Cross Checks: 2014 Sochi Olympics
Anaheim's press release said Knight "is believed to be the first female skater [non-goalie] to practice with an NHL team." (Four-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser did receive two invites to Philadelphia Flyers' training camp in 1998 and 1999.)
More from espnW.com: Hilary Knight buzz »
Knight met with Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau and fellow U.S. Olympians Ryan Kesler and Cam Fowler before taking part in the team's practice, which included a little shootout duel:
Here is more from Knight's day on the NHL ice:
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Here is something you probably don’t know about Nicklas Backstrom.
When the Washington Capitals star center returned from the Sochi Olympic Games, having been denied a chance to participate in the gold-medal game between his native Sweden and Canada because of a testing issue involving an allergy medication he’d been taking for years, Backstrom gathered his teammates in the locker room so he could address them.
He stood in front of his peers, his friends, and told them exactly what happened that led to the shocking turn of events on the final day of the Olympic tournament. Then he went out and told the media the same thing.
He did so not because the Caps’ public relations staff told him to or that he was garnering support for his case, but because he felt it was the right thing to do, to clear the air, to dispel any lingering questions about what might have happened so many miles away.
“Yeah, it was a tough time,” Backstrom told ESPN.com last week. "But I think the best part for me when I got back over here again, it was kind of like a mess back home [in Sweden] in the newspapers, but not a lot here, so that helped me a lot to focus on the game here.
“And we started playing right away again, so that helped too."
Backstrom was actually at the main rink in Sochi starting to prepare for the gold-medal game, which was ultimately won by Canada 3-0, when Swedish team officials were told there had been a positive result from an earlier in-tournament test and Backstrom needed to appear before a tribunal.
Backstrom left the rink as the rest of his puzzled teammates were entering it.
In the end, despite precedents that allowed players who’d exceeded acceptable levels of pseudoephedrine due to an allergy medication to retest and play at the Olympics (Lubomir Visnovsky was one in Vancouver in 2010), Backstrom was denied a chance to play in the crucial contest.
The ban came even though the IOC changed its protocol for testing and reporting during the tournament and did not act on the results for four days after the test was conducted -- and in spite of the fact Backstrom noted the medication on Olympic forms. Backstrom has been playing internationally for Sweden since he was a teen and was aware of the testing process but was confident there would be no issues, given that Swedish team doctors gave Backstrom approval to continue his regular dosage of the allergy medication.
The IIHF opposed the decision to suspend Backstrom from the gold-medal game and the IOC’s handling of the matter stands as a possible stumbling block to the NHL's returning to the Olympics in 2018.
After the game, a shaken, emotional Backstrom met with the media in Sochi to explain what happened.
“Obviously you never want to see that happen to anyone,” he said. “But, ah, it happened, you have to live with it and you’ve got to move on.”
There's another thing you should know about Backstrom.
He did move on.
While other big names who had difficult Olympic tournaments -- including Capitals teammate and captain Alex Ovechkin and former Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin -- struggled to get over their disappointments on the world stage, Backstrom was a man on a mission.
He recorded three points in the Caps’ first game back after the Olympic break and had 23 points in his final 23 games as a late charge to the playoffs fell just short.
The final piece to the Sochi puzzle was finally put in place when he was presented with his overdue silver medal during a pregame ceremony at an exhibition game in his hometown of Gavle, Sweden, just before he returned to North America for the start of training camp.
His Swedish teammate Jakob Silfverberg was also on hand and received a nice bouquet of flowers, having received his medal after the gold-medal game months earlier.
“A little weird,” Backstrom acknowledged. “At least I got it.”
If Backstrom used the ill-fated Olympic finale to up his game in the last quarter of the NHL schedule, he is looking to grow even more this season. The Capitals are beginning a new chapter after missing the playoffs last season and undergoing drastic upheaval at the management and coaching levels as a result.
