It wasn’t easy, but Sweden got the job done. The defending champs remained unbeaten with a 5-1 win over Latvia at Ufa’s Sports Palace on Saturday. Sebastian Collberg scored the second-period winner.Tre Kronor sits atop Group A with eight points. The Latvians, who are last with zero points, are destined for the Relegation Round.
Viktor Arvidsson tallied two goals for Sweden, and Emil Molin finished with a goal and an assist, as did Collberg. Alexander Wennberg had a single. Swedish captain Filip Forsberg had two assists.
Teodors Blugers replied for Latvia.
"I think we played really well," said Swedish head coach Roger Rönnberg. "We did everything but scoring in the first half of the game. I think it’s a tough situation, just winning the game 2-1 at the start of the third period. But the boys handled the situation really well. They kept their focus, kept shooting."
Latvian goalie Ivars Punnenovs was far busier than his Swedish peer Niklas Lundström. Shots favoured Sweden 46-21.
The Swedes will face traditional rival Finland on New Year’s Eve. Latvia concludes its round-robin slate against the Czech Republic on Sunday.
"It’s going to be a tough challenge for us," said Rönnberg about confronting Finland. "I think Finland has maybe the best team they’ve had in my three years as a head coach at the World Juniors. They always put together teams that are working hard, but this year they have really skilled forwards. I think we have to play our best to have a chance against them."
Latvia lost all three of its previous World Junior meetings with Sweden by lopsided scores: 10-2 (December 30, 2005), 10-1 (December 29, 2008), and 9-4 (December 26, 2011). So this was an improvement.
With just 50 seconds left in the first period, Molin opened the scoring for Sweden on a two-man advantage, putting a loose puck in the goal crease in. Never in World Junior history have the Latvians succeeded in keeping Sweden off the scoreboard for an entire period.
"I think the first period was hard," said Collberg. 'We didn’t get the puck in the net, but we just kept going. We said before the game that we wanted to work for 60 minutes. We didn’t do that as well yesterday [in a 3-2 win over Switzerland], we think."
Latvia got a 5-on-3 of its own early in the second period and cashed in. Blugers hesitated in the right faceoff circle before zinging a high wrister past Lundström’s stick side at 3:50.
Punnenovs looked sharp during a mid-period Swedish power play, allowing nothing as Forsberg hammered one-timers from the left faceoff circle.
"He was unbelievable," said Rönnberg of the Latvian goalie. "It would have been a 9-1 game if he had played just a normal game in the net. Big credit to him."
The skating tempo picked up as the Latvians grasped that they were still in the game. But they couldn't stay out of the penalty box, incurring three consecutive minors.
Collberg put Sweden up 2-1 on the power play with another high stick side goal at 16:18, teeing up a lethal wrister from the high slot.
Filip Sandberg rang one off the crossbar with about 30 seconds left in the middle frame.
Approaching the halfway mark of the third period, Punnenovs foiled William Karlsson on a breakaway. Yet the Latvian netminder's heroics wouldn't be enough.
Sweden went up 3-1 on a pretty play at 9:21. With the teams playing 4-on-4, Arvidsson took a drop pass inside the Latvian zone from Forsberg and dangled his way to the hash marks before roofing it home.
At 11:49, Arvidsson neatly deflected in a power play drive from the blue line by Christian Djoos for a 4-1 edge.
"I think today our power play was really good," said Arvidsson. "I think we’re going to do well against Finland too."
Wennberg rounded out the scoring with 47 seconds left.
The Swedes have allowed just three goals in three games to date. That’s a fine defensive accomplishment, considering they’re missing, among others, three NHL first-round picks on the blueline due to injuries: Oscar Klefbom, Jonas Brodin, and Hampus Lindholm.
By the same token, Sweden’s offensive production is just over half of what it was last year at this point. Through three games, they’ve scored 12 goals; in 2012, they had 22.
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)