The World Junior Hockey Championships in Malmo, Sweden completed today with the medal round. Here are the preliminary round results and here are the quarterfinal results. This brings us to the semi-finals.
Sweden 2 Russia 1. Oscar Dansk (Columbus prospect) began in the Swedish goal and Andrei Vasilevski (Tampa Bay prospect) began the game in the Russian net. Filip Forsberg (Nashville prospect) opened the scoring with a goal late in the first period. Oskar Sundqvist (Pittsburgh prospect) scored an insurance goal in the third period. Damir Zhafyarov (undrafted) quickly scored for Russia to put them back in the game, but they were unable to make up the second goal. This puts the host team Sweden in the finals.
At the beginning of December, I picked Mike Weber of the Buffalo Sabres as the worst regular player in the league this year. He isn't a great defenceman but he had shown that he was good enough to eat some minutes without hurting you much. On a weak Buffalo team he was thrust over his head into a top four role and he struggled. He is too good a player to remain the absolute worst regular in a full NHL season. Given a new coach in Buffalo in Ted Nolan, Weber has had a chance to begin to turn things around. Weber has two assists now and his puck possession numbers like +/- and Corsi are not getting bad at the same rates.
I think the worst regular in the NHL this season has been Zac Rinaldo of the Philadelphia Flyers. He has played all 41 games for the Flyers this season. Despite dressing for every game, Rinaldo does not get a regular shift. He averages seven and a half minutes a game and usually against weak opposition and in non-critical points of the game. He has managed to post one assist in that time and has a team worst -13 +/- rating. Rinaldo stays in the lineup because he is a goon. He will fight. His 92 penalty minutes is fifth highest in the NHL. Rinaldo is a typical choice for the worst regular in the NHL. He is a goon with very limited hockey skills. He dresses regularly but is protected from ever being in a tough situation. Despite that, he doesn't score and the opposition does when he is on the ice. Players like this do nothing to help their team win. The Philadelphia Flyers dress him anyway.
In early December I picked Joe Thornton as the Lady Byng Trophy leader as the player who best combines playing ability and sportsmanship. I think he has been surpassed in the Lady Byng race by Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks. It is much harder to play a sportsmanlike game at defence than it is at forward. In fact only three defencemen have ever won this award: Red Kelly, Bill Quackenbush and Brian Campbell. Keith is tied with Thornton in penalty minutes and has done this with more ice time. Keith is also the leading candidate for the Norris Trophy as best defenceman. Keith has been a more valuable player than Thornton as well - as no reasonable argument can be made that Joe Thornton has been the best player at his position. Duncan Keith has always had a relatively clean game but his penalty minute total is remarkably low this season. He has six penalty minutes in 44 games played. Last year he had 31 PIMs in 47 games. That is a more representative season for him over his career. Duncan Keith has played a very gentlemanly game this season while playing at a very high level. That makes him the Lady Byng Trophy front-runner.
The World Junior Hockey Championship quarterfinals were played today. This round consisted of the four teams in each group that survived the preliminary round playing against one another. Here are the results:
Russia 5 USA 3. There was a relatively high scoring back and forth first period. USA emerged from it with a 3-2 lead. Things fell apart for the defending champion Americans in the second period when Russia scored two goals on two-man advantages. The Russians added an empty net goal for a two goal win. Andrei Vasilevski (Tampa Bay prospect) made 30 saves for the victory in the Russian goal. Jon Gillies (Calgary prospect) was the losing goal in the American net. Nikita Zadorov (Buffalo prospect) scored both of the two power play goals on the two man advantages in the second period. Pavel Buchnevich (NY Ranger prospect) also scored two goals. Mikhail Grigorkenko (Buffalo prospect) added the other Russia goal. Anton Slepyshev (Edmonton prospect) had three assists. The American goals were scored by Stefan Matteau (New Jersey prospect) led the Americans with a goal and an assist (but also was one of the penalties that led to the 2-man advantages for Russia). Nicolas Kerdiles (Anaheim prospect) and Ryan Hartman (Chicago prospect) scored the other American goals.
A few days ago, I posted my picks for the US Olympic Hockey Team. These were not my predictions for who would be selected to the team but rather my choices for the best possible team. Now that the actual selections have been announced, I want to look at them and compare them with my picks and to explain why I made the picks I did when there is a discrepancy between my picks and the actual selections.
