World Cup of Hockey Preliminaries, Day 1 Recap: Finland/Sweden and Russia/Czech Republic
Hockey returned, and it actually looked like hockey. Let's talk about the Stars players in action today.
Let's just get one thing out of the way here: these are exhibition games. I mean, in a way, all sports games are exhibition games, but these preliminary WCoH games are actual exhibition games, in that they do not count. Still, Dallas Stars players are playing hockey against other hockey players, and so we get to enter into the grand illusion that is professional sport and its fans once again.
Sweden vs. Finland
Esa Lindell was the only Stars player to see action in this contest, as John Klingberg was left behind by the Swedes and the Stars' two (current) goaltenders were not selected by Finland because, well, who really know? Maybe it was a random draw, and Lehtonen and Niemi were just unlucky. That is one explanation.
Anyhow, Lindell played on the third defense pairing with Chicago prospect Ville Pokka, and he looked fine. Lindell had a few nice breakout passes from the red line, and he also had some scrambles here and there in his own zone. Nothing major, just the usual "defending without the puck as Sweden tries to cycle you into oblivion" sort of scrambling.
Lindell's line for the day was no points, no shots, 1 hit, 3 blocks, and a touch over 11 minutes played. He saw a tiny bit of PK action, but otherwise wasn't a top choice for special teams duty. Finland deployed him and Pokka in the defensive zone more than anything, so it's no surprise that he didn't figure in the scoring.
Here are some other random thoughts about this game:
- Jyrki Jokipakka seems to turn into a much riskier player when he's playing for Finland. He had a great doorstep chance off the rush denied by Markstrom, which probably isn't the sort of thing you would have expected to see from him in Dallas basically ever. Still, the fact that Jokipakka is on the 2nd pairing for Finland probably says more about Finland's depth than anything. (Julius Honka was surely looking on hungrily.)
- Both teams had first period power plays. Lindell didn't play on any of Finland's, as noted, and Erik Karlsson, Filip Forsberg and the Sedins made Sweden's much the more lethal-looking of the two. The power play was a good reminder that Sweden is one of the favorites in this tournament, and also that Finland is not.
- There was a goal called back from Oliver Ekman-Larsson for ostensible goalie interference, but it wasn't a great call from what I could see. Then a few minutes later, Aleksander Barkov picked off a very not-great pass, made a nice move around his defender, then beat Enroth, who had just come in for the second half of the game. That's the way hockey goes sometimes.
- Another former Star would even things up though, as Loui Eriksson got his own rebound below the red line and found a way to slip it through Pekka Rinne's blocker hand. It was not a pretty goal, but Loui Eriksson's hair was still in crazy summer mode, if that makes it any prettier. I don't know that it does.
- The Swedes pulled ahead in the third on another shot Rinne probably would like to have stopped, as a turnaround wrister by Carl Soderberg ticked off Sami Vatanen's skate and beat Rinne five-hole. Fortunately for Finland, Jhonas Enroth would equal Rinne's less-than-spectacular goaltending, as a Rickard Rakell turnover to Mikael Granlund led to a sharp-angle goal that beat Enroth near-side. with about five minutes left in the game to make it 2-2. Sweden would get a late opportunity up a man (power plays were 7-3, Finland, although the WCH website still has Sweden with the 7, which is incorrect), but they were unable to capitalize despite a power play that continued looking every bit as dangerous as you'd expect it to be with Erik Karlsson, the Sedins, OEL and Filip Forsberg available.
- If I were Finland, I would be retooling the power play after this contest. Yes, Sweden has an amazing blue line, so that's going to make things tough; but the man advantage looked a little stuck for much of the day. (I wouldn't expect Lindell to wind up there though, being the junior guy and all.)
- Overtime was amazing, and this is why: After Sweden spent about 3:40 of the first 4 minutes with the puck while Pekka Rinne bailed the water, Finland's Olli Maata did this on a 2-on-1:
Olli Maatta goes just under the bar in OT. Finland wins first World Cup of Hockey preseason game. pic.twitter.com/cwx74SyEy5— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) September 8, 2016
- Valtteri Filppula was one of Finalnd's better players. He's overpaid and on the wrong side of 30, but he's still not a bad player by any stretch. If Bishop does end up being moved, though, you can see his two years left at $5 million each being the logical side dish to that deal.
