to be denied in that final moment, a last second play from Alexander Ovechkin was overturned on review when it appeared that he directed the puck behind the Swedish goaltender with his glove, though we imagine to this hour the Russian star is insisting that his stick glanced off the rubber disk before it hit the twine.

Had it counted, the goal might have changed the destiny for both teams after one game of the tournament, but the Hockey Gods viewing the replay display were smiling on the Swedes denying the Russians the equalizer, sending Sweden on to victory.

And that really is how the game should have ended, the Swedes played the much more consistent game of the two, they appeared to fully understand what it was that they had hoped to achieve on the day.

The Russians on the other hand appeared lost at times, the older legs unable to keep up with the Swedes, the ice time management and play design of head coach Oleg Znarok leaving more than a fans baffled.

The best example of the unusual dedication to system hockey, the fact that Alexander Ovechkin as always the best Russian in the lineup, was at times left to contemplate the flow of the Swedish game from the comfort of the Russian bench His ice time delivered in occasional bursts, a strange decision considering how the Swedes were beginning to clearly dominate the play. The concept of mixing up lines, finding a way to get their star player into some open ice not one that appeared to resonate much until the third period.

But for the final minute flurry from Ovechkin which almost turned the tide, Russia's most respected hockey export was almost a non factor on the day.

The win will build confidence for the Swedes who gain a day off on Monday before a match up with long time rival Finland on Tuesday, for the Russians the turn around time is significantly less, with a date with the rising young lads of Team North America arriving in prime time on Monday.

And perhaps that is best for Ovie and his crew, with a loss to haunt them from their opening match, they will be forced to find a sense of urgency against the fleet of foot youngsters of Team North America, an urgency that was clearly absent for the majority of Sunday's game with the Swedes.

And Team North America won't be a push over, their tournament debut against Finland serving notice that the youngsters are here to play and not just sight see the ambience of a high end tournament.

Sunday night's prime time match up was a highly anticipated one, with many fans looking forward to see how Todd McLellan would harness all that energy, though perhaps harness is the wrong term, as the North American youngsters were flying fast more like horses galloping away on an open prairie, dominating pretty well all aspects of play for the majority of the three periods.

With Auston Matthews making his debut in the rink that will be his home for the start of his NHL career, he provided Maple Leaf supporters with ample evidence that the Leafs dedication to building with youth is probably going to be a pretty good plan after all.

Matthews was instrumental in the North American squads first goal, picking up the helper on Jack Eichel's marker and while that would be his only point on the night it wasn't for a lack of trying, though that could be said for much of the young lineup, as opportunity after opportunity presented itself with the Finns lucky that the tally wasn't significantly higher than the 4 -1 final.

Such was the control of the offensive zone by the youngsters that Finland goaltender Pekka Rinne was so rattled by the never ending attack that on many of the 43 shots directed his way, a quick glance was required backwards to make sure that the puck hadn't gone into the net, in short confidence was not the recurring theme for the goaltender, or his team mates on the night.

At the other end of the rink, Matt Murray denied all but one of the 25 shots that Finland managed to get into the North American end, the lone marker coming in the final five minutes of play, a brief push by the Finns delivering at least one goal on the night, though it was more a case of some sloppy play by the North American defence than any dedicated offensive explosion that rewarded Valtteri Filppla with his point.

The Finns won't be around for long if they don't solve some of the glaring errors that they showcased on Sunday, Team Sweden their next opponent played a text book perfect game against the Russians.

Finland from what they have show to this point is not anywhere close to that level, making Tuesday's game one that they will require some fast readjustment if there are to be any plans for an extended stay in Toronto.

Team North America can bask in the well deserved attention directed their way following night number one, the glowing reviews warranted for a strong effort. But no doubt Todd McLellan will get them back to focusing on the next challenge, one which comes up pretty fast with an angry and motivated Team Russia perhaps ready to provide the youngsters with a reality check from a dangerous opponent.

So far however after the opening weekend, beyond the domination of Team Canada on Saturday, the youngsters have been the talk of the tournament for the last few days.

Such has been the success of the Young Guns to this point and the interest that they have generated among hockey fans, that tournament organizers probably can't help but wonder how to take the concept of the bounty of youth to another level.

With Team North America capturing so much attention to this point and playing so well, an invite to the champions of the Quebec City Pee Wee Tournament should be the next step for the World Cup of Hockey ... considering how some of the teams have fared so far (looking at you Finland, USA) the Pee Wee's probably would bring more energy and have a lot more fun.

You can find the game summaries and media notes on the Day Two results on our Game Day Archive for Sunday.

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