Here is the US Olympic Team:
The preliminary round of the World Junior Hockey Championships completed today in Malmo, Sweden. Teams are divided into two five team groups. Group A played in the Malmo Isstadion and Group B in the Malmo Arena. Both groups played a round robin amongst themselves, with the top four in each group advancing to the playoffs.
1. Canada. The Canadians lost to the Czech Republic in a shootout and gave up the first goal in each of their games, but nevertheless win this group with three wins and an overtime loss. Anthony Mantha (Detroit prospect) leads the tournament in scoring at this point with ten points. Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay prospect) also was a top scorer. Derrick Pouliot (Pittsburgh prospect) has been their top defenceman. Zachary Fucale (Montreal prospect) has taken over as their top goalie.
In early November I picked Patrick Roy of the Colorado Avalanche as my first coach of the year leader of the season. His Avs were off to a 12-1 start and his inspiration was a big reason for it. I suspected that it wouldn't last all season and I still suspect a significant meltdown that may negatively affect the Avs in a big way. Since that start, Colorado has a record of 11-14 with four regulation tie points. If their more recent record holds up, they are unlikely to qualify for the playoffs. At any rate, he is no longer the leader for the Adams trophy as coach of the year.
There are better coaches who have had a more lasting impact on their teams. One of them is a better coach of the year leader. My choice is Bruce Boudreau of the Anaheim Ducks. Boudreau is a player's coach who has made Anaheim a fun place to play and has had significant success as a result. Anaheim is currently tied for first place in the NHL. They have a 28-13 record with five regulation tie points for 61 points. Boudreau is a big part of their success. He was my pick for coach of the year last year. The voters didn't agree last year and they may not this year, but I think Boudreau should be coach of the year again.
The Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year is one of the more poorly decided NHL awards. It is often given to the coach of the biggest surprise team. The assumption being that improvement can only be due to coaching and not due to any other reason. The other assumption is that god coaching leads to improvement, when there are many reasons a team can fall in the standings despite good coaching.
A case in point that I want to look at is last year's Adams Trophy which was given to Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa improved in the standings from 8th in the East Conference to 7th despite injuries to their top forward, defenceman and goalie in Jason Spezza, Erik Karlsson and Craig Anderson. Was there any reason to suggest that MacLean was the reason for this? Many other reasons existed. There was a shortened season due to the lockout. Random chance is more significant in a 48 game season than an 82 game one. Maybe Ottawa exceeded expectation due to good luck. Craig Anderson gave perhaps the best goaltending performance the Sens had ever had in their history. He played exactly half the games in the season and posted a .941 saves percentage and 1.69 GAA. These are numbers he could not repeat. So far this year, Anderson is posting a .901 saves percentage and a 3.26 GAA. Good goaltending is perhaps the most common way to make a coach look like a genius, when in fact it is goaltending. Key veteran leaders in Ottawa in Daniel Alfredsson and Sergei Gonchar have departed. There are lots of reasons that we can explain Ottawa's surprise last season and their struggles this season and none of them require the assumption that Paul MacLean was anywhere near the best coach in the league in 2013.
Only six days ago, I wrote about Francois Beauchemin of the Anaheim Ducks holding down the top +/- rating in the NHL. He has been passed by his linemate. Hampus Lindholm the Swedish rookie now has a +22 +/- rating. This puts him one point ahead of Beauchemin. Lindholm is a highly regarded prospect who was selected sixth overall in the 2012 entry draft. He has pushed himself into the Calder trophy race with his defensive play. Lindholm has been the best defensive playing rookie so far this year. I currently pick Torey Krug of Boston as the Calder Trophy leader. He is another rookie defenceman who made an impact at an earlier point in the season. Krug leads rookie defencemen in points and is not too far back from the overall rookie point lead - thanks in part to Tomas Hertl of San Jose being injured.
A few days ago, I posted my Canadian Olympic Team. Today I post my American team. This is not my picks for who will be selected to the actual Olympic team. It's my picks for who I think should be on the team.
Ryan Miller Buffalo Sabres
Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings
Cory Schneider New Jersey Devils
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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