With the NHL season over for the Tampa Bay Lightning, we will try to focus on several Lightning players who are representing their countries at the 2019 IIHF World Championship in Slovakia. Over the next two weeks, we are going to keep you up to date with their performance at the tournament, not forgetting about highlights from other games too.
The Russian team have the most Lightning players at this year’s World Championships. Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Mikhail Sergachev were called to the team right after the Tampa Bay Lightning were eliminated from the Playoffs. While Kucherov and Sergachev confirmed their presence almost immediately, there was some concern about Vasilevskiy. It was reported he has been dealing with minor lower-body injury during the postseason, but eventually he has joined the Russian national team too.
During the Czech Hockey Games (the last tournament before the Worlds), Nikita Kucherov found himself on the first line with Evgeni Malkin and former Lightning prospect Nikita Gusev. The combination was very effective offensively but Malkin and Kucherov took unnecessary penalties that cost Russia victories in games against Sweden and Finland. By the start of the Worlds, Kucherov and Gusev had been moved to the third line, where Artem Anisimov has become their center.
Mikhail Sergachev started the World Championship with former Lightning player Nikita Nesterov, who’s now playing for CSKA Moscow in the KHL. They are currently playing on the top pair. Another interesting thing is that during the first game against Norway, Sergachev was the only Russian defenseman who played at the power play. He, Kucherov, Malkin, Gusev and Panthers forward Evgenii Dadonov have combined to be the most effective Russian power play unit so far. They’ve already scored four times over two games. Meanwhile, the other unit with players like Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Evgeny Kuznetsov haven’t converted their chances yet.
Vasilevskiy played the first game against team Norway and made 25 stops out of 27 shots on his net. He allowed both goals in the end of the game when Russia were leading 5-0. In Sunday’s game against Austria, Vasilevskiy was given a rest but is expected to start against the Czech Republic on Monday.
Team Russia didn’t have any problems against Norway and Austria, beating them 5-2 and 5-0 respectively. Nikita Kucherov got 1 goal and 2 assists against Norway and 1 goal and 1 assist against Austria. With five points, he’s currently tied for first place in the scoring race.
Sergachev has 0+2 after first two games at the Worlds.
The Canadians have been left without their biggest star John Tavares right before the start of the Worlds. The Leafs forward suffered an oblique injury during practice in Slovakia and has been sent to Toronto. In his absence, Dylan Strome has been promoted to the first line where he joined Golden Knights players Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault. The only Lightning players on the team, Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph, have started the tournament on the fourth line with Tyler Bertuzzi.
The first game didn’t go well for Canada. Finland opened the scoring at the start of the first period when projected 2nd overall pick of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft Kaapo Kakko scored his first goal. Marchessault tied the game later in period, but that was the last time the Canadians lit the lamp that day. Finland scored twice in the third period and the game was lost.
Some changes were made before the second game against Great Britain. Joseph remained on the fourth line with Bertuzzi and Adam Henrique while Cirelli was moved to the second line. Joseph opened the scoring in the first period on a rebound. That was his first goal at the tournament.
Team Canada destroyed Great Britain in that game 8-0. Anthony Mantha had two goals and five assists. Cirrelli played 15:03 but didn’t recorded a point.
The hosting team Slovakia haven’t advanced to the Playoffs at the Worlds since 2012 when they earned a silver medal. This time, their team mostly consists of players playing in Europe with only six NHL players, including Canadiens forward Tomas Tatar, Oilers defenseman Andrej Sekera and of course Erik Cernak, who is playing for the first time at the Worlds.
Slovakia has probably the most difficult start of the tournament. In the first three games, they are facing the main favourites of their group: USA, Finland and Canada.
Their first opponent, team USA, are also one of the main favourites of the whole tournament. Patrick Kane, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau and potential 1st overall pick of the upcoming NHL draft Jack Hughes are among the players representing their country in Slovakia. The first period ended with a 1-1 score but early in the second period, Slovakia took the lead on Cernak’s shot on the power play. The Americans couldn’t save the game and Slovakia scored two more times, earning the biggest upset of the Worlds so far. Cernak was named a “Hero of the Day” as the best player of the opening day.
Their next opponent was Finland, who recently defeated the Canadians. In contrast from the previous game, the Slovaks scored first thanks to Eric Cernak, who now has two goals in two games.
Their lead didn’t last long as Finland scored two goals in response. In the second period, Slovakia managed to tie the game, but their opponents were better and eventually scored twice at the end of the game. With three points after two games, Slovakia are tied for second place in their group and preparing to face Team Canada on Monday.
Team Czech Republic
The Czech haven’t played in the semifinal since 2015. They don’t have a lot of big names on the roster besides probably Jakub Voracek, but they rely on some experienced players like Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas, Jan Kovar and some young players such as Jakub Vrana, Filip Chytil and Dominik Kubalik.
Ondrej Palat started the tournament on the second line with Chytil and Vrana while Jan Rutta is playing on the second pair.
| Sestava podle očekávání, v brance Patrik Bartošák, jako kapitán Kuba Voráček. Ve 20:15 jdeme na to! Držte nám palce u @sportCT nebo @RadiozurnalS #CZEvSWE #mshokej #narodnitym #jakolev pic.twitter.com/gmI6RuSMie— Hokejový nároďák (@narodnitym) May 10, 2019
On opening night, they faced the 2018 World Champion Team Sweden. Jakub Vrana scored the first goal of the game. The Swedes returned to the game with two goals in the second period, but from that moment, it was only the Czechs who scored. Vrana got his second goal. Michael Frolik and Jan Kovar added their first ones.
On Saturday night, the Czech Republic defeated Norway 7-2, and Rutta recorded an assist. Ondrej Palat hasn’t registered a point yet.
After the weekend, the Czech Republic are tied for first place in Group B. They are facing team Russia on Monday.
Probably the biggest surprise of the first day was Kaapo Kakko. He scored five goals in two games and has already started a debate over who really deserves to be the 1st overall pick at the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. His main opponent Jack Hughes hasn’t scored yet.
Kakko is already third on the all-time list of top scorers among U18 players at the World Championship and has a chance to overcome his fellow countryman Patrik Laine.
Team Switzerland didn’t get a lot of attention during first three days, but they are currently leading Group B after destroying team Italy 9-0 and winning against team Latvia.
After winning a silver medal one year ago, they have a pretty talented team this year too and having a chance to win a medal again.
Team Great Britain are playing their first game World Championship in 25 years. Despite losing to Germany and Canada in their first two games, they looked good enough for a team who just advanced to the elite division. Their main opponent for surviving is France and accomplishing that seems possible.
Can Hammond's goal from Day 2 take on Kakko's goal from Day 1 of the #IIHFWorlds? Head to https://t.co/19sTQB8eIA and VOTE NOW!@IceHockeyUK @leijonat @narodnitym @SwissIceHockey pic.twitter.com/luQspIPKnK— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) May 12, 2019
The standings after Day 3:
The top ten scorers after Day 3: