Apologies for not keeping more tabs on the 2011 IIHF World Championships. Since the New Jersey Devils didn't make the playoffs, several players have been playing in Slovakia representing their nation in the annual international tournament. Today, the Quarterfinals have concluded with a big tilt between Russia and Canada. You may not care much about the WCs, but the longstanding Russia-Canada rivalry is always good for exciting action. Both teams featured many talented NHL players, including Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk.
If the headline didn't clue you in, Russia defeated Canada in a close and exciting (the game report on the IIHF website called it a game worthy of gold) 2-1 game with the game winner coming from your friend and mine, Kovalchuk. The goal itself was Kovalchuk's first in the tournament, but undoubtedly one of the biggest. After the jump is a video I found of his eventual winning shot - something you should see if only because goals by Kovalchuk are generally worth watching. I've also included other notes about the other Devils in the tournament so far. For general international hockey coverage, please check out Bruce Peter's Puck Worlds.
The Ilya Kovalchuk Game Winning Goal
What's most interesting is what happens at the beginning. You don't see Kovalchuk (#71 in White) involved in the play. He's lurking up above the right circle, completely uncovered. The closest Canadian to him is Rick Nash (#61) who lost the puck battle and therefore isn't even looking back. As the puck moves behind the net, Kovalchuk starts veering towards the center. Once he sees Alexander Radulov shift to his right to stay away from the defender, he charges into the big gap of open ice in the slot. Radulov dishes him a perfectly placed puck and Kovalchuk kills it. I almost want to say it was a set play for that line; given how well timed Kovalchuk made his move and how well Radulov made that pass. If it wasn't, it was an excellent set-up with a sublime finish.
As impressive as the one-timer is, one has to ask the question: what was Canada doing in their own end? How do you let that much space get open in the slot at 5-on-5 play? Where was the communication to let someone know that Ilya Kovalchuk is alone and wide open? The only one who sees him that wasn't way behind him like Nash was James Neal (#18), and when he saw #71 glide in, it was too late.
The goal was Kovalchuk's first of the tournament, but he hasn't been doing too badly. It's just that he's been racking up the assists. Per the stats page of the WCs, where everything is in a PDF, Kovalchuk has 5 assists so far along with 4 PIM, 21 shots on goal, and an ice time per game of 18:42. He'll get a chance to add to that tomorrow when Russia plays Finland in the first semifinal of the 2011 IIHF World Championships.
How The Other Devils at the 2011 IIHF WCs Have Done So Far
- Travis Zajac, Canada - His tournament has ended today with the loss to Russia. An alternate captain on Canada, he didn't really light it up. In 7 games, he had a goal, two assists, nine shots on net, two minutes in penalties, and 13:51 of ice time per game. That may be fine, as his role may have been more defensive.
- Mattias Tedenby, Sweden - Sweden defeated Germany decisively 5-2 and will play the Czech Republic tomorrow. The young winger has not played a lot for Sweden, averaging only 11:29 per game. His 8 PIM may have something to do with that. The rest of his line isn't so bad. He's got a goal, an assist, and 16 shots on goal with his limited minutes.
Anssi Salmela, Finland - Salmela didn't have a great season in New Jersey, but is it possible that he's doing well at the WCs? His coaches must think so. Salmela has averaged 19:24 of ice time per game! He's got 21 shots on net, a goal, and an assist to go with that; but I'm still floored that he's leading Finland's defense in minutes per game. Finland defeated Norway 4-1 today and will play Russia tomorrow. Salmela and his teammates will certainly have a challenge. Pro-tip for Salmela: Learn from Canada's error and watch for #71 in the slot.
- Nick Palmieri & Mark Fayne, USA - The Americans continue to introduce newer guys to the international scene at the WCs, and got trounced by the Czech Republic 4-0 thanks largely to Jaromir Jagr. At least they didn't fall into the relegation round. Anyway. Both rookies got limited minutes on Team USA. Fayne only played 4 games, got an assist, and averaged 8:13 per game. Palmieri was more involved, playing 6 games, averaged 11:59 per game, got an assist, and scored 2 goals.
Patrik Elias, Czech Republic - Saving the best for the last, in terms of Devils at the WCs. Elias has
captainedbeen an important part in the Czech Republic machine that's been rolling through this tournament. They have yet to lose, and their 7 total wins include victories over Finland and Russia. They'll take on Sweden tomorrow and Elias will be leading the way. His strong play last season has continued onto the WCs. He's just behind Jagr and Tomas Plekanec (8 points) for the team lead in scoring with 2 goals and 5 assists. Elias also has 20 shots on net and has averaged 15:32 of ice time.
Now that the final four set as Russia, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic, three Devils are guaranteed to come home with a medal of some kind. The semifinals will take place tomorrow with the third place game and World Championship final game set for Sunday. If you get the chance to do so, check them out and look for a Devil to stand out.
Again, for general WC coverage, please visit Puck Worlds and get educated on the international game as it is. What did you think of Kovalchuk's goal? What do you think of how the Devils are doing or have done at the WCs so far? What do you think will happen next? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the tournament and the Devils in said tournament in the comments. Thanks for reading.