Longtime general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates and the rest of the coaching staff are gone. In their place: rookie GM but longtime Cap executive Brian MacLellan and head coach Barry Trotz, who comes over from Nashville with a new coaching staff and a brand new philosophy.
Trotz, who had been the only head coach in Nashville history, has never coached a team as offensively gifted as this Caps team and has never had a top center as talented as Backstrom. And the vibe around the team is markedly different.
“Yeah, I can feel it too,” Backstrom said. “You can feel it, everyone thinks so, I think. I think it is a fundamental change and I think it’s good.
“I think we’ve brought in great people. I think they’re going to bring a lot of experience to his team.”
Backstrom, meanwhile, is not yet 27 but understands the responsibilities that fall to him as a member of the maturing core of the Capitals' roster to be a role model. To that end, he is looking to refine his game amid the changes in the organization.
“I think personally I can help the team better if I play better defensively, to make sure I take better responsibility in that area,” Backstrom said.
Given the maturity he has shown in the past year, it wouldn’t be a shock if he accomplishes just that.
BURNSIDE: Greetings, my friend. Can you believe that it's been more than a month since the Olympic hockey tournament began? We wondered how that break would effect NHL teams and, as we head into the final month of the regular season, it's obvious in at least a couple of cases where teams really took advantage of the break -- and the fact they did not have a lot of players participating in the Olympics -- to jump-start their stretch run. I know you think the San Jose Sharks, a team you have spent a lot of time covering in the playoffs (there's actually a bronze statue of you and mascot S.J. Sharkie in front of the SAP Center), really took advantage of having Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton and Logan Couture, just coming off injury, rest up during the break. As of Friday morning, the Sharks are 6-1-1 since the break ended and have won four in a row to pull into a tie with Anaheim atop the Pacific Division, no small achievement given the Ducks' big lead at one point and the importance of finishing first and avoiding the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs.
LEBRUN: I'd like to move to San Jose in retirement, a little secret I'll share with you. But, yes, the Sharks have been on fire since the break, using time off perfectly as Logan Couture and Raffi Torres were able to have extra time before coming back from injuries. But I think the older guys, such as Thornton and Boyle, really benefited. It brings me back to a comment NHLPA boss Donald Fehr told me during a chat we had in Sochi during the Olympics. I was asking him why or how such a majority of players seem to favor Olympic participation, even though such a small minority of the membership actually gets to play in them. He had a few responses to that but one of them, which I had never thought of, is that many of the veteran players around the league say they appreciate the Olympic break, the actual time off, to rest their bones and bumps and bruises. In non-Olympic years, they just don't have that opportunity, the All-Star break not really counting as much time off. So, certainly, I'd say with the Sharks sending only four players to Sochi -- as much as the team took a hit to its pride, given how many talented players the Sharks have -- I'd San Jose has greatly benefited from having so many key players rest up.
BURNSIDE: One of the teams that's been interesting for me to watch coming out of the break is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Have you heard of them? After starting the post-Olympic break 0-1-2, the Leafs have won four of five, including a monster come-from-behind win Thursday night in Los Angeles that halted the Kings' eight-game winning streak. Indeed the Kings, as we speak, have the best post-break record in the league at 7-1. But what's fascinating for me about the Leafs is that they didn't have much in the way of Olympic representation but the guys who've been the catalyst to their strong push into second place in the Atlantic Division have been U.S. Olympians Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk. You and I talked on our podcast this week about the fact Kessel might well have worked his way into Hart Trophy discussion (behind Sidney Crosby, of course). The thing is both van Riemsdyk and Kessel, who played on the same line in Sochi and of course play on the same line in Toronto, weren't very good as the Americans were shut out in their final two games in Sochi. Do you think Kessel, who was pointedly criticized for not delivering in the clutch in Russia, has used that as motivation to ensure the Leafs are playoff-bound? Or is that reading too much into it?
