Sweden 5, Canada 2
New York (The Draft Analyst) — Alexander Nylander had a goal and an assist as Sweden completed a perfect preliminary round with a 5-2 win over Canada on Thursday at the world junior hockey championship.
Nylander has picked up the slack on offense for Sweden (4-0) after his older brother William was knocked out of the tournament with an upper-body injury in last week’s opener against Switzerland. The 2016 NHL draft prospect’s two-point effort moved him into a three-way tie in tournament scoring with eight points (3 goals, 5 assists).
His power play goal at 4:37 into the game gave Sweden a 1-0 lead. Nylander helped increase it to 2-0 when he drew the primary assist on defenseman Gustav Forsling’s goal with Canada down two men at the 7:08 mark.
A rebound goal by Mitchell Stephens with 4:09 left in the first got Canada (2-2) within 2-1, but Sweden’s Adrian Kempe restored its two-goal advantage with a power play goal with under seven minutes left in the second.
Sweden’s Anton Karlsson and Canada’s Mitch Marner traded goals in the third period, and Rasmus Asplund completed the scoring with an empty-net goal. Asplund and Kempe each had one assist. Kempe registered a game-high 10 shots on goal.
Linus Soderstrom stopped 21 shots for Sweden before he was replaced by Felix Sandstrom in the third period. Sweden finished in first place in Group A and will face Slovakia when the quarterfinals begin on Saturday.
Mackenzie Blackwood made 27 saves in defeat for Canada, which finished third in Group A — it’s worst preliminary round finish since it went 2-2 and lost to the Russians in the medal round in 1998.
C ADRIAN KEMPE (Los Angeles 1st/2014): We were waiting for this stud to have a breakout game, but his pedestrian tournament before today’s game is understandable when you consider he was rocked by an illegal check in the Switzerland contest. Kempe was a beast in all three zones against a very aggressive (and seemingly desperate) Canadian squad, but he handled the pressure well and placed himself in the right position throughout. He was named the game’s top player, finishing with a goal from a nice snipe and an assist, plus a game-best 10 shots on goal. He’s got good size, but his speed is what made him a real pain to deal with, at least from a Canadian point of view. Kempe has had a very good season in the AHL, so it’s nice to see him do just as well in the most publicized game of the preliminary round.
LW ALEXANDER NYLANDER (2016 Draft Eligible/1998): Are there enough superlatives to describe how awesome a tournament this kid is having? It’s gotten to the point where some coach has to decide whether or not to go old school and place a shadow on him. Nylander finished with a goal and an assist, and he’s become the linchpin to the Swedish offense. He scored his goal off a rebound, but it wasn’t your ordinary tap-in — Nylander had to deal with a sliding Mackenzie Blackwood and literally put the puck exactly where it needed to go. Too often you see players shoot it back towards the center of the open net in order to avoid missing it completely. Not Nylander. This sniper has a ton of confidence in his shot, and he’d be the best goal scorer available in 2016 had it not been for Patrik Laine and his generational shooting abilities.
RW CARL GRUNDSTROM (2016 Draft eligible/1997): Grundstrom’s tournament has been pretty nondescript when you consider he was one of the SHL’s top young performers, and had done well in previous U20 competitions. The effort is certainly there — he’s known for hustling and bustling shift in and shift out. It looks like a simple case of being snakebitten, as goaltenders have robbed him of at least three goals this tournament. We truly think that he shouldn’t change a thing because when you bust your tail and position yourself properly, the good things will begin to reflect on the scoresheet. He did, however, get destroyed by Mitch Marner of all people (even though the hit looked massively illegal). He took two minor penalties and didn’t get a shot on goal, so there’s good bet he’ll be more assertive on Saturday against an inferior Slovakian team.
LW BRENDAN PERLINI (Arizona 1st/2014): It’s time for Perlini to start acting and playing like a leader for a Canadian squad bereft of somebody to count on. He’s missed so many quality chances it’s disconcerting. The tournament is four games old, and we’ve been combing over film to try to find more than a handful of shifts where Perlini was influencing play. To us, he’s a goal scorer who needs people feeding him the puck, and it’s just not happening in Helsinki. Has he gotten himself in good shooting position? Absolutely. The issue has been the extra effort where a player realizes he’s going to need to take a stick to the face or a chop to the small of the back in order for to contribute. We haven’t seen that, and the stats back it up.
RW MITCH MARNER (Toronto 1st/2015): We applaud Marner for owning up to the mess that’s gone on in the preliminary round. And while the popular opinion seems to blame him as being a big part of it, we don’t necessarily see it that way. Marner has been every bit of the puck magician we see on a nightly basis in the OHL. The problem is that critics don’t want to admit that the OHL can’t defend Marner with rosters chock full of blue-chip prospects like Sweden and the United States can. Sure, he’s made his share of bad passes (especially those drop passes to nobody in particular). But this kid is a warrior, and he was one of the few Canadians to show up against Sweden. Not only did he obliterate the larger Carl Grundstrom, but he tried to mount a comeback when he stepped into an absolute bomb that beat Felix Sandstrom where momma hides the pignoli cookies. In our view, he’s one of the only guys head coach Dave Lowry can count on to provide offense. And the fact that he’s second in team scoring with four points in four games says way more about Canada’s paltry depth scoring than it does about one of their best players.
RW TRAVIS KONECNY (Philadelphia 1st/2015): If there’s one kid in the Team Canada dressing room you just know is not sleeping at night, it’s probably Konecny, as he’s poured every ounce of sweat into his shifts, especially when his team needs a pick-me-up. Konecny has thrown bone-crushing hits, blocked shots, busted his tail to avoid icings, taken sticks to the head, drawn penalties and tried his best to change the momentum.