The round robin part of the 2009 IIHF World Championships in Switzerland has ended. Eight countries, including all four with New Jersey Devils on the roster, will move on to the Quarterfinals. Slovakia, Norway, France, and tournament hosts Switzerland all missed the cut. Maybe they'll make it next year in Germany?
There were no games today. Instead, the IIHF announced 5 new people to their Hall of Fame: Rudi Hiti, Jan Suchy, Walter Bush Jr., Laszlo Schell, and former New Jersey Devil and Slava Fetisov's defensive partner, Alexei Kasatonov. Congratulations to all five men.
The first quarterfinal tomorrow has Group A winners Russia take on Belarus. Russia has been a beast in the Qualifying Round with no losses at all and a goal differential of +16. They boast the second best power play, penalty killing, and team goaltending in the tournament. Ilya Kovalchuk leads the way for Russia, but it has been a team effort when it comes to goal scoring. Belarus boasts the worst power play, only one player in among scoring leaders (Mikhail Grabovski, 3 G, 3 A), middle-of-the-road penalty killing, and yet third best goaltending. Andrei Mezin has been remarkable with a 96.43 Sv% and a 1.18 GAA. Only Chris Mason has better numbers. While Mezin has been a wall, Russia should be able to crack the wall and move onto the Semifinals.
Finland takes on the United States in tomorrow's second quarterfinal. Finland is coming off a shootout victory over Canada and their confidence level must be through the roof. I mean, they beat Canada. You have to be pumped after that. USA Hockey, on the other hand, lost their last game in overtime to Switzerland. It hasn't been a strong result for USA Hockey and their penalty killing has just been awful (69.23%!!!!).
Scott Clemmensen is the only Devil between both teams and he hasn't seen the ice yet; it has been Robert Esche - ranked the lowest among goaltenders who have appeared in 40% or more of their nation's games - between the pipes. I'm not sure why they called up Clemmensen if they aren't going to use him, but I guess coach Ron Wilson knows something we don't. Maybe the goals against haven't been Esche's fault at all? Nevertheless, USA Hockey needs to watch their discipline; watch Niko Kapanen - who is tied with Jason Spezza and Steven "Seen" Stamkos in leading the WCs in goals - ; and watch for the rare opening to beat Pekka Rinne. It's win-or-go-home at this point, there is no 7th place game as far as I can tell. They need to defuse Finland's confidence to have a chance at moving on.
The third quarterfinal takes place on Thursday and it features Canada taking on Latvia. Canada is flowing with talent and it shows. They've been perfect outside of their shootout loss to Finland. Their power play is firing at 44.44%. Their penalty killing is at a healthy rate of 87.88%. Chris Mason leads the tournament in save percentage (97.8%) and in GAA (0.67); and his partner Dwayne Roloson is fifth in save percentage (93.04%). Not bad at all.
Travis Zajac has been featured in the last two games, putting shots on net, but yet to record a point. Given how Canada is scoring it'll come eventually. While they are expected to beat Lativa, they aren't pushovers. Latvia's goaltender, Edgars Masalskis, has played every minute in this WC and boasts the fourth best save percentage of 93.1% while maintaining a solid GAA of 2.27. Latvia's forwards Aleksanrs Nizivijs, Herberts Vasiljevs, and Martins Cipulis have led their team's scoring and Canada will have to key on them. Again, expect Canada to get through and hope that Zajac gets a point in the process.
The fourth quarterfinal has two Devils facing each other head on: Patrik Elias' Czech Republic and Johnny Oduya's Sweden. It's a shame one will have their tournament end early as both Devils have gotten goals in their efforts so far. OK, so the competition (France, Belarus, Slovakia, and Switzerland) is nothing to write home about, but goals are goals. Elias has 9 shots on goal and 2 goals in his two games with his country, fitting in on an team that has been quite productive. The Czechs are led by perhaps-Oilers-bound Jaromir Jagr, with a lot of help coming from Petr Cajanek of all players. The Czechs have had a healthy power play 22.22% and a relatively good penalty kill rate of 84.21%.
Johnny Oduya leads all Devils in scoring at the WCs, though with 2 goals and an assist in 2 games with Sweden. He also leads in blunders by helping Switzerland score by holding his own goalie down (on accident), but the UFA-to-be is doing quite well with Sweden. Sweden has a whole has been doing splendid with playmaker Linus Omark making goals happen (8 assists) with additional support coming from Kristian Huselius and Mattias Weinhandl. Their power play is doing well at 20%; but their penalty killing rate of 73.33% could be better. So could their goaltending as Jonas Gustavsson isn't so solid with a 89.9 Sv% and a 3.42 GAA. Maybe it's time to give the stick to Jonas Holmqvist? Either way, unlike the Canada and Russia quarterfinals, the gap between these two nations isn't so large - if there is one at all. It should be an entertaining contest and best of luck to both Elias and Oduya.
As the Devils do more and the WCs progress, I'll provide updates as best as I can. If anyone is able to watch them and comment on them; please do so! The more information for how the Devils are doing abroad, the better.