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2016 World Cup of Hockey: Tournament Update

I hope that you’ve enjoyed watching the World Cup of Hockey as much as I have. Those of you that had been pulling for Team USA must be feeling like Homer Simpson in this tweet. In the second edition of this World Cup blog series, I offer my thoughts on the tournament ahead of the Thursday games (Finland vs. Russia; USA vs. Czech Republic).

Group A

Canada

  • Carey Price has rounded into form. After shaking off the rust in a pre-tournament game against Team USA, he’s rattled off three straight wins, two of which counted toward a semifinal berth in the tournament. In Tuesday’s win over the Americans, the Canadians went from allowing 17 shots in the first period to six in the second frame and only two in the third.
  • Oh, hey there, Matt Duchene. When the self-proclaimed die-hard fisherman isn’t catching delicious bass, he can be found tearing it up offensively on the ice. I know this is Canada and the World Cup, but it looks funny seeing the Avs star on the fourth line. Duchene has two goals and an assist in the tournament while skating alongside veteran Joe Thornton and former teammate Ryan O’Reilly, who wasn’t originally on the World Cup roster but added once Tyler Seguin backed out with an injury to his heel.

Europe

  • Team Europe advanced to the semifinal round despite being outmuscled by Canada on Wednesday, losing 4-1. It was a nice test against the tournament favorites, but Europe needs to be much more disciplined. Drawing six penalties, as they did Wednesday, is a recipe for disaster against a team like Canada, which is stacked offensively on every line.
  • Peter Draisaitl, who played for German in the inaugural World Cup (1996), must be one proud papa. His boy Leon already has two goals in the tournament, including a game winner, on four shots. Draisaitl saw his ice time climb from 7:15 against Team USA all the way to 13 minutes in an “away game” against the Czech Republic.
  • Marian Hossa is the second-leading NHL scorer among players involved in the tournament. He misfired on his first five shot attempts but put one on the board Wednesday against Canada. It doesn’t seem like Hossa’s bothered by the foot injury that he sustained in the preliminary round.

Czech Republic

  • Two goals in two games (Jakub Voracek, Martin Hanzal) won’t cut the mustard. They won’t be winning any medals but this tweet from Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times regarding the goal song is pure gold.

USA

  • USA has been the biggest disappointment in the World Cup thus far, dropping matches to Team Europe and Canada, respectively. Coach John Tortorella was ridiculed for his decision to bench the physical Dustin Byfuglien in the tournament opener and then sat Brandon Dubinsky, a solid faceoff man and pest to Sidney Crosby, in a forgettable match against the border foes — I’m thinking it’s no coincidence that Torts rested Dubinsky given the Columbus connection.
  • Jonathan Quick saved 44 of 51 shots between the two losses, equating to a 0.863 save mark. He was much better than the numbers indicate, but you have 2016 NHL All-Star Ben Bishop at your disposal. I’m sure neither he nor Cory Schneider came to Toronto expecting to ride the pine for the entire competition. Yeah, maybe one or both of them draw in against Team Czech Republic on Thursday, but it’s too little and too late. USA is toast.

Group B

Sweden

  • King Lundqvist pitched a 36-save shutout against Finland on Tuesday and then blocked 45 shots against the 23-and-under North American team a day later. It’s ridiculous how well conditioned these goalies are as they go on back-to-back days and lay it all out for their respective countries.
  • Nathan MacKinnon of Team North America juked the socks off of Henrik Lundqvist in overtime Wednesday, but the Swedes still earned a point and won Group B for a spot in the semifinals.
  • Sweden’s star-studded defense hasn’t done a whole lot offensively outside of Erik Karlsson and his three helpers. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Mattias Ekholm, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are all looking for their first point in the tournament, and Victor Hedman (Vigo from Ghostbusters 2), along with Anton Stralman, are the lone goal scorers from Sweden’s blue line.

Russia

  • Red Wings fans must be stoic watching Pavel Datsyuk shine for Team Russia. His Selkey-smooth defensive style has been on full display, plus he has two helpers in as many games, but the Magic Man reportedly will miss at least one game with an undisclosed injury.
  • Speaking of defense, to the surprise of no one, Russia’s blue line is laughable, though all the goal scoring is keeping the plus-minus ratings respectable for the rearguards. Nikita Zaitsev is the only one to have produced a point between the six d-men. The young Bud excited fans at his home rink with an assist that counted toward a win against Team North America.

