Here are 5 burning questions.
1) Can Kakko hit double digits in goals?
Even after being held off the scoresheet in Finland’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Americans, Kaapo Kakko has an opportunity to join some very elite company. It's not just about his youth. With five goals in three games, the 18-year-old TPS Turku phenom is on pace for 16.6 goals if the Finns play for a medal in Bratislava. That would put him second only to the USSR’s Vladimir Petrov’s modern-era record total of 18 (1973).
Since the IIHF World Championship began welcoming NHL players in 1977, the most anyone has scored in one tournament is 12 goals: the USSR’s Boris Mikhailov (1977) and Canada’s Dany Heatley (2008). Other players who have hit double digits since 1977 are the USSR’s Vladimir Krutov (11, 1987) and Andrei Khomutov (11, 1990), Canada’s Eric Lindros (11, 1993), Slovakia’s Miroslav Satan (10, 2000), and Russia’s Yevgeni Malkin (11, 2012).
Of course, it’s early days yet. However, keep in mind that Finland’s four remaining group games are against underdog opponents: Denmark, Great Britain, France and Germany. Regardless of what happens in the medal round, that gives Kakko a huge opportunity to eclipse 2016 tournament MVP Patrik Laine’s seven goals as a rookie. (Of course, Swedish veteran Patrick Hornqvist is tied with Kakko with five goals, but his upcoming slate is more challenging with Austria, Switzerland, Latvia, and Russia.)
2) Can Norway stop the bleeding?
The Norwegians are going downhill fast, and not in a good way like Kjetil Andre Aamodt. Losing 5-2 to Russia, 7-2 to the Czechs, and 9-1 to Sweden, coach Petter Thoresen’s team has allowed two goals more in each successive game – a unique and disturbing distinction at these Worlds. It’s been godawful for the numbers of starting goalie Henrik Haukeland (7.15 GAA, 80.5 save percentage) and his understudy Henrik Holm (6.65 83.3 save percentage).
It is, of course, unlikely that Switzerland will put up 11 goals against Norway on Wednesday. The Swiss have never scored 10 or more goals against any nation at an IIHF World Championship in the modern era. Still, considering that the Swiss did open with a 9-0 waxing of Italy, you can’t entirely rule out the possibility. The Norwegians, currently ninth in the IIHF World Ranking, will need to find their way fast against the lesser lights of Group B.
3) Will Ovi light the lamp?
For a superstar who grew up on the big European ice surface, Russia’s Alexander Ovechkin has never seemed quite as comfortable on it as an adult, at least compared to NHL rinks. “The Great Eight,” the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner with 51 goals for the Washington Capitals, has zero goals in three games in Slovakia. He also did not score in five games when the tournament was first held in Bratislava and Kosice in 2011.
In the big picture, that leaves Ovechkin with 33 goals in 76 career Worlds games (0.434 GPG). In contrast, he has 65 goals in 128 NHL playoff games (0.507 GPG) and 658 goals in 1,084 NHL regular season games (0.607 GPG).
The good news for Russian fans is that their Group B-leading team is still producing, with three goals in 13 games. Yevgeni Dadonov (four goals) has picked up the slack while snipers like Ovechkin, Yevgeni Kuznetsov and Yevgeni Malkin remain goalless. Ovi’s eight shots are the second-most on the team, and it seems like a matter of time until he breaks through. To what degree is an open question.
4) Is Murray safe as Canada's starter?
Even though Carter Hart made a strong impression as a Philadelphia Flyers rookie, posting a 2.83 GAA and 91.7 save percentage in 31 games, it was safe to assume that Team Canada coach Alain Vigneault would anoint Matt Murray as his starter. That’s what happens when you’ve backstopped Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins to two straight Stanley Cups by age 23.
However, the door may have opened a crack for Hart, who won World Junior gold in 2017. Murray struggled with rebound control in the 6-5 win over the host Slovaks, allowing five goals on 31 shots. He now has a 3.53 GAA and 87.7 save percentage. Of course, Canada’s next three opponents – France, Germany, and Denmark – should all be beatable, regardless of which netminder gets the call.
The 21 May group finale against the Americans will likely see Murray between the pipes. But if he stumbles again, you could see Hart taking the reins for the medal round. That’d be straight out of the Mike Babcock playbook from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where Martin Brodeur lost the net after the U.S. beat Canada 5-3 to wrap up the group stage despite being outshot 45-23. Roberto Luongo played every game thereafter en route to gold.
5) Will the Czech PP get going?
With the likes of captain Jakub Voracek, 2018 Stanley Cup champion Jakub Vrana, and leading points-getter Filip Hronek, there’s enough talent for the Czech Republic to dominate with the man advantage. However, so far, they’ve had the weakest power play among the medal contenders, clicking just once in nine attempts through three games. That leaves the Czechs 12th overall (11.1 percent).
They had some great PP looks in their 3-0 loss to Russia, but were repeatedly stymied by goalie Andrei Vasilevski. Building confidence now is a must. Last year, defending champion Sweden went a tournament-best 12-for-32 (37.5 percent) with the power play, and the Czechs are unlikely to earn their first gold medal since 2010 if they can’t figure it out.