The new hockey season started a few weeks early for the nine Washington Capitals competing in the World Cup of Hockey 2016.

Spread across five of the eight teams competing for the title in Toronto, the Capitals boasted the third highest amount of participating players, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (12) and Chicago Blackhawks (10). Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz was also in Toronto, in an Assistant Coach role to Mike Babcock’s Canadian team.

Washington Capitals in WCH 2016
Canada: Braden Holtby
Europe: Philipp Grubauer
Russia: Evgeny Kuznetsov, Alex Ovechkin & Dmitry Orlov
Sweden: Nicklas Backstrom
USA: John Carlson, Matt Niskanen & T.J. Oshie

After a week of warm up games commencing on 8 September, the tournament began on 17 September with Europe upsetting the USA 3-0, despite being out-shot 35-17, and Canada easily accounting for Czech Republic 6-0 in a game where they fired off a staggering 50 shots. In the USA’s loss, Matt Niskanen was lively up front, firing off four shots on goal, however along with his American teammates weren’t able to breach the defense of a super impressive Jaroslav Halak.

The second day of games saw a handful of Caps in action, most notably in Sweden’s hard-fought 2-1 win over Russia. Nicklas Backstrom picked up an assist on Gabriel Landeskog’s second period powerplay goal which put Sweden ahead, and Alex Ovechkin scored from long range with 33 seconds remaining in the game to bring Russia within one. Dmitry Orlov also looked threatening at times, however couldn’t find his way onto the scoresheet. In the other game, in which no Capitals featured, North America cruised to a comfortable 4-1 win over Finland.

The third day saw Europe beat the Czech Republic 3-2, as Philipp Grubauer watched another solid performance from Jaroslav Halak, while Russia scored four unanswered goals in the second period to overcome a plucky North American outfit. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the Russian’s third goal after skating the length of the ice before producing a classy finish, and Alex Ovechkin picked up his second point of the tourney, teaming up with Pavel Datsyuk as Vladimir Tarasenko put the Russians ahead 4-1.

Day four started with Finland falling to Sweden 2-0, with Nicklas Backstrom seeing plenty of ice time again without featuring in either goal. The second game saw the USA and Canada battle in what was the most eagerly anticipated game of the tourney. The USA scored first however four unanswered goals gave the Canadians control as they went on to win 4-2, clinching a semi final berth. T.J. Oshie scored his first goal of the tourney late in the third period after a mad scramble in front of the net ended with the puck slipping across the goal line. Impossible to tell whose stick it came off, Oshie was the one credited with the goal.

The fifth day of action saw North America win their second game, overcoming Sweden 4-3 in overtime. Nicklas Backstrom was creative up front, picking up his second and third points of the tourney, assisting in Filip Forsberg’s goal which made the score 2-1 to North America, and scoring himself late in the first period to make it 3-2. Backstrom’s light-lamper came courtesy of a somewhat fortuitous deflection off Morgan Rielly’s skate. The second game saw Canada win Group A with a perfect 3-0 record, as they cruised past Europe 4-1.

The final day of round-robin matches saw Russia beat Finland 3-0 in a game much closer than the scoreline suggested. Alex Ovechkin picked up his second assist of the tourney, setting up Vladimir Tarasenko 3:42 into the second period to give the Russians the lead. Dmitry Orlov also impressed yet again and earned third star of the game honors for his efforts. The final game of the round-robin stage saw the USA and Czech Republic battle it out for pride as each team searched for their first win of the tourney. Despite out-shooting their less-heralded opponents 39-27, the USA weren’t able to make the dominance count as the Czech’s fired four goals past Ben Bishop on the way to a 4-3 win. Matt Niskanen was again lively up front, firing off four solid shots on goal despite being unable to find his name on the scoresheet.

The first semi final proved to be a stellar viewing experience for hockey fans as Canada and Russia played some scintillating, fast-paced hockey. It was the Canadians though who advanced, scoring three third period goals to walk away 5-3 winners. Alex Ovechkin was quiet up front for the Russians, however Dmitry Orlov again created numerous chances – despite being unable to finish. Evgeny Kuznetsov scored for the second time of the tourney, with a slick finish batting in the puck from mid-air.

The second semi final saw the highly fancied Swedish team fall in an overtime thriller to Europe, 3-2. Nicklas Backstrom continued his impressive tourney, scoring the game’s opening goal, pouncing on a rebound at the doorstep to put the Swedes ahead. Despite being unable to get his team home, Backstrom continued to lurk dangerously throughout the game and fired off a number of further shots on goal – enough to earn him second star honors.

The best-of-three finals series between Canada and Europe commences on Tuesday, with Game 2 and 3 on Thursday and Saturday (if required).

Photo by Gregory Shamus/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Image