The 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships kicked off yesterday in Calgary and Edmonton, with almost no surprises. The US and Canada rolled in their opening games and in the final game of the night, Russia blanked Switzerland thanks to a 40-save effort from 17-year old Andrei Vasilevski, 3-0.
Vasilevski, who is draft-eligible in 2012, certainly helped his own draft stock, erasing any and all mistakes made by an inexperienced defensive corps. While goaltending seemed to be one of the biggest questions surrounding this Russian team entering the tournament, Vasilevski has given his mates confidence between the pipes, something that may make this run-and-gun offensive power unstoppable.
After the jump, we'll give you a run down of all of yesterday's action and look ahead to today's games.
The Russians got goals from Alexander Khokhlachev, Nikita Gusev and Mikhail Grigorenko that proved to be too much for the Swiss, who were unable to solve Vasilevski.
Switzerland still managed to outshoot the Russians, 40-30, even without 2010 fifth overall pick Nino Niederreiter, who was not released to play in the tournament by the New York Islanders.
Highly touted Russian forward Nail Yakupov was held scoreless, though he still may not be fully recovered after suffering a head injury with the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League on November 23.
In other Group A action, Sweden blasted Latvia, 9-4, on the strength of four goals from Anaheim's 2011 fifth-rounder Max Friberg. Mika Zibanejad also added a pair of goals for the Swedes. Ironically enough, neither Zibanejad nor Friberg were selected as the player of the game. That honor went to 2012 draft-eligible Filip Forsberg, who failed to record a point.
If there's anything alarming Sweden might take away from yesterday's effort, it's the play of goaltender Johan Gustafsson, who allowed four goals on just 13 shots. Head coach Roger Ronnberg quelled any rumors that he may reconsider his starting goaltender for their next game though, conceding that "the goals he let in today were hard ones."
Gustafsson will certainly face more action than that in their next game against the Swiss on Wednesday. Could we be looking at our first big upset of the tournament?
Meanwhile in Edmonton, Canada ran Finland out of the building with a resounding 8-1 victory. The Canadians jumped out to an early lead thanks to a pair of goals from Mark Stone off pretty passes from 2011 third overall pick Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau finished with a goal and four assists. Last year's fifth overall pick, Islanders forward Ryan Strome, also added a goal and three assists.
Mark Visentin was hardly tested, but made stops when he had to be in net for Canada after being told just hours before puck drop that he was getting the start. He finished with 24 saves, many of which came from the perimeter. He was caught wildly out of position twice in the first period when the game was still close, leaving the Finns an empty net to shoot at. Fortunately for Visentin, he was aided by two huge shot blocks by his defensemen.
Canada extended their winning streak over Finland to seven games, dating back to 2001. They'll meet the Czechs tomorrow night in their second game of the group stage at 8 p.m. EST
The United States also got off to a strong start, flooring Denmark, 11-3. After taking a 3-2 lead into the first intermission, the Americans exploded for six second-period goals, including four from Nick Bjugstad, Charlie Coyle, Kyle Rau and Bill Arnold in a span of eight minutes that blew the game open. Coyle finished with a hat trick.
Jack Campbell was solid in net, stopping 21 of the 24 shots he faced. One area of concern for head coach Dean Blais will certainly be the penalty kill. Denmark got all their goals on the power play, going a perfect 3-for-3 with the man advantage. Heading into a game with a now-desperate Finland team on Wednesday afternoon, the Americans need to find a way to kill off penalties against the likes of the Granlund brothers and Joel Armia. If they don't stay out of the penalty box, the Finns could pull the upset.
There are a pair of games on the slate for today, one in each group. Denmark will look to bounce back from their loss to the Americans when they tangle with Czech Republic and Slovakia will kick off their 2012 group action against Latvia. Expect the two teams with fresh legs to take care of business, though given their lopsided losses, Denmark and Latvia will be playing with a heightened sense of desperation.
Be sure to check back with Tonight's Healthy Scratches each day for information on the previous day's action at the 2012 World Junior Championships and follow us on Twitter (@The_Scratches) for live score updates.