LEBRUN: I think that's reading too much into it. Fact is, the Kessel we're seeing now is the same one who was producing on a nightly basis for Toronto before the Olympics, which is why he's garnered Hart Trophy talk (although, as you say, Crosby will definitely win in a landslide; and I hope Ryan Getzlaf gets on the ballot as well). Toronto's big performances on the road trip in California have them, as of Friday, three points ahead of both Montreal and Tampa in the Atlantic Division. Speaking of post-Olympic performances, the Habs are only 3-4-0 since the break and you can certainly point to the absence of franchise netminder Carey Price as the biggest reason. Price, named the Olympics' top netminder after a stellar performance in leading Canada to gold, was secretly nicked up in Sochi and hasn't been able to get into the Montreal net since returning, although it sounds as though he will finally be back soon. That Habs team needs a healthy Carey Price to have any chance over the next month or two.
BURNSIDE: Fair point on Kessel. It's been interesting to look at some of the Russian players and their performance after the break, given their spectacular flame-out in the quarterfinals against Finland. Evgeni Malkin has a five-game point streak as of Friday but the former scoring champ and playoff MVP has just one goal since the break and he has talked candidly about the disappointment of the Olympic tournament. The NHL's top goal scorer, Alex Ovechkin, had three goals in his first two games after the Olympics -- where he scored just once, in Russia's first game -- but has just one goal in his last six games for the slumping Caps. Olympic hangover? You tell me, my friend. On the other side of the coin, the guy who has impressed me mightily has been Semyon Varlamov, who was lifted in that quarterfinal loss to Finland in favor of Sergei Bobrovsky. Lots of consternation from Avalanche fans about Varlamov's mental state post-Olympics and yet he has been dynamic as the Avs have overtaken the Chicago Blackhawks and now sit in second place in the Central Division. The Avalanche are 6-2 since the break and Varlamov has collected five of those wins and might be the favorite now, along with Tuukka Rask of Boston, to win the Vezina Trophy. Are you surprised?
LEBRUN: Just can't be surprised anymore by anything Colorado does. The Avs are for real. Period. You mentioned Rask, and it’s interesting to note how some of the Finns have played since their emotional bronze-medal win in Sochi. Rask has been sensational in Boston, Mikael Granlund has continued his terrific play in Minnesota and gold ol' graybeard Kimmo Timonen might be playing his best hockey of the season in Philadelphia since returning home with a bronze. But what remains to be seen, because this is still very much a small sampled size of 7-8 games played per NHL team since the break, is whether there's a fatigue factor with some of the players used often in Sochi. That usually wouldn't show itself until a few weeks from now and I'm thinking in particular of all the Team Canada and Team USA guys on both Chicago and St. Louis. The Blues had contemplated sitting out some of their Olympians after Sochi but the players in question convinced the coaching staff they were fine to play. We'll see whether that was a wise decision or not in a few weeks.
Have a great weekend, pal, enjoy the best time of the season here with the stretch drive.
Ugh, can we go best of three?
Not even going to pretend I watched that as an unbiased observer -- rather, I was shamelessly rooting for the U.S. -- but boy did the Americans get outplayed by Canada in Friday's 1-0 shutout.
Entering the semifinal with a tournament-leading 20 goals, the U.S. team's blistering offense was absolutely stymied by a brilliant performance from Canada's defensive corps. The U.S. just couldn't get to the front of the net and had so few second chances that Canadian goaltender Carey Price didn't look very taxed as he turned away all 31 shots faced.
What a disappointing day for USA hockey, especially after some great performances earlier this tournament. Despite an incredible performance from U.S. netminder Jonathan Quick, the Americans' meager offensive attack and inability to a sustain the forecheck will leave them competing for bronze Saturday.
Absolutely no question that Canada dominated the game Friday. I'll let my Canadian colleagues praise the resplendent play of their countrymen while I sulk in bitter disappointment the rest of the day.
Gold Medal Game: Sweden-Canada, Sunday at 7 a.m. ET
- Sweden and Canada played for the gold medal in 1994 with the Swedes coming out on top.
- The two countries last faced each other in the Olympics in 2002. Sweden won.
