As preparations for the World Cup of Hockey 2016 hit high gear leading up to the start of the tournament on Sept. 17 in Toronto, NHL.com looks at how the teams stand. Seven writers who will cover the two-week event at Air Canada Centre were asked to rank the teams from 1-8 in various categories. Today, we look at which team has the best penalty-killing unit.
Canada had the best penalty-killing unit during the past two Olympics, one of many reasons it won the gold medal in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi four years later.
That dominance on the penalty kill will continue for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey 2016, according to a poll of NHL.com writers.
Canada received six of the seven first-place votes and defeated second-place Team Sweden by 11 points.
"Canada went 15-for-16 (93.75 percent) in six games in Sochi and 17-for-19 (89.47 percent) in seven games in Vancouver," NHL.com senior writer Dan Rosen said. "With Mike Babcock (Toronto Maple Leafs) back as coach, Canada should be intent on recreating that (penalty-killing) dominance.
"It has the tools with [penalty-kill] specialists like Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin of the Los Angeles Kings, Shea Weber of the Montreal Canadiens, and Alex Pietrangelo of the St. Louis Blues. Doughty (seventh), Pietrangelo (11th) and Weber (19th) were in the top 20 among defensemen in shorthanded time on ice last season."
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That certainly is a recipe for success, especially in a tournament that features so many top-end offensive players. Team Canada's ability to limit goals-against in all situations, particularly when down a man, will be a key to its sustained success. It should be fine after losing Carter to a lower-body injury; he was replaced on the roster by Anaheim Ducks forward Corey Perry on Sept. 2.
Can any other World Cup team challenge Team Canada for penalty-kill dominance?
Team Sweden finished second in the poll and has a host of two-way forwards, along with stout defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Team USA finished one point behind Team Sweden and could factor into the conversation with a strong showing in Toronto.
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NHL.com deputy managing editor Brian Compton said he believes Team Europe could boast a top-notch penalty kill.
"Team Europe, with a collection of European-born players from countries other than Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic, has a ton of speed and some sensational two-way players," Compton said. "Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles Kings), who won the Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL last season, will be a key to their success. Plus, Team Europe can employ Zdeno Chara (Boston Bruins), fourth in shorthanded time on ice last season, to keep the front of the net clear during man-down situations."
TEAM CANADA - 55 points (6 first-place votes)
TEAM SWEDEN - 44 points
TEAM USA - 43 points
TEAM EUROPE - 38 points (1 first-place vote)
TEAM FINLAND - 25 points
TEAM RUSSIA - 19 points
TEAM CZECH REPUBLIC - 14 points
TEAM NORTH AMERICA - 14 points