Sweden took home gold medals from the IIHF World Championships yesterday in Cologne. I wouldn’t say they were the best team over the 3 weeks but they were the best when it mattered. Or luckiest. Team USA stalling out against the Finns and the Gold Medal Game ending in a shootout basically handed them a fantastic opportunity and they locked it down.
The beloved Avalanche had 8 players plus an unsigned (then signed) prospect spread across 5 different teams and overall they had significant positive effects on their native countries’ tournament squads. Let’s take a look.
For my money the Russians had the best team even tho’ they only came away with Bronze Medals. Sure, they look pretty PDO-driven with both the highest shooting percentage and save percentage but I wouldn’t say that was luck.
During the tourney, Andrei Mironov received his release from CSKA Moskva and signed a 2-year ELC with Colorado. He was 3rd pair D in the 6 games he played in and ended up with one goal on 5 shots. With nothing to compare it to it’s hard to say if he was at his best or not but he looked ok to me. Going forward, the Avs are getting a straight up defensive defenseman that’s solid positionally and makes good decisions with the puck. The most glaring deficiency is in his skating, which needs a lot of work. He’s strong and has good balance but mechanically there are big flaws that luckily seem correctable. I’m guessing that part of the reason both he and the Avs want him in Denver all summer is to correct that, let’s hope it works. The lack of offense is also troubling but if the staff can make the same adjustments they made with Anton Lindholm and Sergei Boikov then we’re ok there too.
Probably the 2nd best team in the tourney had an inexplicable breakdown vs Finland in the quarters and went home leaving a sure medal on the table. Their most glaring flaw was a poor save percentage but shot suppression was so good it wasn’t noticeable. JT Compher returned for his second straight Worlds and put up a couple of goals playing a 4th line role. I’m biased but I think he was underused. Given his lack of experience and being more of a generalist rather than having a niche it’s not a total surprise but good things happened fairly frequently when he was on the ice. All the things we liked about JTC at the end of the year were still on display so next season is something to really look forward to.
The Finns slept through the round robin, backing into the quarters thanks to a bad loss by Norway, then stunned the USA to move on to the Semis. All along this was Sebastian Aho & Mikko Rantanen plus a bunch of guys, which wasn’t enough. Mikko scored 4G/6A in 10 games with little help other than when he was on the PP. High points: good net front presence that we didn’t see much of with the Avs and signs of life in his defensive game. Every time you think about his age you get get giddy about the future, seriously in 3 years he’s going to be such a beast.
The champs also slept through much of the prelims, relying on their stacked d-corps and scoring enough to get by. They got a fortuitous matchup against the Finns in the Semis and then shut down Canada’s sneaky bad offense except for a lame PP goal in the Gold Medal Game.
Landy played top line the whole tourney with his usual alternate captain’s letter. Although he didn’t light up the scoreboard often he did end up with 2G/3A in 10 games. Only 3 forwards had more than 2 goals so no biggie. He generated lots of shots on goal and suppressed plenty the other way like we would see on the Avs if they knew what they were doing. When you see Landy playing like that you start to realize what he could mean to Colorado if only there were a proper supporting cast in place.
Carl Soderberg, on the other hand, did not have a successful run at the Worlds other than ending up with a fresh uniform and a medal around his neck at the end. He began on the 2nd line and then went on a freefall through the lineup ultimately being a de facto scratch in the Semis & Finals. What makes it worse is that the erstwhile Avalanche Dennis Everberg came in halfway through and stole his job, looked good doing it too. I remarked yesterday that this was a great metaphor for player management in the Sakic era. A guy that the Avs could have had for peanuts flees at high speed away from the organization while a guy they pay 8 times as much gets benched in his favor. You can’t make this stuff up.
Last but not least there’s Team Canada, their anemic even strength scoring and suspect defense. Canada took shot suppression to another level in this tournament with an astounding +17.5 SOG per game. They had 99 more shots than the nearest competitor (411 total in 10 games) and gave up the fewest goals out of everyone (15). They still struggled to score and it’s baffling that 12 skaters had 1 or less goals over the 10 games, 6 guys could only manage a single point or less.
Nate MacKinnon was the team’s top scorer and ended up tied for 2nd in the tourney with 15 points (6G/9A). That’s impressive but what turned my head was that he was doing that while also showing a side to his defensive game we’ve only glimpsed with the Avs. Many times he played the F3 role while center Mark Shiefele was more of the F1 forechecker and several backchecks I saw prevented easy chances by the opponent. Even though I didn’t care for the Canadian power play it was interesting watching Nate controlling play from the left half-boards, which I guess Tim Army never thought of.
Calvin Pickard had a great Worlds as well. With the shot suppression/possession scheme TC worked it’s tough on goalies to stay engaged, he faced less than 18 shots per game, but his numbers ended up in the very impressive range. Just 11 goals against in 7 games with a .938 save percentage. Shootouts haven’t been Calvin’s strong suit so it’s a shame he had to lase the final that way.
Matt Duchene was put into a checking role after a couple games which I hope isn’t what he’s becoming. Cooper obviously wanted guys to shoot the puck and he didn’t given the opportunity so off to the grinders he went. He ended up with 1G/0A and 17 SOG in 10 games. His defensive play was ok sheltered by playing with two PK specialists but some of the same old bad habits were evident like turnovers, spinning around and holding the puck for too long.
Tyson Barrie was shot out of a cannon with 7 points (2G/5A) in the first 3 games but some clowny off-ice incident put a gash in his leg and ended his run early. Hard to take anything away other than none of that, the good or bad, is surprising.
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Most fans don’t pay much attention to Worlds because it’s not truly best-on-best like the Olympics but it’s fun and everyone wants to win. For players on the Avs having a cathartic release like this is therapeutic after a 6 month long nightmare. I’m betting off-season training will be a little easier coming off a bit of success or whatever they can take from 3 weeks in Europe. If it makes any of them even 1% better coming into training camp I’m happy they took part.