U.S., Sweden look best in opening games of Olympic men's hockey tournament
No surprises in opening games
No surprises. No upsets.
Following two days of men’s hockey action, the tournament is unfolding exactly as expected. The teams favoured to win their opening games did exactly that.
That included Team Canada which pulled off a rather underwhelming 3-1 victory over Norway Thursday.
“It was a good effort,” said Team Canada centre Patrice Bergeron, who had two assists, “but we can improve on it.”
The tournament kicked off Wednesday when Sweden, considered a gold medal threat despite injuries to key forwards Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen, doubled up the Czech Republic 4-2 and Switzerland edged Latvia 1-0.
Worth noting in Sweden’s win is the fact that Daniel Sedin registered an assist. Why is that noteworthy? Well, regardless of the fact he leads the Vancouver Canucks in scoring with 40 points (actually he’s tied for first with Henrik), he has not registered a point in his past nine NHL games. He hasn’t scored in 19 games; 20 if you count the Olympic opener.
Henrik Lundqvist steady in Swedish goal
The Czechs, who will rely heavily on 41-year-old Jaromir Jagr (he turns 42 Saturday), actually out-shot the Swedes 29-25, but Henrik Lundqvist was sharp for Sweden. He was particularly solid in the third period when the Czechs out-shot the Swedes 15-5.
The Swiss, who are coached by Canadian and former Ottawa 67’s star Sean Simpson, dominated Latvia, out-shooting the losers 39-21. Simon Moser, who has played three games with the Nashville Predators this season, scored for Switzerland.
When action resumed Thursday, the host Russians scored two third period goals to blow open an otherwise tight game that saw them take a 2-0 first period lead only to be out-scored 2-1 by Slovenia in the middle frame. While the usual suspects – Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin each scored for the Russians, it was lesser-known Valeri Nichushkin and Anton Belov connecting in the third to give them the win. Malkin added a pair of assists for a three-point game.
“The opponent was always challenging our performance on offence and defence, but we gathered ourselves in the second period,” said Russian coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov. “There were plenty of things that we have to fix because we haven’t played right, although the third period showed how we should play.”
Not surprisingly, Russia out-shot Slovenia 35-14 including 18-4 in the opening period. Ziga Jeglic, who has just two goals in 32 games with Assat Pori of the Finnish League, scored both Slovenia goals. His two second period tallies actually made it 2-2, but the Russians dominated the rest of the way. The team’s only NHL player, Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings, had an assist.
Kessel, van Riemsdyk continue to roll
Team USA began its march back toward the gold medal game with an impressive 7-1 win over Slovakia. Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who had a goal and two points in six games at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, kicked things off in high gear scoring a goal and adding two assists to lead the Americans. His Maple Leafs linemate, James van Riemsdyk, made his Olympic debut registering two assists.
The Americans used their speed and creativity to completely stymie the Slovaks, out-shooting them 33-23. Even though Ryan Miller took the United States to the gold medal game in Vancouver and was that tournament’s MVP, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings got the start and made 22 saves.
“It was our first Olympic game and I certainly liked how we played,” said Team USA coach Dan Bylsma. “The thing I liked most was how we responded after they scored their goal to tie the game in the second period. We came back with six unanswered goals which ties the record for most USA goals in a period.”
Teemu Selanne injured
Finland had an explosive start to the tourney out-shooting Austria 52-20 in an 8-4 victory. That was the good news. The bad news is captain Teemu Selanne left the game with an upper body injury. He should be okay to face Norway Friday. Having goalie Tuukka Rask allow four goals against the unheralded Austrians is a concern for the Finns moving forward.
Canada looked sluggish in the opening period, managing to only out-shoot Norway 9-8. The Canadians did get stronger as the game progressed, but there is plenty of room for improvement in Friday’s Game 2 against Austria.
One positive is the fact Canada got two goals from its defence, namely Shea Weber and Drew Doughty.
“We need that from our defencemen,” Doughty said. “We obviously need to play great defence, but at the same time we need to jump in and try to help the forwards out, get some goals.”