Top scorers, equal numbers among things to watch in Canada-Sweden semifinal
MONTREAL — Five things to watch for in Canada’s semifinal against Sweden on Wednesday at the world junior championship:
Some of the top scorers in the tournament are on display. Sweden’s Alexander Nylander has five goals and a tournament-best 11 points in five games. He’s flanked by Joel Eriksson Ek (five goals) and Carl Grundstrom (two goals) on Sweden’s top line. Canada counters with centre Dylan Strome, who is tied for third in scoring with two goals and six assists, with what has so far been a variety of linemates. The second lines feature Matt Barzal (three goals, four assists) for Canada and Rasmus Asplund (one goal, six assists) for Sweden.
Canada has dominated the circle, with four players in the top 15 in the tournament. Anthony Cirelli (69.3-per cent win rate) is second overall to Russia’s Yakov Trenin (69.7). Strome is fourth (68.5), Barzal ninth (62.0) and Nicolas Roy 15th (56.4). Asplund is third (69.1) while Eriksson Ek is 14th (56.5). The numbers are somewhat inflated by facing weak teams in the group stage and quarter-finals, but Canada had the tougher preliminary round opponents.
The goals for and against of the four semifinalists are eerily similar. Sweden and Canada each scored 26 goals in their first five games. Sweden conceded only nine while Canada allowed 11. In the other semi, Russia and the United States have each scored 20, with the Americans giving up eight and the Russians nine. The only common opponent for Canada and Sweden was the Czech Republic, which Canada beat 5-3 and Sweden topped 5-2. Canada (39.1 per cent) has the event’s top power play. Sweden (38.5 per cent) is second.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Felix Sandstrom played four of Sweden’s five games and is the clear No. 1, but that is not the case with Canada. Connor Ingram looks to have the upper hand as he made a second start in a row in the quarter-final after he and Carter Hart split the four group stage games. Both Canadian goalies have been called upon to make big saves after long stretches of inactivity, so their performances have been hard to judge. Canada has allowed only 76 shots in five games. The starter against Sweden is to be announced Wednesday.
Canada coach Dominique Ducharme turned the screw on Tuesday by pointing out Sweden’s medal round woes in recent years despite a remarkable run of 40 straight wins in group stage games over the last 10 years. The Swedes have only one gold medal in that span (in 2012 in Canada) and were shut out of the medals the last two years. Then again, Canada has gone home without hardware in three of the last four years, although they won gold two years ago in Toronto. So there is pressure on both teams to make the final.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press
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