Sweden 1, United States 0
New York (The Draft Analyst) — Linus Soderstrom made 46 saves and Alexander Nylander broke a scoreless tie in the second period as Team Sweden held on for a 1-0 win over Team USA in Monday’s preliminary round game of the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland.
Soderstrom, a 2014 draft pick of the New York Islanders, helped Sweden (2-0) kill off eight power plays against, including a lengthy 5-on-3 in the second period. Most of the shots Soderstorm faced were from the outside, but his glove save on defenseman Charlie McAvoy from the slot kept the Americans (1-1) off the scoreboard despite a 39-18 shot disadvantage.
Nylander followed up his impressive three-assist performance in Saturday’s win over Switzerland with a strong effort on Monday. An ill-advised pinch by Louis Belpedio and hasty line chance by Nick Schmaltz allowed Nylander to skate uncontested into the offensive zone, where he roofed a backhander under the crossbar and past goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.
Right wing Dmytro Timashov, who was a fifth round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs last June, picked up an assist on Nylander’s goal. They have four points each over two games. Sweden meets Denmark on Wednesday.
Team USA were held to only seven shots on goal in the final period but outshot the Swedes, 46-23 for the game. Defenseman Zack Werenski led the Americans with six shots on goal. The Americans had to kill off a 5-on-3 in the late stages of regulation after a bench minor preceded a penalty to Matt Tkachuk, who crosschecked Sweden’s Gustav Forsling in the head. Alex Debrincat, a top prospect for the 2015 draft who was eject in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Canada for spearing Travis Konecny, was forced to leave the game in the second period when he took an accidental knee to the head behind the net.
Team USA will face Switzerland on Wednesday and meets Denmark on Thursday.
G LINUS SODERSTROM (New York Islanders 4th/2014): A 46-save shutout is always going to be a 46-save shutout. But Team USA made life very easy on Soderstrom as they decided to fire a ton of shots from the angle without putting much traffic in front of him. Still, he simply gobbled everything up and played his angles as well as one could. It looked like he got into their heads early in the game, as the Americans took the easy way out of just throwing it at the net, hoping for something to happen. A lot of credit should go to his defenders, who kept his crease clear while clogging up shooting lanes. It was a very good performance, nonetheless.
LW ALEXANDER NYLANDER (2016 Draft eligible/1998): Sweden didn’t generate much on offense since they were always busy killing penalties, but Nylander made sure the best one was going to count. Nylander had a quiet game up until the second period, when Louis Belpedio, Nick Schmaltz and Brandon Fortunato each had a hand in giving Sweden’s most dangerous scorer all the room he needed to fake Alex Nedeljkovic out of his undies with a top-shelf backahnder. It was a brilliant move from in close, and Nylander is proving that he doesn’t need a great set-up guy to help him bury the puck.
LHD WILLIAM LAGESSON (Edmonton 4th/2014): Impressive all-around game for the UMass defender, who was keeping Team USA’s electrifying forwards to the outside. He blocked shots, used a very active stick to deny zone entries, and was a rock on the penalty kill. He came across as Sweden’s go-to defender in critical situations, and it was nice to see him finish strong after taking an minor penalty just 22 seconds into the game.
C AUSTON MATTHEWS (2016 Draft eligible/1997): This was one game where Team USA really needed a great game from their top player, and it simply didn’t happen. The Swedes collapsed everyone between the circles, so it wasn’t like Matthews was operating with open ice. Still, we saw a different playmaker than the one we saw will his team to a gold medal against the Finns at least year’s U18 championship — a game strikingly similar to what went on Monday against Sweden. Too many of his passes were directed into poor scoring positions, and while that isn’t entirely his fault, he needed to be better at creating time and space for them. His timing was a hair off, and his shots were telegraphed. Remember, he’s supposed to be the best player on a very deep team.
LW SONNY MILANO (Columbus 1st/2014): It’s only been two games, but Milano looks no different from the indecisive, one-trick pony we saw in Canada a year ago. The puck was on his stick a lot, which could be interpreted in a positive way. What he did after receiving the puck, however, was nothing short of disappointing. Milano’s shot selection is highly suspect — specifically on the power play — and he avoids the middle of the ice as if it was lined with anti-personnel mines. Literally everything he tried to generate was from the outside, and on several occasions he was unnecessarily cute with his passes.
RW ANDERS BJORK (Boston 5th/2014): Today was the second game in a row where Bjork warmed our hearts with hustle, speed and smarts. Coach Ron Wilson may not be the most progressive thinker when it comes to creating lines, so we’ll give him some advice and tell him to give Bjork a broader role at the WJC. The Alex DeBrincat experiment on Matthews’ right flank looks like a failure thus far (more on that below), so putting one of Team USA’s smarter (and faster) depth players might pay dividends against tough competition. This kid won almost all of his 50/50 battles, and is a big reason why Team USA has been excellent on the penalty kill.
RHD CHARLIE MCAVOY (2016 Draft eligible/1997): McAvoy stepped up his game against the Swedes and seemed like the only blueliner outside of Zach Wrenski who was decisive with his actions. Louie Belpedio had a horrific game when you consider how much zone time the Americans had, so we credit McAvoy for filling in the void and trying to get as close to the cage as possible. He was robbed by Soderstrom with a glove save, and made an outstanding zone entry and set-up during a delayed penalty in the second. His lone mistake was passing off on a gimme chance from the high slot off a 4-on-2 rush, but his wire-to-wire output was solid nonetheless.
RW ALEX DEBRINCAT (2016 Draft eligible/1997): We won’t get into the spearing incident against Canada, or the head injury today against Sweden. What we’ll focus on is what he’s done when’s he’s been on the ice. Two games — zero shots on goals. And this coming from somebody whose center is pretty damn good at dishing out scoring chances (albeit from bad angles). It will be surprising if he isn’t moved off the top line, as Brock Boeser seems like a better fit anyway. But it’s still early and a pair of games against lesser opponents may be the elixir his sore game needs. He’s still hustling, but we want to see him fight into the trench in front of the cage.