2023 WJC 3 Up, 3 Down: Sweden vs. Germany

Sweden and Germany faced off on Day 2 of the tournament. It was Germany’s first game of the round-robin, while Sweden was playing the second day in a row after crushing Austria 11-0. Germany followed their game plan all afternoon while Sweden continually probed the defenses for openings. In this 3 Ups, 3 Downs column, we look at some of the highs and lows of this game. 

Up No. 1: German Structure 

Germany’s strength heading into this World Junior Championship (WJC) is not the depth of skill but an athletic ability and the focus to play within a structure. Germany does have a roster of players with strength, size, and speed, enough to keep pace with any team at this event. Their system is the trap and reliance on opportunistic scoring up front, led by Julian Lutz.

Julian Lutz RB Muenchen
Julian Lutz, RB Muenchen (GEPA / RedBulls)

They rope-a-doped Sweden for most of the game then opened it up, trading chances at the end. It is an effective system, especially in keeping Sweden forwards to the perimeter; however, Germany will need to find a way to generate more offense consistently throughout the game.  

Down No. 1: Sweden Looked Tired 

Playing their second game in as many days, it was evident Sweden’s skaters sometimes looked a little tired. Their play at five-on-five was inconsistent, and despite short bursts of offensive zone possession dominance, they were unable to make much happen against Germany’s well-structured defense. That system caused Sweden issues throughout the game, as they were unable to sustain pressure long enough to have their skilled puck movement create breakdowns in Germany’s system.   

Up No. 2: Goaltending Duel 

It may sound strange to call a game where Sweden outshot Germany 44 to 28 a goaltending duel, but it was. Carl Lindbom didn’t face a steady stream of shots or shot attempts; however, he was consistently in position, focused, and able to make the saves, even on several high-danger opportunities that Sweden allowed, especially in the third period.

Nikita Quapp was a steady presence for Germany, stopping 43 of 44 shots, including several high-quality opportunities in close with his team shorthanded. Even with Germany keeping shots to the perimeter for long periods, Sweden’s skilled players did generate several cross-ice passing plays leading to quality chances. The only puck to get past him was a deflected shot from the point.  

Down No. 2: Germany Lacked Creativity 

While the German system played a key role in keeping it a one-goal game against Sweden, the Germans remained too robotic. They were far more focused on where to be about their plan than to try and take advantage of any errors Sweden made. Not until the final few minutes of the game did Germany truly open up offensively. This focus on positioning caused other problems as well. Errors in coverage cost them position, drawing penalties, giving Sweden the momentum, or breaking their momentum, forcing them to retreat further into their system. 

Up No. 3: Unexpected Heroics 

No one would have expected Sweden, with all their firepower up front, to need their defense to provide key goals, but in this game, they did. With this performance, Montreal Canadiens 2022 third-round pick Adam Engstrom played the hero for Sweden. While he did score the only goal of the night, it was his defensive play that made a difference as well.  

With that play, along with taking on top pairing minutes at five-on-five, on the penalty kill (PK), and in the final moments with Germany pressing for the equalizer, his steady play and ability to keep pucks to the perimeter played a key role in adding a win to Sweden’s standings.  

Down No. 3: Special Teams 

Special teams were a double-edged sword in this matchup. It could have swung the win to either club. For Sweden, going 0-4 on the power play (PP) with all of that skill up front is not something they can afford to have going forward in this WJC. Their PK units, however, helped make up for that by not allowing any goals, leaving their special teams at a draw. But break-even special teams aren’t the goal for a team in search of gold. 

Related: 2023 Guide to the World Junior Championship 

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For Germany, the PP was essential for them to steal a win. Their overall defensive system proved to be effective against Sweden, holding them to only one goal at five-on-five. However, had they been able to get set in the Swedish zone and create puck movement and traffic at the net, they could have gotten the game in overtime or even stolen a win.   

While some would say that a game ending at 1-0 would be boring, they would be wrong in this case. There were several big hits, acrobatic saves, and some slick passing that entertained the crowd in Halifax. For Germany, this loss makes the game against Canada on Dec. 27 more meaningful, especially as Czechia already upset the host team and sit ahead of Germany in the Pool A Standings. For Sweden, this win places them in the driver’s seat, as they now have two wins, giving them the easier path to winning the Pool and getting the most favorable cross-over matchup. 

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