Though Day 2 of the WJHC was jam-packed with action, 3 Leafs prospects saw a well-deserved break after yesterday’s success. Martin Dzierkals and the Latvians took to the ice against Russia, and though the 9-1 loss was brutal, there were a few positive takeaways from the game.
I personally thought Dzierkals played a better game today than yesterday, and not just because of his beautiful primary assist on Latvia’s only goal. Dzierkals was one of the only Latvian forwards who was able to properly lead a breakout, and often times by himself, while his teammates struggled to keep up. Despite this, there are a definitely a few things that I would like to see Dzierkals improve upon as he develops.
LATVIA VS. RUSSIA
Here are the highlights from today’s game:
— IIHF WJC (@iihf_wjc) December 28, 2016
The first thing I would like to draw your attention to is Dzierkals’ assist on Latvia’s goal (starting at 2:16 in the highlight reel). Dzierkals carries the puck through the neutral zone, as well as the offensive zone, dancing around 2 Russian players and passing it off to a teammate with impeccable timing. His offensive skill was certainly what struck me the most in this game, as his puck-handling and puck-carrying abilities are some of his best qualities. Dzierkals had four shots in the game, and certainly helped contribute to Latvia’s (ultimately unsuccessful) offensive push.
Dzierkals will most definitely need to improve on his defensive game, though. Latvia got destroyed by Russia in their own zone, and I can’t say Dzierkals’ defensive game was even slightly impressive. On several occasions, Dzierkals (and most of his teammates) chased the Russians through their own defensive zone, often losing one-on-one battles and giving away the puck. The Latvian offense is significantly better than it’s defense, and that was prevalent in today’s game.
Dzierkals also saw time on both the Latvian power play and penalty kill. Though Latvia’s special teams aren’t spectacular, Dzierkals had a few good shifts on the power play. His ability to generate shots and control the puck helped produce a few chances on the man advantage. Dzierkals also had 17:57 of ice time, which was good enough for third amongst Latvian forwards.
DAY 3 PREVIEW
Both Sweden and the USA will hit the ice tomorrow, as Jeremy Bracco, Joseph Woll and Carl Grundstrom are all back in action. Sweden will face off against Switzerland tomorrow at 5:00 EST; the Swiss are coming off a huge 4-3 win against the Czech Republic from earlier this afternoon. At 7:30 EST, the USA will take to the ice against Slovakia, a team who lost a fairly brutal game against Canada earlier today. Slovakia struggled to generate any offense against Canada, as the Canadians outshot the Slovaks 44-6 in the game.
Day 3 will hopefully bring a few pleasant surprises for Leafs prospects. Grundstrom looked fantastic in his first game for Sweden, and Bracco has proven to be a valuable asset for team USA, just one game into the tournament. Dzierkals and the Latvian offense have been completely shut down by two powerhouse teams in their only games so far, and as such, I’m excited to see Dzierkals play in a game where he will have a little bit more room to play with the puck. Latvia will face Slovakia on Friday, and that should be a fairly telling game in terms of Dzierkals’ offensive production, as well as his defensive capabilities.