Team Sweden’s first game in the World Junior Championship, against Russia on Sunday, was a dazzling display of offense, and the team made it emphatically clear its goal-scoring ability should not be overlooked.
Spoiler alert: The Swedes are awfully tough to score on, too.
Sweden closed out back-to-back games with its second consecutive win, a 3-0 triumph over Slovakia in the World Junior Championship on Monday. Goalie Jesper Wallstedt stole the show, not to mention the game, after stopping all 48 shots en route to the 2022 tournament’s first shutout.
The win improved Sweden’s record to 2-0 in Group B, with a goal differential of +6 (nine goals scored, three goals allowed), and was fueled by both Wallstedt and the team’s continued special teams success. Even so, there is plenty to work on heading into Wednesday’s showdown against the defending champs, Team USA.
Wallstedt Elevates Game, Stonewalls Slovakia
Wallstedt willed Team Sweden to its second consecutive win, making save after save when the team needed just that. Unlike Sunday’s win over Russia, in which the Swedes gave their netminder plenty of goal support, the 19-year-old Minnesota WIld prospect was a human highlight reel on Monday.
Through two games he has compiled a goals-against average (GAA) of 1.50 and save percentage (SV%) of .962.
The Swedes were heavily outshot throughout the game, but Wallstedt stood tall early and often, stifling Slovakia when it mattered most. The goalie stopped 13 shots in the first period, 17 in the second, and 18 in the third, and gave Sweden the swagger it needed to remain unbeaten in the tournament.
Unlike Sunday’s game, Sweden failed to hold any semblance of a comfortable lead until Daniel Ljungman scored an empty net goal with just over a minute left in the third period. Up to that point Slovakia dictated the majority of the play, and though it seemed as if it was one lucky bounce away from a quick rally, Wallstedt never let that happen.
Power Play and Penalty Kill Again Take Center Stage
Sweden’s power play was red-hot on Sunday against the Russians, and Monday’s game against Slovakia started in similar fashion after Detroit Red Wings prospect Theodor Niederbach opened the scoring six minutes into the game with a power-play goal. The Swedes finished the night 1-for-3 with the man advantage, but their penalty kill is what truly stood out.
No penalty kill in Monday’s game was more impressive than one sequence midway through the third period while nursing a two-goal lead. The Swedes were already killing off a major penalty — defenseman Leo Lööf was ejected for checking to the head and neck area — when forward Elias Stenman inadvertently cleared the puck over the glass from the defensive zone, giving Slovakia a two-man advantage with nearly half the period left.
Sweden weathered the storm and killed off the penalties, helping it escape with the win, and has yet to allow a power-play goal in the tournament.
If there’s anything mildly alarming to take from the game, it was the Swedes’ lack of discipline as the game wore on. Slovakia effectively moved the puck throughout the game, and made life very difficult on what is supposed to be one of the top defenses in the tournament. They took three penalties in the third period, and no disrespect to Monday’s opponent, but that type of effort can won’t fly against the USA or Canada.
It’s hard to be disappointed after a shutout win, but Sweden needs to play markedly more disciplined Wednesday.
Niederbach, Ljungman Lead Balanced Attack
Sweden has showcased a balanced offensive attack, a trend that continued in Monday’s win over Slovakia. Just like on Sunday, every goal was scored by a different member of the team, and seven different players contributed a point on the team’s three goals. Niederbach and Ljungman both notched their second of the tournament, and are near the top of the team with two points and ratings of plus-3 and plus-2, respectively.
Niederbach’s output isn’t a surprise, per se, but two goals and four assists in 28 games with the Swedish Hockey League’s (SHL) Frölunda HC didn’t exactly jump off the page prior to the tourney. Still, it’s important to remember that’s in one of the top men’s leagues in the world, and he has performed well at the Juniors level before, recording 35 points in 19 games with Frölunda’s J20 squad.
Ljungman, who remains unsigned after the Dallas Stars drafted him 154th overall in 2020, arrived with much less fanfare, but has commanded attention through the first two games of the tournament. He does have five points in nine total junior international games this season, though, and the 19-year-old’s experience has come in handy already.
Quick Break, But Team USA Looms Large
Sweden still has aspirations of earning its first gold medal since the 2012 World Junior Championship, but it’s a long road ahead. The 2-0 Swedes have an off day on Tuesday before taking on the Americans on Wednesday, and close out their preliminary schedule against Switzerland on Friday.
The Swedes couldn’t have written a better start to their preliminary play, but the hardest work still lies ahead. For now, though, the team can enter its day off with a little relief, knowing its talent on both sides of the puck has carried it through its first two tournament games.
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A die-hard hockey fan in the desert, and proud Iowa State alum. Detroit Red Wings and Arizona Coyotes contributor for The Hockey Writers.