Thursday was a day of chalk at the World Juniors as each favorite won and except for the Russians, did so handily. Russia found themselves mired in a 2-2 tie with Norway into the second period and leading 3-2 at the end of the second period, despite firing thirty shots on goal in the second period. Until a third period Norwegian collapse in which Russia scored five goals on fifteen shots, the Russians looked to be in danger of international embarrassment. As is always the case, the Americans dispatched the Germans quite easily, limiting Germany to only fourteen shots on goal in a 4-0 shutout. The United States has set themselves up to clinch the bye, even with a overtime loss to Switzerland. The Czechs looked to have life against Sweden after an early goal by Michal Hlinka, but the Swedes ripped off five straight goals in twenty-three minutes to pull the plug on Czech hopes. The Swedes outshot the Czechs 45-21, including 29-11 in the final two periods in an impressive display.
The Swiss beat the Slovaks 6-4 in a game that may have tilted the balance of hockey power in Europe, at least temporarily. Though the Slovaks can still avoid relegation, outside of Norway, they've looked liked the weakest of the top division.
Today brings nothing but fear to all of Canada. Today's opponent is faster and more skilled and TSN will likely let everyone know just how hard the Canadians will have to work to have any chance today.
Finland has already moved on to the medal round and can clinch a bye with regulation win and a Swiss win against the United States. Slovakia needs a win for the pride of the program. Martin Marincin and Peter Hrasko continue to serve their suspensions, and without them, the Swiss tore through the Slovakian defense. The Slovaks still have plenty of offense and can win this one with a little bit of goaltending help. If the Finns shut down the Slovkian top line, however, the Finns should breeze.
It's a skill-level PANIC, people! The fast-skating, multi-talented Swedes are going to be heavily favored in this game. Only the biggest of efforts and the hardest of work by the hardest-working team of lumberjacks and miners in hockey will give Canada a chance in this one. Pray for their lunchpail souls.
The winner of this game wins the group and clinches the bye into the medal round semi-finals. The loser will likely play the Swiss in the opening game of the medal round. Nearly everyone in this game was drafted or will be drafted in 2011. It's a junior all-star game, though obviously it's the third-liner Canadians versus the top line Swedes.
One game sends an international powerhouse to the relegation tournament. The Russians struggles with Norway yesterday weren't necessarily surprising - they have a load of talent, but as has been the case in international hockey in the last few years - that talent means nothing for the Russians. They've been blown out by the Canadians, shut out by the Swedes and struggled with Norway. A loss to the Czechs and a trip to relegation would be yet another embarrassment for Russian hockey, and I'm sure the powers that be will find the solution in creating an even more encompassing cocoon around Russian players.
Nino Niederreiter has played as advertised in this tournament. He's tallied two goals, an assist, and thirteen shots on goal in his three games so far. He's created chances on a regular basis and has looked physically dominant throughout. He ascended to international stardom on the same stage last year and his play, along with stellar work by Benjamin Conz in goal has solidified the Swiss as one of the new "Big Six".
The United States can clinch a bye with a win or an overtime loss. The Americans have had a quietly dominant tournament - they've only given up three goals in three games and allowed only sixty-six shots on goal. The large and mobile defense have played at a very high level thus far.