CIVIC CENTRE - Sweden took a massive step toward an expected Group B showdown against Russia on New Year’s Eve by defeating Slovakia 3-1. The game’s highlight was the goaltending duel between Sweden’s Jacob Markström and Slovakia’s Jaroslav Janos.
Sweden vs. Slovakia 3-1 (2-0, 1-0, 0-1)
Hockey fans in Ottawa haven’t had many reasons to be excited over their Senators this season, but they could feel some comfort at the 13 minute mark of the second period of this game.
The game was put out of Slovakia’s reach by Erik Karlsson, who one day should suit up for the NHL team in Canada’s capital.
The defenseman, who already plays pro hockey for Frölunda in the Swedish Elitserien, found lots of space in the slot and beat Janos with a well-aimed wrister from 12 meters out. The goal announcement was met with extraordinary joy by the knowledgeable Civic Centre crowd, as Karlsson was drafted by the Senators in the first round (15th overall) of last year’s NHL draft.
A cynical observer in the press-box uttered this after Karlsson’s goal: “He would be the Sens’ best defenseman – today.”
"My future NHL career in Ottawa isn't my focus right now," said Karlsson. "My focus is on my club team in Sweden and on the World Juniors. But of course, it's a special feeling to score such an important goal in Ottawa."
Much like against Finland on opening day, the Swedes opened with a furious tempo before again settling down a bit, unable to sustain the same kind of energy throughout the game.
"After a good start, probably we get too scared of making mistakes, and this affects our game," said Karlsson.
It took the Swedes just 62 seconds to draw first blood when Simon Hjalmarsson slid a backhand past Janos. Mikael Backlund doubled the lead with five minutes left in the first period when he broke down the middle on a power play and scored on a low shot.
The goaltender was Slovakia’s best player and he kept his team in the game during long stretches of Swedish dominance in the middle stanza. But not even a spectacular Janos could do anything when Karlsson put the game away with the 3-0 goal midway through the game.
The Slovak goalie was not the only stopper who enjoyed a great night. Despite not facing as many shots as Janos, Sweden’s Jacob Markström showed-off with some remarkable saves, reinforcing the belief that he may be the best goalie here in Ottawa.
"He gives us confidence," said Karlsson. "He's a goalie that can win games for us. Some of his saves are as important as our goals."
Markström’s size, mobility, and superior reflexes make him very hard to beat and the Slovaks had to wait until their 24th shot 5:33 into the last period before they got one past him on a power play. There wasn’t much Markström could do when, after a series of saves, he lay flat on his back and Martin Uhnak tapped the puck into the net.
Sweden is 2W-0L while Slovakia dropped to 1W-1L. With this win, Sweden has all but secured a group final vs. Russia on Sunday. The winner of the group earns a direct bye to the semifinal, while teams who finish second and third play cross-over quarter-finals.
Sweden plays Latvia on Monday, while Slovakia faces Russia on Tuesday.
NOTE: Sweden’s first-line forward Jacob Josefsson missed the game due to stomach flu. This gave the opportunity for Mattias Tedenby to play in his first tournament game…Sweden has defeated Slovakia in the last four games between the teams: 4-3 (2008), 6-3 (2007), 6-0 (2006), 3-0 (2005). Slovakia’s last win was in 2004 (1-0).
Russia vs. Finland 5-2 (3-1, 1-0, 1-0)
CIVIC CENTRE - The Russian Bear is showing its teeth. Captain Nikita Filatov showed the way with two goals as opportunistic Russia defeated Finland 5-2 on Sunday afternoon. Russia has won two straight, while the Finns remain winless.
One puck-moving Russian troika shone in particular: Dmitri Klopov had two goals and an assist, Evgeni Dadonov had a goal and two assists, and linemate Nikita Klyukin added three helpers.
Jani Lajunen and Joonas Nattinen replied for Finland.
Russian goalie Danila Alistratov made 12 saves for the win, while Harri Sateri had 21 for Finland.
"It was a nice game to win, and our team played better than in the first game against Latvia," said Russian head coach Sergei Nemchinov. "We skated and moved the puck better. We created lots of scoring chances."
The teams established a fast tempo and physical style from the outset, but ultimately Russia’s ability to exploit turnovers would prove to be the difference.
At 5:10, Lajunen opened the scoring, converting the rebound from Jesse Jyrkkio’s point shot. After a brief video review, the goal was ruled good.
Filatov tied the game with his first tally of the tournament at 7:56, capitalizing on a turnover when Lajunen tried to go up the middle. The Russian captain corralled the bouncing puck and knifed a backhander past Sateri.
Thirty-eight seconds later later, the Russians jumped into a 2-1 lead when Evgeni Dadonov curled into the right faceoff circle and zinged a shot past Sateri.
It was 3-1 Russia at 11:29 when the Russians broke down the Finnish defence in front of Sateri’s goal and Dmitri Klopov’s shot flipped home high on the stick side.
"It was very important for us to come with a quick reply after their opening goal," said Filatov. "We scored three quick goals, and after that, we dominated."
The Finns drew back to 3-2 at 3:55 of the second period when Jyri Niemi threw the puck in front of the Russian net and Joonas Nattinen put it past Alistratov. But the Russians quickly restored their two-goal gap on yet another bad Finnish turnover, as Tommi Kivisto bobbled the puck in the slot and Filatov hammered it past Sateri’s right pad.
"Nikita played hard on offence, but also backchecked today, and I'm glad he scored two goals," said Nemchinov.
Mikael Granlund, the youngest player ever to represent Finland at the World Juniors, had to be helped off the ice midway through the game after taking a shot off the side of the knee. But the 16-year-old forward returned to the Finnish bench before the end of the period.
The Finns ramped up their forechecking in the late stages of the middle frame, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
It was much the same story in the third period, as Granlund, as well as others, generated fruitless chances on the rush and on the power play, including a two-man advantage for 54 seconds early in the period. Filatov, meanwhile, came close to completing the hat trick several times, including a missed net on a 2-on-1.
Klopov closed out the scoring for Russia on the power play with 1:46 left, wiring a shot from the slot on a broken play. Kirill Petrov nearly added another when he hit the post on a late 2-on-1.
"Our defensive play and penalty-killing have been positive points so far," said Finnish coach Jukka Rautakorpi. "But today, we gave away the puck too easily, which cost us goals."
Nattinen was Finland's Player of the Game and Filatov took the honours for Russia.
Recently, the Russia-Finland rivalry has been relatively even. The Finns beat Russia 4-3 in the 2004 quarter-finals, and in round-robin play, they lost 5-0 in 2007 and won 4-1 in 2008.
On December 30, Russia faces Slovakia and Finland takes on Latvia.
Filatov was comfortable enough with his team's position to look ahead to the expected Group B final showdown with Sweden on New Year's Eve: "Sweden has one of the best teams in this tournament and maybe the best goalie. This will be a tough game."