TORONTO – What some pegged as a misguided, bound-for-failure experiment looks anything but so far.
Team Europe took a major step toward punching its ticket to the semifinal round of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey on Monday when it defeated the Czech Republic 3-2, in overtime, to improve to 2-0 in round-robin games.
The success may come as a surprise to many, but not to Team Europe itself.
"Well, for us, it isn't," Thomas Vanek said before the game. "Are we as fast as the North American Team? No, we're not, we know that. But we have a lot of veterans on this team that know how to play the game who have played in big situations. Again, from that standpoint, we weren't as surprised as other people were."
Vanek assisted on a Zdeno Chara goal in the first period to give Europe a 1-0 lead, and Leon Draisaitl scored the game-winning goal in overtime on a breakaway.
"We're staying in the moment, we've certainly realized that we have a pretty special thing going here," Anze Kopitar said. "We enjoy the moment, but tomorrow we're going to start getting ready for the next game."
Minnesota Wild forward Nino Niederreiter skated 10:23. He was a plus-one, with a shot on goal and two hits. Again, his line with Draisaitl and Reider controlled play at even strength: Niederreiter was on the ice for 12 shot attempts for, and two against. That he played 8:02 at even strength and was only on for two Czech shot attempts against is a telling sign.
Key Moment: On Draisaitl's stick, Team Europe all but advanced to the semifinal round of World Cup play when he ended the first overtime game of the tournament on a breakaway goal.
A Czech Republic turnover ended up on the stick of Mats Zuccarello, who found Draisaitl leaking out through center ice. His stretch pass, on the tape, caught the Oilers forward in stride, and Draisaitl did the rest.
If the United States does not defeat Canada on Tuesday, Europe would clinch a spot in the knockout round.
The Skinny: With Europe on the heels of clinching a spot in the semifinal round, one aspect it will likely need to improve should it continue to be successful in this tournament is its power play.
Europe went 0-for-6 on Monday after opening the tournament going scoreless on four power plays against the United States. On Monday, that included 1:04 of a 5-on-3 early in the third period.
"We just have to move a little bit more," Kopitar said. "We're too static, and yeah we're getting shots, but a lot of those shots are coming from the outside."
Team Europe racked up 19 shots on those six power plays Monday, some of them forcing Petr Mrazek into making quality saves.
It's not impossible to win getting nothing from your power play, and in a short tournament, one failing isn't necessarily grounds for elimination.
In what was a tight game at five-on-five against the Czech Republic, Europe had a chance to give itself some breathing room with its power play, but was unable to convert.
Europe head coach Ralph Kruger said the power play isn't a concern, and the high volume of shots it has produced is a more telling sign that it not scoring.
What he also said though is that, against a team the likes of Canada, Europe's next and final opponent of the round-robin stage, it will needs its power play to click and convert.
"We're going to move some pieces around," Krueger said. "We have one right-handed stick out of 10 guys playing on the PP, so we have to get used to that and find ways with all the left-handers to create some better second chances.
"We don't have enough net pressure to create some chaos in that area, which we'd like to get better at."
Niederreiter got time on Europe's second power-play unit, playing 2:21, positioned atop the crease, the same spot he occupies for the Wild.