Canada and Russia took on rather soft opponents on Thursday at the 2012 World Junior Championships, each dispatching them rather easily. The Canadians toyed with Denmark en route to a 10-2 win, while the Russians floored Latvia, 14-0, thanks to captain Evgeni Kuznetsov's nine-point effort. Yep, you read that right.
After the jump we'll get into detail about today's matchups, which include the Americans trying to bounce back from their loss to Finland and Sweden's matchup with a pesky Slovakia team. Could we see another upset?
First, we can not let another moment pass without discussing Evgeni Kuznetsov's offensive explosion. The 2010 first-round selection of the Washington Capitals had been creating a number of chances through two games, but was held scoreless as Brian McCormack started to wonder if this high-powered Russian team could find its' scoring touch.
Uh, Brian? I think they found it. The defending gold medalists fired 50 shots on goal, scoring six times in the second and seven in the third to blow Latvia away. Kuznetsov had a hat trick and six assists, but failed to reach Peter Forsberg's WJC-record 10 points, which he set in 1993 against Japan.
Andrei Vasilevski turned away 30 shots for his second consecutive shutout. The 17-year old netminder has now stopped all 70 shots he's faced in two games. His draft stock seems to skyrocket by the day.
It wasn't all good for Russia, however. Highly touted 2012-draft eligible forward Mikhail Grigorenko, who was the only goal-scorer in the game's first period, was forced to leave the game with a leg injury in the second period. The severity of the injury is not known, but it could be a critical blow to Russia's scoring depth in the knockout round.
In the only Group B game of the evening, Mark Stone continued his showcase in Edmonton with a pair of goals and an assist in Canada's 10-2 victory over Denmark. Defenseman Brandon Gormley, selected 13th overall in 2010 by Phoenix, also chipped in with two goals of his own.
Mark Visentin got the start in net for Canada, making 24 saves. The big question remains, with a day off on Thursday, will head coach Don Hay go back to Scott Wedgewood in Friday's big showdown with the Americans? Hay hasn't confirmed anything yet, but expect to see the New Jersey Devils prospect between the pipes on New Year's Eve.
Now, onto today's games, which feature a pair of intriguing early morning matchups:
Can the Americans bounce back from a discouraging loss against Finland on Wednesday? With Canada looming on Saturday night, today's game against the Czechs (3:30 p.m. EST on NHL Network) turns into a must-win if they are to advance to the medal round. Jack Campbell will likely be back in net for the US.
Through two periods against Finland, the Americans did everything but solve goaltender Sami Aittokallio. Expect them to regain their finishing touch today against the Czechs.
Chris Peters at The United States of Hockey has a full preview of today's game, which is suddenly critical to the Americans' chance of earning a medal. He also gives an update on the U-17 tournament. Great read on some of the Americans top prospects.
The Swedes will take on a tough Slovak side desperate to hold on to a spot in the quarterfinals. A win today against Sweden will go a long way to having them advance through the preliminary round.
Sweden, coming off a thrilling shootout victory over Switzerland on Wednesday, will be looking to earn three points and clinch a spot in the quarterfinals. Will this be the game Filip Forsberg gets into the goal column? So far it's been the Max Friberg show for the Swedes, but they'll need some secondary scoring from Forsberg if they are realistic about advancing into the knockout stage.
Though currently tied in points with the Americans and Czechs, Finland is on the outside looking in right now in Group B thanks to poor goal differential. Expect them to score early and often against Denmark, making no apologies along the way. Denmark was officially eliminated from the quarterfinals last night, and will be playing to stave off relegation in 2013.
Joel Armia, who took over the third period against the US, Teemu Pulkinnen and the Granlund brothers will be working hard to make up for their tournament-opening 8-1 loss to Canada. Assuming the Americans win today, the final spot in Group B could come down to who beats the Danes by a bigger margin, the Finns or the Czechs.
Poor Latvia. Expect more of the same from Switzerland, who will be playing without the services of Flames prospect Sven Bartschi. Bartschi suffered a "light concussion" in Wednesday's game against Sweden and did not return.
Head coach Celio Manuele is hopeful that Bartschi will return to the lineup for Saturday's game with Slovakia that will all but certainly decide the final representative in the quarterfinals from Group A. The Swiss should win easily against Latvia, who also was eliminated from the quarterfinals yesterday, but don't expect them to stop scoring either.
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.