The preliminary round of the 2019 World Hockey Championship came to a close with a couple marquee matchups featuring Canucks: Canada versus Team USA and Sweden versus Russia.
All six Canucks at the tournament were in the lineup in those two games, though one didn’t play — Cory Schneider got the start for Team USA ahead of Thatcher Demko. Troy Stecher and Canada didn’t have any issue dispatching Quinn Hughes and Team USA, but Elias Pettersson, Jacob Markstrom, and Loui Eriksson had all kinds of trouble with Russia.
In terms of Canuck-related action, Canada/USA was relatively quiet. Stecher saw his lowest ice time of the tournament at 8:27, splitting time with Philippe Myers, which is a shame, as he looked good in a larger role earlier in the tournament. It’s hard to argue with the results, however, as Canada shut out the US 3-0. Perhaps Stecher will get more opportunities in the elimination round.
On the US side, Quinn Hughes was the only Hughes in the game, as his younger brother Jack was a scratch with Johnny Gaudreau coming back from injury. Given the result of the game, however, it seems safe to say that the expected first-overall pick will get back in the lineup and might get a little more opportunity to score.
Quinn Hughes had a fine game against Canada. You might hope for a little more offence out of him, but he played a solid 17:33 and moved the puck up ice well against a tough Canadian forecheck.
After the preliminary round, Stecher has one goal and one assist in seven games, while averaging 14:53 per game. Hughes has zero goals and three assists in seven games, and is averaging 20:10 per game. Demko played in just two games, posting a .920 save percentage with 46 saves on 50 shots.
With the win, Canada finishes first in Group A, while USA slides into fourth, just three points ahead of Slovakia. That means Canada will face Switzerland in the quarterfinals, while the US will have a tough task ahead of them in Russia, the winners of Group B.
Sweden can attest to how tough Russia is after giving up six goals in one period. It wasn’t pretty and it cost them the game.
It didn’t look like it would be that type of game for Sweden in the first period, as they opened the scoring on a great play by Pettersson.
Pettersson got in on the forecheck and blocked a pass from Nikita Zaitsev. Then, after Zaitsev won the puck back in a battle with Gabriel Landeskog, Pettersson swooped in again and stole the puck from Artem Anisimov.
Sliding up to the point, Pettersson left the puck for Marcus Pettersson, whose shot was deflected in by Landeskog.
Sweden had a good chance to take a 2-0 lead on a late first period power play, but Eriksson just missed the net on a deflection in front off a great pass by Pettersson. Still, Sweden had a one-goal lead heading into the second period.
That’s when it all fell apart for Sweden.
Russia swarmed Sweden in the second, firing 20 shots on goal. Sweden’s defensive structure, which had issues against Latvia, should face further questions after this performance against Russia. Jacob Markstrom will likely face some questions as well, as he got lit up by the Russian attack.
It’s hard to blame him too much, however. The first Russian goal came on a 2-on-1 after Adam Larsson misread the play and was too aggressive at the Swedish blue line. Markstrom had no chance on the one-timer off the cross-ice pass.
The second Russian goal was a ridiculous deflection by Evgeny Dadonov as he was crosschecked to the ice by Larsson. Then Alex Ovechkin turned Mattias Ekholm inside out on his way to the slot and beat Markstrom with his superior shot.
The fifth goal came off a brutal giveaway by Elias Lindholm that left Mikhail Grigorenko all alone in front of the net with the puck. Markstrom got most of the puck, but not quite all of it, and it bounced over the goal line. Likewise, another turnover led to an Evgeni Malkin chance in the slot that deflected off Marcus Pettersson’s stick for the sixth Russian goal.
The one goal Markstrom likely should have had was the 4-1 goal, scored by Dadonov directly off a faceoff. Markstrom didn’t pick up the puck off the stick and didn’t drop down into his butterfly in time to prevent the puck from going five-hole.
Sweden was much better in the third period, but it was too little, too late. William Nylander got a goal back for Sweden halfway through the third, but Dmitri Orlov ended hopes for a miraculous five-goal comeback with a responding goal less than a minute later. Eriksson let Orlov walk right into the slot for an unchallenged shot, and he beat Markstrom cleanly.
While Markstrom and Eriksson struggled, Pettersson was still superb for Sweden. He had five shots on goal, second on Sweden behind Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and kept creating great chances for himself and his linemates throughout the game.
Pettersson added another assist on Sweden’s third goal, gaining the Russian blue line, evading the poke check from Nikita Zadorov, then knocking the puck to Ekman-Larsson in space down low. Ekman-Larsson’s initial shot was stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy, but he stuck with the rebound and tucked in the loose puck.
John Klingberg added a power play goal to make the score look slightly more respectable for Sweden, but the 7-4 loss should still be a major wakeup call for Sweden heading into the elimination round.
With the loss, Sweden finishes third in Group B and will face a classic rival in the quarterfinals: Finland. While Finland features no full-time NHLers, they’ve still been dangerous in this tournament, handing Canada their only loss in the preliminary round. Sweden should be able to win, but not unless they clean up their game in the defensive zone.
Pettersson finishes the preliminary round with two goals and seven assists in seven games. His nine points are tied for second on Sweden with Patric Hornqvist, with Nylander leading Sweden with a whopping 17 points.
Eriksson has one goal and three assists and is a team-worst minus-5, though plus/minus tends to be misleading, particularly in a short tournament like this. Still, Eriksson hasn’t had the best tournament apart from a few bright spots here and there. He’s made some defensive miscues that have cost Sweden a couple goals.
Markstrom only played two games and one was this loss to Russia, so his .843 save percentage definitely doesn’t look great. He only allowed one goal in his other start. It seems likely that Henrik Lundqvist will start all of the elimination games for Sweden, so we might not see Markstrom again in this tournament.