Your best players need to be your best players. That held true as the Finns beat Norway 5-1 on Friday. The first line combined for six points in their opener.
Goalie Juuse Saros earned his first World Junior victory for Finland. The Finns outshot Norway 48-29 at the Malmö Arena.
"It’s good we got our first win," said Finnish captain Teuvo Teräväinen. "We didn’t play our best, but it’s still a big win. Tomorrow against Sweden will be a big game."
One of Malmö’s best-known attractions is the Ribersborgs Kallbadhus, an open-air bath where guests sweat in saunas before leaping into the frigid waters of the Öresund. Similarly, the newly promoted Norwegians have endured the blazing heat of the Russian and Finnish attacks, and now face the chilling realization that they’re already halfway through group play and have only scored once. (And like Finland, they face host Sweden next, on Sunday.)
The Finns are gunning for a major improvement over last year’s disappointing seventh-place finish. The Norwegians are just hoping to avoid relegation, and that’ll be a tough bet since they’re unequivocally the weakest team in Group B.
There were some positive signs for Norway in this game. They played a more aggressive, up-tempo game than in their opening 11-0 loss to Russia, where they often stood around and watched the Russians make fancy plays. They also managed to hold the Finns off the scoreboard for longer than Russia, despite being outshot 20-7 in the first period.
"We played a little bit better today, I think," said Norwegian assistant captian Mattias Norstebo. "Yesterday was a catastrophe, losing 11-0 to the Russians. Today I think we stepped up a bit and started well. We kept it at 0-0 in the first period. But obviously, we’re not happy losing 5-1."
The Finns began to control the play as the first period wore on, taking it to Norway with strong work along the boards. With 47 seconds left, the top trio of Teräväinen, Saku Mäenalanen, and Artturi Lekhonen drew first blood on the power play, with Lehkonen batting home a loose puck in the crease. Mäenalanen drew the assist.
That line combined for the second Finnish goal as well, as Mäenalanen zinged a high wrister past Norwegian netminder Joachim Svendsen from the slot at 2:57 of the second period.
Mäenalanen gave Finland a 3-0 lead at 14:19 when he put in the loose puck after a Ville Pokka drive on the rush.
"I’m very happy," said Mäenalanen. "It was a good game."
Less than a minute later, Rasmus Kulmala set up Joni Nikko with a sweet cross-ice pass for Finland’s 4-0 goal, Nikko making no mistake as he went high.
In the third period, Ville Leskinen rounded out the scoring for the Finns. Tim Robin Johnsgard gave Norway a little boost when he broke Saros's shutout bid with 3:08 remaining.
This was the sixth straight loss for Norway versus Finland in World Junior history, dating back to 1982. In those games, Norway has never scored more than three goals. However, this latest loss also represented the smallest-ever margin of defeat for Norway against the Finns (four goals).
Looking ahead to Sweden, Norstebo said: "I think it’ll be the toughest game for us so far. Sweden are extremely good, and they’re playing on home ice. It’ll probably be a full rink. It’ll be a huge experience. We’ve got to be ready."
We played a little bit better today, I think. Yesterday was a catastrophe, losing 11-0 to the Russians. Today I think we stepped up a bit and started well. We kept it at 0-0 in the first period. But obviously, we’re not happy losing 5-1.
(Nathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)