- Canada has not won back-to-back gold medals since 1948 and 1952.
- Sweden won gold in 2006 and 1994.
- Henrik Lundqvist has played every minute of the tournament, posting a .951 save percentage.
- Carey Price has a .963 save percentage.
- Erik Karlsson has four goals and four assists for the Swedes.
- Drew Doughty leads Canada with four goals and two assists.
Bronze Medal Game: Finland-United States, Saturday at 10 a.m. ET
- Finland and the U.S. last met in 2010 with the Americans winning 6-1.
- The United States is 2-1-0 against Finland in the NHL era of the Olympics.
- Finland has won bronze in three of the past five Olympics.
- The Americans have not played in the bronze medal game since losing in 1992. They won their only bronze medal in 1936.
- Phil Kessel leads the U.S. with five goals and three assists in the tournament.
- The Finns had the worst penalty kill at the Olympics (6-for-10).
- Mikael Granlund leads Finland with three goals and one assist.
- The United States leads the tournament with 20 goals in four games, which is on pace for the most by a U.S. team since 2002.
- Fourteen of the 20 goals scored by the United States have been from in front of goal, most of any team.
- Canada has scored 13 goals in the tournament; seven have been scored by defensemen Drew Doughty and Shea Weber.
The United States came into the tournament with many questions about their goal-scoring abilities but has quieted the critics. With players such as Bobby Ryan and Jason Pominville not on the squad, scoring has not been a problem, as the United States has scored 20 goals in four games to lead all teams in the tournament. The five goals per game is on pace for more than any other NHL-based Olympic team in United States history.
The United States has focused on getting to the net to score goals in the tournament. Fourteen of the 20 goals scored have been in front of the net, leading the tournament.
Defensemen leading Canada attack
Canada has 13 goals in the tournament through four games, which is tied for fourth-most. Of the 13 goals, seven have come from defensemen which leads the tournament.
Most goals by defensemen:
Canada -- 7 (All by Doughty and Weber)
Sweden -- 4
Finland -- 3
United States -- 3
Canada scoring stick side
Both Doughty and Weber have had success scoring stick side on goaltenders, with a combined five goals between the two defensemen. The Canadian team has scored seven goals to the stick side, 54 percent of their total goals.
Two teams last met at the Olympics in 1998
The Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia have won 5 straight at the Olympics vs. Team USA
Team USA last beat Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia at the Olympics in 1980
3-3 in past 6 quarterfinals games, won in 2010, have not won back-to-back quarterfinals in past 6
2/8 on the power play, 8/9 on the penalty-kill
Jonathan Quick .944 save percentage
Phil Kessel (4G, 3A), led preliminary round in points
Finished 7th in 2 of past 3 Olympics, won bronze in 2006
4/17 on the power plan, 8/10 on the penalty-kill
Ondrej Pavelec .923 save percentage
Tomas Plekanec (1G, 3A), Marek Zidlicky (2G, 2A)
The St. Louis Blues' captain and his wife started the charity Athletes for Animals back home, and with hundreds of stray dogs roaming the Olympic areas in Sochi, he and some of the other athletes competing here are exploring the complicated adoption process of taking a few of those dogs back to North America.
"They kind of were portrayed a little bit as rabid animals that were dangerous," Backes said after the U.S.' practice Tuesday. "I don't know if anyone's seen that out of those animals. I think you've seen a lot of friendly, smart street dogs that have perhaps have had a tough life and had to find ways to get food and shelter and water and all that good stuff.
"For us to be able to give them a chance for a forever home and kind of live in that lap of luxury that a lot of dogs in North America have, if we can do that for a few of them and give them that little reprieve, it's a great opportunity for those dogs."
It would also go a long way to helping educate people globally about North Americans treat their animals.
"And maybe that's contagious as well," he said.
Backes and some of his U.S. teammates have heard from other athletes, not necessarily just those competing for the U.S.