Team North America

  • In this context “NA” doesn’t mean not applicable. Rather, it stands for North America, the speedy 23-and-under squad with plenty of heart, determination and skill. Here in the states, it’s the team that everyone is rooting for with Team USA getting shown up. But their fate in the tourney depends on the outcome of Thursday’s matchup between Russia and Finland. If Russia loses in any fashion, there will be more hockey for Team NA.
  • Auston Matthews is already testing the acoustics at the Air Canada Centre, where he’ll suit up as a rookie for the Maple Leafs this season. Skating on the top line with Connor McDreamy (read: McDavid) and Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Matthews has two goals and an assist through three games.

Finland

  • Finland lost its first two games of the tournament, dropping matches to Team North America and rival Sweden, respectively. Valterri Filppula was the only one to find twine for Finland before learning they’d not be able to advance to the semifinal round.
  • Look, Patrik Laine (whose name doesn’t rhyme with Kane) is going to be fun to watch for years to come, but Winnipeg’s second overall pick from this year’s draft has failed to replicate his glory from the 2016 IIHF World Championship, for which he was named MVP. Though he does have a country-high seven shots on goal, he’ll be seeking his first point when Finland battles the Russians on Thursday afternoon.

 

World Cup of Hockey: 2016 Tournament Preview

Twelve years. It’s been that long since the last World Cup of Hockey tournament, with Canada taking down Finland for the rights to the Cup trophy after finishing as the runner up to the United States in the inaugural event of 1996. While the international hockey competition was in hibernation mode, we shed tears over Hurricane Katrina, crazed over the advent of the iPhone, voted in Barack Obama for two Presidential terms, and celebrated the lives of sports legends, including the likes of Muhammad Ali and Gordie Howe. Despite all the change that naturally comes with passed time, six Canadian players from the winning 2004 squad remain active in the NHL, and two of those original cast members — Jay Bouwmeester (STL) and Joe Thornton (SJ) — will be involved in the competition a second time. The action officially begins Sept. 17 and lasts through Oct. 1, 2016 with Toronto playing host. Judging on exhibition play, one can expect a level of intensity that leaves NHL GMs praying for their players to come out unscathed. Here is a breakdown of the eight teams (countries) involved in the best-on-best, round-robin competition:

Blue Jackets 2016 Draft Review

I very nearly titled this “How the Blue Jackets Screwed Up the 2016 Draft”, but after having done these reviews for their three previous drafts (which you can read here: 2015, 2014 and 2013) I figured I’d stick to the formula.

The Blue Jackets headed into this year’s entry draft both in a good spot and a terrible one. For the first time in franchise history they actually improved in the draft lottery, moving up from the fourth spot to the third in a draft class thought by basically all observers to have a clear top three, but at the same time they were staring at a draft class heavy on wingers (which they already had an abundance of in the organization) and light on potential No. 1 centers (which they need after dealing away Ryan Johansen last year) after Auston Matthews who was locked in as the first overall pick.

In the three-plus years I’ve been covering GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s tenure as Columbus’ GM, some patterns had become clear in his drafting. He likes size (the shortest player he selected last year stood six-foot-one) and he likes players who show some maturity (his picks are littered with players who captained their squads or represented their countries internationally.) All that, combined with their shared Finnish nationality, seemed to point towards the Blue Jackets sprinting to the podium to take six-foot-three World Junior Championships MVP Jesse Puljujarvi with their top pick, right?

NHL Stanley Cup Observations: Sharks FINALLY play with the lead

Just a few things that caught my eye:

  • Brent Burns sure was fired up. First, an eff bomb in his live pre-game interview and then a goal a minute-four into the game. Wonder where we’d be if he’d done it a couple games earlier.
  • Martin Jones — arrest the dude for grand larceny. He’s the lynch pin in the Sharks’ game and he’s <beeping> good. 44 saves? He’s the only reason they’re even remotely in this series.

NHL Playoff Observations: Pens seize the day

Just a few things that caught my eye:

  • Joe Thornton vs. Evgeni Malkin. I wouldn’t exactly put it in the class of the Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels in Wrestlemania 25, but I did like what I saw. I wonder if Geno would yank Jumbo’s beard if given a do-over.
  • Matt Murray was good. Damn good. But Martin Jones was flat-out excellent. He kept the Sharkies in the game early when they really didn’t deserve it.