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Quick HIts From the Worlds

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Quick Hits from the Worlds

Alex Ovechkin’s one-game suspension for this tournament – and probably his game misconduct, too – seems unwarranted given a second look at the hit that caused the hubbub in Sunday’s 6-3 Team Russian victory over Team Switzerland.

Almost halfway through the first period, Ovechkin came out of the penalty box after having served a two-minute bench minor for too many men on the ice. He then quite literally collided with Swiss puck-carrier Valentin Wirz.

Wirz was carrying the puck and had his head down a bit. Ovechkin did not hit him with an elbow. The initial call on the ice was an unspecified two-minute minor and a 10-minute misconduct. After a lengthy deliberation of more than five minutes, Ovechkin was ejected from the game. Later in the evening, he was suspended from the tournament for a single game after the tournament directorate held “an extraordinary meeting at midnight Moscow time and suspended the Russian forward for one additional game, which means that Ovechkin will not be in the lineup against Sweden on Monday. The directorate decision was unanimous.”

Look at the video of the hit and you’ll likely see that not even a minor penalty was warranted here. The contact was incidental and was much more of a glancing hit than a full on blow, and the penalty box door was still open when the collision occurred.

We didn’t get a chance to talk to Ovechkin about the incident, but some of his comments to a Russian journalist have been translated and can be found here.

Later in the same game, Russian forward Evgeny Malkin was going into the corner after a loose puck. He lost his edge and went down, only to have Swiss defenseman Steve Hirsch crosscheck him from behind, pushing his face into the boards in the process. This was a much more egregious offense, yet it went unpenalized. Malkin, however, did get a roughing minor when he took Hirsch to task for the hit.

Ship Without a Captain
Team USA and Washington Capitals captain Chris Clark was out of the lineup on Monday when the Americans faced the Canadians in the last game of the qualifying round. Clark suffered what was termed a “bruised leg” in Saturday’s 3-0 Team USA win over Team Germany.

Monday’s game with Team Canada was not important for Team USA in the sense that the team had already qualified for the medal round. But a win would have put Team USA atop the final standings in the rugged Group F pool heading into the quarterfinal round.

Canada defeated Team USA, 6-3.

“Chris Clark is being evaluated on a day-to-day basis,” said Team USA head coach Mike Sullivan immediately after the loss to Canada. “Our expectations are that we will have him for the next game. But having said that, he is a day-to-day evaluation. He seems to be improving, and our hope is that with each day that passes, he improves that much more.”

Team USA draws Team Finland in the quarterfinal round, a game that will be played at 8:15 p.m. in Moscow on Thursday. That gives Clark two more days with which to improve.

Goalie Factory
At last year’s World Championship tournament in Riga, Latvia, Swedish goaltender Johan Holmqvist helped his team to a gold medal and was named the tournament’s top goaltender for his efforts. Combined with a fine regular season performance in the Swedish Elite League during the 2005-06 season, the excellent tournament showing earned Holmqvist an NHL contract from the Tampa Bay Lightning on the very first day of free agency last summer.

The situation may be in the process of repeating itself with another Swedish goaltender.

Johan Backlund made 38 saves in Sunday night’s 1-0 Team Sweden win over archrival Team Finland, and he has been one of the top goaltenders in the tournament to date. Entering Monday’s tournament activity, Backstrom has a microscopic 0.33 goals against average and a 98.36% save pct. Both numbers are tops among all tournament netminders.

The 25-year-old Backlund was never drafted in the NHL Entry Draft, and will be free to sign with any NHL club interested in his services beginning on Jul. 1.

“I’m really happy [with Backlund]. We know we had good goaltending back home here, but Holmqvist and [the New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist] are of course one step more. The problem now is if he plays like this, he might be over there next year too. We’ll have another Swedish goalie over there. But I’m very happy with what he did. We have good belief in our goaltending. It’s nice to see the way he played. It showed us that he can really handle this pressure situation.”

Best in Show
Each of the first five players chosen in last June’s 2006 NHL Entry Draft is participating in the World Championship tournament this spring.

First overall choice Erik Johnson (St. Louis) is representing Team USA. He is a 19-year-old defenseman. Second selection Erik Staal (Pittsburgh) is an 18-year-old center playing for Team Canada. Third choice Jonathan Toews (Chicago) is a 19-year-old pivot who also skates for Team Canada. Fourth pick Nicklas Backstrom (Washington) is a 19-year-old center for Team Sweden. Fifth overall choice Phil Kessel (Boston) is a 19-year-old center with Team USA.

Nuggets – Carolina Hurricanes and Team USA forward Chad Larose was stoned by Carolina teammate and Team Canada goaltender Cam Ward on a breakaway late in the second period of Monday’s game … The starting goaltenders in the Team USA (John Grahame)-Team Canada (Cam Ward) game are Carolina Hurricanes teammates in the NHL … There was a very heavy St. Louis connection to all of Team USA’s scoring output in Monday’s game against Team Canada. Paul Stastny, who played youth hockey in the St. Louis area, scored two of the Americans’ goals. Blues winger Lee Stempniak scored the other. The Blues’ Erik Johnson picked up two assists in the game, and Blues forward David Backes also had an assist. The only point recorded by a Team USA player without a St. Louis connection in Monday’s game was a secondary assist from Edmonton defenseman Matt Greene on the final goal of the night.

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