Sweden comes out on top in men's hockey preliminary round
Canada advances to quarter-final
So much for injuries doing in Team Sweden.
The Swedes were the only team to earn all nine points available to them in the preliminary round. By virtue of their three wins in regulation time they receive a bye and have advanced straight through to the quarter-finals of the Olympic men’s hockey tournament.
Sweden will be joined by the United States, Canada and Finland while the other eight teams will play to try to make it to the quarter-finals.
Sweden entered the tournament without two of its best scorers, Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen, who were both injured, and has since lost Henrik Zetterberg. Veteran Daniel Alfredsson and Patrik Berglund led the Swedes with two goals and three points each.
Truthfully, there really weren’t many surprises in the preliminary round. It pretty much went as expected with the exception of Slovenia beating Slovakia 3-1.
The highlight of the preliminary round was T.J. Oshie of the United States taking six shots and scoring four times in a 3-2 win over Russia. Oshie’s heroics under pressure even captured the attention of the White House as President Barack Obama sent a tweet of congratulations.
President Obama tweeted: Congrats to T.J. Oshie and the US men’s hockey team on a huge win! Never stop believing in miracles #Go Team USA - bo
“When someone told me I didn’t really believe them, then someone actually showed it to me,” said a surprised Oshie. “For [Obama] to go out of his way from his busy life and take the time to congratulate my teammates and I is pretty special.”
Kessel leads in scoring
Team USA, trying to improve on its silver medal showing in 2010 in Vancouver, looked dominant in the first round crushing Slovakia 7-1 in its opening game, beating Russia 3-2 in a thrilling shootout – a game for the ages – Saturday and then coasting into the second round with an easy 5-1 win over Slovenia Sunday. The fact USA went to overtime and a shootout against the host Russians prevented it from getting the full nine points, but eight points was still enough to capture the A group title.
American Phil Kessel, who plays for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL, led the preliminary round in scoring with four goals and seven points. Michael Grabner, who toils with the New York Islanders, had five goals and six points.
Players on Team USA know things are just starting to heat up.
“These games are about to get better,” said alternate captain Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings.
Canada was 3-0 in the preliminary round needing overtime to hold off the pesky Finns in its third game.
Canadian magic still lacking
While the Canadians played decently in the first round, there are a few concerns moving forward. Coach Mike Babcock experimented with a number of different wingers for Sidney Crosby and none seemed to spark any magic. He played Game 3 with Patrice Bergeron and Jamie Benn.
If Chris Kunitz made the team because of the chemistry he has playing with Crosby in Pittsburgh, it seems a bit goofy to split them up in Sochi.
“As far as what we do, every guy knows what his role is so I think you just try to do those things,” Crosby said. “If the combinations work, then great. Sometimes it’s not always about your line; you’re looking to balance four lines.”
Canada certainly needs more production from the likes of John Tavares, Corey Perry and Rick Nash; none of whom have scored yet, as well as Ryan Getzlaf who has just one goal.
The good news is Canada’s defence has been quite productive. Drew Doughty scored four goals and Shae Weber two in the first three games.
Russia's big 3 need to produce
The Russians, who are under immense pressure to win the gold medal at home, looked rather pedestrian in the preliminary round winning 5-2 over Slovenia, losing to the United States in a shootout and then edging Slovakia 1-0 in a shootout.
“Of course we are not happy about this game,” said Team Russia captain Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings. “We wanted to win in regulation time, not go into shootouts and cause heart attacks.”
None of Russia’s big guns – Alexander Ovechkin, Engeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuk – produced any big games. Malkin had a goal and three points, Ovechkin a goal and two points and Kovalchuk just one goal in the three games.
Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaltetinov said he is even considering playing Ovechkin on defence in an effort to get him going.
“I will think about it,” Bilyaltetinov said. “There is no doubt that we want to score more goals because we have high-quality players who can play in different positions. We might look into a change or two, but there will not be any major changes.”