Over two games so far in the 2022 World Juniors, Sweden has established itself as a team that is careful and calculating, waiting for a weakness to reveal itself so it can strike. They started slowly against Switzerland in their first game, but by the time they took on Austria, they were dialled in, executing plays perfectly and exploiting holes in their opponent’s defence.
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However, their first two opponents were decided before they began, with it all but assumed that Sweden would come into their third game undefeated. But that’s where the real change lay, as they would have to face Team USA and decide which team would take first place in Pool B. The game promised to be a good one and it didn’t disappoint, but maybe not in the way some would expect. Here are three takeaways from Sweden’s tough loss to the USA.
Lekkerimaki Looked Dangerous in Limited Showings
Jonathan Lekkerimaki only played 11:32 against the USA, the sixth-lowest total among Swedish players, and his average shift length was just over 30 seconds, also near the bottom of Sweden’s roster. But the few times he was on the ice, he was almost impossible to miss. He easily matched the Americans’ speed and was able to set up a couple of plays by simply getting into the corner first or quickly picking up a loose puck.
Like Oskar Magnusson against Switzerland, Lekkerimaki stepped up when his team needed him, but his age prevented the coach from using him more than necessary. A recent first-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks, he’s the youngest on the roster, and along with Liam Ohgren and Ludvig Jansson, just one of three 18-year-olds on the team. But he might also be one of the most skilled. It took him only 26 games in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) to score seven goals last season, while it took Austrian Marco Kasper 46 to hit the same total. World Junior teammate Theodor Niederbach scored two more than Lekkerimaki, but he needed 51 games to do so.
Against Switzerland and Austria, Sweden’s defence was allowed to shine as they could send hard shots from the blue line against weaker goaltenders. But against faster, more skilled teams like the USA, Canada, and Finland, Sweden will need players like Lekkerimaki who can get in close and create high-danger scoring chances. This game, although a small sample size, was more than enough proof that he deserves more ice time next game.
Sweden Puts on the Pressure Too Late
Sweden came out strong, matching the Americans’ shots and keeping the game even until Brett Berard snuck a bouncing puck by Jesper Wallstedt six minutes into the game. That one goal gave the USA a jolt of energy and sapped Sweden’s, and soon after, they took control of the game. Sweden managed to get 13 shots on net in the first period, then was limited to just three in the second.
Most of the third period wasn’t much better, with the Americans putting on another 10 shots to Sweden’s two until Emil Andrae scored their first goal with less than 10 minutes left in the game. That goal put some blood back in Sweden’s veins and they surged to bring the game within one, but two minutes of six-on-five just wasn’t enough time to tie it up and force overtime.
Much of Sweden’s struggles can be blamed on the Americans’ speed and aggression. They relentlessly attacked the puck carriers, forcing them to move the puck quickly and create turnovers. When they finally had time to carry the puck up the ice, they were gassed and were forced to chip the puck into the offensive zone, then duck back for a line change. Team Sweden’s patience and composure were completely torn down and they struggled to recuperate until it was too late.
But Sweden is in part to blame for their struggles, too, as they weren’t able to take advantage of the opportunities they were given. The USA didn’t take many penalties throughout the game, giving Sweden just three power plays, but even with the man advantage, they were unable to get many shots away. Their forwards were mostly quiet this game, too, and much of the offensive responsibility seemed to be given to Simon Edvinsson and the rest of the defence. Nearly half of the team’s 30 shots came from defencemen, and only two forwards had three shots each. That has to change if Sweden is going to compete for a medal.
Wallstedt Stumbles, But Will Be Fine
The USA made it incredibly difficult for Sweden to generate any offence and it didn’t help that Wallstedt allowed two weak goals that put his team down early. The first goal by Berard came on a bouncing rebound that the goalie didn’t have control of, and the second, scored by Matt Coronato, squeaked under the netminder’s arm. There were also some juicy rebounds at other times that could have also become goals, but thankfully, Wallstedt was able to make the secondary save thanks to his excellent athleticism.
However, Wallstedt should not shoulder any of the blame for this loss. Those goals, as well as one during the game against Switzerland, may be concerning for some fans, but there is little to worry about here. He is arguably the best goalie in the tournament and owns the third-highest save percentage (.922) after three appearances. In the game against the USA alone, he stopped 38 shots, which works out to a .927 save percentage and puts him among some of the most-worked goalies so far.
One concern is defensive support. As previously mentioned, the defence has been used to generate a large part of the offence, and with talents like Edvinsson, Andrae, and Helge Grans, it’s no wonder why they’ve been utilized more on the attack. But that then leaves Wallstedt without as much support around the net. Berard’s goal is almost a direct result of Edvinsson fanning on a clearing attempt and the resulting pressure closer to the blue line than around the goal, which is where the American forward was waiting. Grans also had a particularly bad pass intercepted in front of Wallstedt that the Swedish goalie was able to track and stop.
While it’s great to get offensive support from all around the lineup, doing so at the expense of defensive support will cost Sweden games, even when a supremely talented player like Wallstedt is between the pipes. That will be something to work on as the team prepares for the next stage of the tournament.
First Germany, Then the Playoffs
Sweden will be back in action on Monday evening against Germany, who, much like Switzerland, will rely on a physical game to limit Sweden’s chances. However, the Swedes should be able to defeat the weaker team, which will leave them second in Pool B as the World Juniors transition into the playoff portion of the tournament on Wednesday. That would leave Sweden to take on Latvia, who secured their first win in tournament history over Czechia. If they lose, then they’ll have to face either Canada or Finland, neither of which would be an ideal matchup.
|Team Canada||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team USA||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Austria||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Czechia||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Finland||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Germany||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Sweden||Players to Watch||Roster|
|Team Switzerland||Players to Watch||Roster|
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An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.