We have arrived at the final two days of the preliminary rounds, meaning teams will be facing their penultimate and in some cases final opportunities to stake their place in the standings. For some teams, that means trying to secure top seeding and get an easier elimination matchup. For others, it will mean desperately trying to avoid potential relegation. Day 6 will feature a little of both, so let’s look at the matchups. All times listed will be Eastern.
Finland vs. Slovakia (2:00 PM)
Finland: Team Preview
Slovakia: Team Preview
This battle between Finland and Slovakia is probably for second place in Group A, as it doesn’t seem likely that anyone will be able to surpass Canada’s plus-26 goal differential. Slovakia gave Canada its closest matchup yet, thanks largely to goaltender Samuel Hlavaj, who stopped 20 of 22 shots before Jack Quinn tallied an empty netter to give Canada a 3-1 lead. But Simon Latkoczy has started each of Slovakia’s other games, so it remains to be seen which goaltender head coach Robert Petrovicky will favor.
Both teams have had a day of rest before this matchup, but Finland entered that day off on a high note with a 4-1 victory over Switzerland. Their top scorer has been defenseman and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Topi Niemela. With a goal and three assists, he has passed forwards Anton Lundell, Aku Raty, and Kasper Simontaival, all of whom have three points apiece.
Finland will enter this game as the favorites, but Slovakia has been a surprisingly tough matchup throughout the tournament. They won’t be easy to eliminate, and Finland will need more from their forwards to make sure they secure the second seed.
Players to Watch: Samuel Hlavaj, G (SVK); Topi Niemela, D [TOR], Anton Lundell, F [FLA] (FIN)
Switzerland vs. Germany (6:00 PM)
Switzerland: Team Preview
Germany: Players to Watch
Switzerland has seen increasingly diminished returns in each of its games, losing to Slovakia 1-0, to Finland 4-1, and to Sweden 10-0. Theoretically, Germany could be the easiest matchup in their group, except for possibly Slovakia, but the Germans have been on the opposite trajectory. Their critical overtime win against Slovakia gives them control of their own fate. If they can beat Switzerland, they will avoid the relegation round and advance to the final tournament.
Germany’s best players have been their best players: Florian Elias leads the team with three goals and three assists, but immediately behind him are third-overall pick Tim Stützle (three goals, two assists) and early second-round pick J.J. Peterka (one goal, four assists).
Switzerland needs someone to step up and make an impact to stymy the red hot Germans. Perhaps Lorenzo Canonica, one of the youngest players in the tournament, can make his presence felt. Whoever it is, Switzerland needs a clutch performance, or else they will be facing a relegation matchup.
Players to Watch: Tim Stützle, F [OTT], J.J. Peterka [BUF] (GER); Lorenzo Canonica, F (SUI)
Russia vs. Sweden (9:30 PM)
Russia: Team Preview
Sweden: Team Preview
This will be the marquee matchup of the day. Sweden will be looking to extend its incredible 54-game preliminary round winning streak. Russia will be looking to topple them and take the top seed in Group B. Sweden will be entering off a day of rest, while Russia just finished a 7-1 destruction of Austria.
Russia spread the goals around in that game, but Vasily Podkolzin did break his drought and score two goals in the first period. He also added an assist, and is now the team’s top scorer. top netminder Yaroslav Askarov got a night off after a slow start to the tournament, and Artur Akhtyamov did well, stopping 17 of 18 shots. Presumably, Askarov will get back between the pipes, and he’ll want a strong performance to prove that he is one of the best goalie prospects in the world.
Sweden’s Lucas Raymond, the fourth-overall pick in this past year’s draft, scored two goals in their matchup against Austria. The Swedes have also been bolstered by goaltender Hugo Alnefelt, who has 30 saves against 31 shots in two games. Russia will provide a tough challenge for Sweden, but they have overcome those challenges 54 times in a row. They’ll enter as the slight favorite, but they’ll need back-to-back victories against the Russians and the Americans to extend the incredible streak another year.
Players to Watch: Vasily Podkolzin, F [VAN], Yaroslav Askarov, G [NSH] (RUS); Lucas Raymond, F [DET], Hugo Alnefelt, G [TBL] (SWE)
Day 6 Summary
Russia, Sweden, and Finland will all be looking to push for a top seed in the preliminary round (though Finland will have an uphill battle to outrace Canada). Switzerland and Germany will be battling to see who goes into the relegation round. Meanwhile, Slovakia is merely looking to score an upset and climb up in Group A. It’s an exciting group of games and perhaps the most even set of matchups hockey fans have seen yet at the WJC. Here’s hoping it lives up to its billing.