James O'Brien

I am a contributing editor/writer/troublemaker for NBC's Pro Hockey Talk blog.

Sick surprise: Lundqvist isn’t playing for Sweden

Well, this was unexpected: Henrik Lundqvist is not in Sweden’s lineup for their World Cup of Hockey opener against Russia on Sunday.

Team representatives announced that the all-world goaltender is dealing with an illness, according to multiple reporters including Dan Rosen of NHL.com.

Jacob Markstrom is getting the start for Sweden with Jhonas Enroth serving as a backup.

For all the starting goalie debates we’ve seen in this still-young tournament, it’s safe to say that the drop-off is steepest between Sweden’s top and other choices.

Russia’s firepower would have been a test even for Lundqvist. Now Sweden really needs to pull together, especially if Lundqvist needs to miss multiple games.

Sunday’s slate of World Cup of Hockey games


After seeing two prominent teams in Canada and the United States debut on Saturday, today’s duo of games is a pretty resounding collection of skill.

(It’s rarely a laborious day when you get to watch Alex Ovechkin vs. Erik Karlsson, for instance.)

Let’s take a look at Sunday’s two games as the 2016 World Cup of Hockey continues to get in gear.

Team Sweden vs. Team Russia

Airing on: ESPN 2, Sportsnet, TVA Sports at 3 p.m. ET

Can Russia end its recent run of struggles during best-on-best international tournaments? Beating a strong contender in Sweden would be a heck of a way to at least begin answering in the affirmative. Sweden has plenty of chemistry and balance while Russia boasts enviable top-end firepower, so it could make for a rather intriguing clash.

Team North America vs. Team Finland

Airing on: ESPN 2, Sportsnet, TVA Sports at 8 p.m. ET

Hockey’s favorite science experiment – Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel and other wunderkinds on the same team – really starts to roll out this evening. How well will this group of under-23 North Americans convert sublime skill into games against teams that are more familiar with each other? This one should be fun, too.

Rinne edges Rask to get Finland’s first World Cup start


For better or worse, many World Cup teams seem to lean toward experience when it comes to picking their goalies.

The latest example seemingly comes with Finland picking Pekka Rinne over Tuukka Rask to face North America in their tournament opener, the rough equivalent to giving him the No. 1 job.

That word comes from multiple reporters, including LNH.com’s Arpon Basu.

With each goalie making massive and nearly identical amounts of money, it’s a little tougher to tell what the determining factor might be. Neither generated the greatest work in preliminary games, though Rinne does have Finland’s lone exhibition win.

Rask’s career save percentage (.924) is comfortably superior to that of Rinne (.917), but Rinne has a bit more NHL experience and is four years older.

It’s a decision that comes with some criticism, but the bottom line is that the towering Nashville Predators goalie draws the start.

If Rask wants to feel any better, he may only need to think about the dazzling group of young skaters who will attempt to beat Rinne tonight.

Tortorella: USA vs. Canada is ‘our championship game’


After Saturday’s humbling 3-0 loss to Europe, Team USA head coach John Tortorella was (dare we say it) remarkably understated.

He admitted that the U.S. is now “chasing it” in the World Cup of Hockey and was borderline boring in cautioning against panic.

Thankfully, he brought the drama this afternoon, though. In his mind, Tuesday’s game against Canada is America’s “championship game,” according to reporters including the AP’s Stephen Whyno.

“This is either you’re afraid of it or it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Tortorella said, via NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

Tortorella is far from the only Team USA member to acknowledge the importance of Tuesday’s looming test against Canada. “Must-win” seems to be the phrase of the moment for quite a few players.

“There’s always pressure, but it’s a must-win for us,” Derek Stepan said, according to NHL.com. “Maybe it’s a good thing we got our backs against the wall and got a little adversity. We have to up our level and up our game.”

While it’s dangerous to assume that practice lines equal game-time decisions, it’s worth noting that Dustin Byfuglien and Kyle Palmieri were in the mix for the U.S. during Sunday’s practice.

Torts is the first to admit that the World Cup is the sprint to the NHL regular season’s marathon. There isn’t much time to ramp up America’s pace, so why not throw a little hype around?

Rickard Rakell undergoes surgery, out at least two weeks

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Rickard Rakell‘s participation in the World Cup of Hockey was cut short after he was hospitalized; now it comes down to finding out if he’ll be ready once the Anaheim Ducks’ season begins.

The Ducks provided an update on his condition today: he underwent surgery to remove scar tissue from an appendectomy. He’ll need to miss two weeks before he can resume training.

Such a timetable doesn’t guarantee that the promising young forward will miss the start of the regular season. Anaheim begins its 2016-17 campaign with a five-game road trip that kicks off in Dallas against the Stars on Oct. 13.

That’s a decent amount of time for Rakell to recover, yet there’s always the possibility that he’ll face setbacks.

If it helps anyone deal with the less-than-ideal news, at least it’s tough to pin this too much on the World Cup of Hockey.