- Patrik Laine is going to be good. He's not quite "there" completely, but he is big and smart with the puck. Hopefully Winnipeg ends up trading him to the East or something.
Czech Republic vs. Russia
Radek Faksa and Ales Hemsky only totaled an assist between them (Hemsky's), but the two played on a line together for much of the contest, and both looked good to very good, getting used more in the final few minutes with the Czechs trailing (Hemsky in particular). Overall, Hemsky played 13 minutes with 2 on the power play, and Faksa played 17(!), with 2:29 on the PK. Their deployment was medium-to-light in terms of being buried in the DZ, but as polluted with penalties as this game was, I'm not sure how much you can read into that.
Also, if you care about faceoffs:
Faksa won 58 percent of his face-offs today. That includes 80 percent (4 for 5) in the defensive zone.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) September 8, 2016
Here are some other musings, though I will clarify that I was prioritizing the SWE/FIN game for much of it, so this is far from comprehensive. All human observations are far from comprehensive.
- Faksa centered the 2nd/3rd line (TOI was very similar to the Plekanec line, but probably you would call Faksa's the 3rd) with Ales Hemsky and Michael Frolik for most of the game, and midway through the first, Faksa and Hemsky were sent out as a pair for a 4v4 shift, which they promptly spent almost entirely in the offensive zone (shocker).
- Artemi Panarin tied things up with a fadeaway wrister after a Dmitry Jaskin giveaway in the low slot. More on his line later, but I wonder if he's going to be traded by Chicago to get rid of Seabrook's contract, or if maybe it'll be Hossa's instead. It will be exciting to find out.
- Faksa was tasked with killing penalties for the Czech Republic, who took two in a row in the second period. That burned them when Tarasenko took advantage of a broken Czech stick to walk in and put Russia up 2-1, but Faksa looked good on the PK (as you would expect).
- On the other side of things, Ales Hemsky got some time on the power play, firing a shot in on Bobrovsky with Martin Hanzal in front, but despite some good pressure, they couldn't knot things up that time.
- Russia would get the next tally shortly after that same power play expired when an Ovechkin one-timer rang off the post and Nikita Kucherov was able to put the rebound in before the goalkeeper could recover. Ovechkin is still the guy there, but I'd bet Tarasenko starts to edge his way onto that top tier of Russian hockey soon, if he hasn't already.
- Ales Hemsky time: Ales Hemsky was one of those "trusted" players that other Czech skaters seemed to love passing to. Hemsky also drew a tripping penalty in the second to put his team on the power play. Hemsky also went out for another 4v4 shift with Faksa after the Czechs put themselves back off the power play later in the second, and he was still on the ice when the Russian penalty expired, making it one of the only times you will ever see Ales Hemsky on the ice during the penalty kill. I kind of wanted him to stay on the ice for the entire kill, but everything that rises must converge, I guess.
- A great Faksa forecheck early in the third turned into a Frolik chance that went off the post. A few minutes later, an Ales Hemsky shot wired at the net dropped to Martin Hanzal, whose attempted pass bounced into the net off a Russian skate. Do you really need me to tell you that Hemsky drew that play up exactly as it happened? No, you do not.
- Faksa is a big boy, but Alex Ovechkin introduced him to what "big" can feel like, as the Great 8 put Faksa on his rear end halfway through the third. To be fair, if you're going to be outmuscled, Ovechkin is a pretty excusable player to be outmuscled by. Coachable moments!
- Faksa had two great chances with about 7 minutes left. After winning an OZ faceoff, Faksa went to the net and slapped two rebounds at the net after a point shot, but Bobrovsky denied him any gravy.
- Tomas Plekanec had the puck go in off of him late to put the Czechs within one, but he was also denied by an outstanding pad save by Bobrovsky. I would love to watch these two teams play each other more, if only because they are both equally flawed and messy, in their own ways, and it makes for entertaining hockey.
- Russia's top defense pair was Dmitry Orlov and Nikita Zaitsev. Sweden probably has a better group of defensemen than Russia.
- Russia's best line chemistry-wise was probably the Panarin/Dadonov/Shipachyov line, which created and created and created some more. Hooray for Russian forwards! They have many good ones.
- Basically, team Russia is like if the Dallas Stars had worse defense and much better goaltending.
- That trophy, as has been said, is definitely a collection of Otter Pops with a rubber band around them.