Sweden devastated Austria with five even-strength first-period goals on 15 shots and never looked back in a 9-1 romp on Thursday in Bratislava. After losing their opener to the Czech Republic, the two-time defending champions have now won three straight games by a combined total of 26-2.
"We have a good group of guys," said Sweden's Mario Kempe. "Most of us know each other from earlier so it’s good. Our offence is clicking nicely and it’s all good. Hopefully we can keep winning."
In front of 8,386 fans at Ondrej Nepela Arena, Swedish head coach Rikard Gronborg debuted a new line with just-arrived Gabriel Landeskog, Elias Pettersson, and Elias Lindholm. Gronborg got great mileage out of it. All three players contributed a goal and two assists.
William Nylander and Marcus Kruger had a goal and an assist apiece for Sweden. Adam Larsson, Adrian Kempe, Dennis Rasmussen, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson also scored. Patrick Hornqvist and Alexander Wennberg each added a pair of assists.
Legendary Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist had an easy path to his second win of this tournament. Tre Kronor did wonders for their shooting percentage, outshooting Austria by a comparatively modest margin of 36-22.
With four consecutive regulation losses, it's safe to say the Austrians will not make the quarter-finals. From here on, it's all about survival for coach Roger Bader's boys. In 2018, they avoided relegation for the first time at an elite Worlds since 2004. They next face also-winless Norway on Friday.
"We knew we wouldn't have a chance against those teams like Sweden and Russia," said Austrian assistant captain Thomas Hundertpfund. "Now Norway, there might be a chance if we have a top game. But Norway is the favourite, I think. That's how we have to play. We have to play good defensively and wait for our chances. That's how we could get points out of the game."
Quite frankly, this game was a step backwards for the Austrians, who stayed within one goal of 2018 silver medalist Switzerland for more than 53 minutes in their preceding 4-0 loss. By contrast, the Swedes are firing on all cylinders as they head into their 2018 gold-medal rematch with the Swiss on Saturday.
The addition of Landeskog, the Colorado Avalanche captain, and John Klingberg, who had 45 points in 64 games on defence for the Dallas Stars, massively strengthens Sweden's bid to three-repeat.
"We're just focusing on this tournament," Lundqvist said. "We don't think about last year or the year before that. It's different teams, different players here now. It's a new challenge. We want to win now."
Landeskog, a two-time World Champion (2013, 2017), made an impact on his first shift. Following the classic advice to go to the net with your stick on the ice, he opened the scoring at 1:09, getting a Wayne Gretzky-like feed from Pettersson from behind the net and putting it past Starkbaum’s right skate."It was nice to see them score the first shift," said Hornqvist. "Obviously you build a little more chemistry when you score your first shift. Everything feels a little easier. You get your legs under you. Yeah, they played really well together."
At 2:37, Kruger made it 2-0, again going to the net and converting the fat rebound from Oskar Lindblom’s shot. Just over three minutes later, Nylander potted his third goal of the tournament, golfing Wennberg’s backhanded centering pass from behind the net over Starkbaum’s right shoulder.
Larsson put Sweden up 4-0 at 7:32, pinching into the right faceoff circle, where Nylander found him with a lovely cross-ice ice feed that he shot past the Austrian goalie’s glove. Nylander, with 10 points, is currently tied with Russia's Nikita Kucherov for the tournament lead.
"We scored on almost every second shot," said Lundqvist. "It was hard for their goalie. We opened them up in the middle of the slot and created some big chances."
At 14:39, Kempe scored the fifth Swedish goal. He exploded through the neutral zone, accepted a short pass from Anton Lander, and used defenceman Steven Strong as a decoy as he zinged home a high
stick-side wrister from the right faceoff circle.
With a minute left in the first period, the P.A. played a snippet from Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. The Swedes had already turned out the lights on Austria, but there were still 40 minutes left to play.
Sweden went up 6-0 with a shorthanded goal at 9:13 of the middle frame. Forechecking, Rasmussen caused a turnover down low, fed it out front to Kruger, and got it back at the side of the net. He fluffed his shot but it slid slowly over the goal line while defenders Dominique Heinrich and Benjamin Baumgartner reached haplessly.
Pettersson caused a breakdown in the Austrian defensive zone and worked the puck to Landeskog, who sent it cross-ice to Lindholm. He beat Starkbaum from a bad angle for a 7-0 lead at 13:22.
"We were all over them," said Hornqvist. "We got some nice goals and the right guys scored, too. So we're getting everyone going here for the last three games of this round-robin."
In the third period, the Swedes kept finding the holes. Kruger centered it from the corner to Ekman-Larsson, who cruised in unchecked to notch his first of the tournament at 2:40.
Less than three minutes later, a forechecking Landeskog pried loose the puck behind the net, and Lindholm got it over to Pettersson, who made no mistake for a 9-0 lead.
The Austrians, who had come close with a late second-period flurry, finally spoiled Lundqvist's shutout bid at 7:46. On the rush, a charged-up Fabio Hofer stickhandled past Swedish defenders and slipped it over to Raffl, who lifted an in-tight backhander past Lundqvist.
Of the subsequent ovation, Sweden's Anton Lander said: "Austria’s fans are amazing. If you look at the game today, they were dancing around the arena like a train. It’s still fun to play."
However, it was scant consolation for the team in red and white. This result perpetuates Sweden's World Championship domination over the Austrians. The Swedes enjoy an all-time record of 13 wins, two losses and one tie. They have not lost to Austria at the Worlds since 1947.
And Lundqvist is enjoying his time in Bratislava: "The Old Town is nice. I think the rink is great. The hotel we're staying at is great. It's been a while since I was in Slovakia, but it's fun to be here. I think it's a great hockey country, with a lot of hockey fans. It creates a great atmosphere, and obviously there's a lot of Czech people here as well. So far, it's been great to be here."