"[W]e've kind of been able to network with some of the other wives and families, even if they're wearing different colors ... we've got some of the wives from Slovenia and Canada and all the different teams," Backes said. "That said, if there's anything we can help to get some of these dogs home, financially, put our voice out there, whatever, they're willing to do that.
"I think that's going to continue when we get back to the States to continue the messaging and continue to educate people on companion animals and all the things that go into ownership responsibilities and adoption and all that other good stuff."
It might be blasphemous to say on the NHL page, but hockey at the Olympics is better in so many ways than it is in the NHL. Seven ways I'm backing that up:
1. The shootout: Let's start with the most contentious issue. NHL GMs complain that they don't like games to be settled by the coin flip that is a glorified skills competition. Reminder: The idea of the game is to entertain the fans with displays of amazing skills and talent. Sure, it's a profession for the players -- but it's a pastime for the fans. And what could be more entertaining than the skilled and talented T.J. Oshie taking shootout shot after shot, with the game and pride on the line while an aggressive home crowd razzed his every move? It was called a Hollywood ending for a reason -- it was entertaining. Highlights of that game were shown far and wide in the U.S., quieting the complaint that only fights or gruesome injuries in the NHL rise to the level of viral video. If that game ends in overtime, we're not talking nearly as much about that game and Oshie doesn't incite such an intense Twitterverse spike. Plus, has a fan ever really walked out during a shootout? If you're an NHL owner trying to sell the game, why would you take away something that makes your business attractive to the people who buy your product?
2. National rivalries: These are not manufactured, like, say, a Florida Panthers-Carolina Hurricanes rivalry that has to be stoked with countless intraconference games that force the players to feel the hate because they've seen each other's ugly mugs so many times. Russia-Slovakia comes with so much cultural baggage; it's about history, it's about oppression, it's about freedom, it's about civil rights. It's bigger than anything the NHL could fabricate, bigger than anything in sports. Plus, players are greatly restricted against changing teams/countries, further entrenching loyalty by fans.
3. Every game is meaningful: Even during the preliminary round, the tension in close games is unbearable. Yes, every game of the tournament is a Game 7. I love Game 7s, but the same all-or-nothing tension does not come in Games 1-6. You have to pay your dues to get to Game 7. But not at the Olympics, and the consequences are that much more extreme. Screw up with a giveaway at the blue line and your country just might go from upstart underdog to downtrodden elimination; score the winner and your name will be remembered forever by your country's citizens.
4. So many good stories: This is self-serving because journalists cheer for stories, not teams (well, North American journalists don't cheer for teams), and the Olympics is full of them. In addition to the national rivalries and the stories they generate (not to mention the weird decisions made by coaches and GMs driven by politics and not talent), dating back to Jim Craig, anyone can come from nowhere be a hero at the Olympics. Oshie, the Team USA savior against Russia, was known in the NHL as a skilled, up-and-coming player, but few knew he was capable of executing one of the greatest stone-cold-steady performances in recent memory. Today, more people know the name T.J. Oshie because of the Olympics than they ever would had from the NHL, even more than if he had scored a big goal in the Stanley Cup finals.
5. Money doesn't rule: Well, at least not on the ice (IOC notwithstanding). Players are playing for the love of their country. They don't get paid. They stay in glorified dorms. They eat in cafeterias. There is no salary cap, there are no holdouts, there is no pressure to give a player ice time just because he's got an enormous contract, there aren't too many games on the schedule because the owners are trying to squeeze every dollar out of the fans. There is very little outside noise; it's about the game.
6. Bigger ice: Because greed doesn't rule, the games at the Olympics (outside of North America) are played on the bigger ice, the way it should be. The 200-by-85-foot surface was fine for when the average size of the players in the NHL was 6-foot and under, but those days are long gone. More space (Olympics ice is 200 by 100) means more creativity, more scoring chances, more emphasis on strategy, less boring play such as digging in the corners or fighting for the puck along the boards or dumping-and-chasing. This is especially evident during overtime, which is 4-on-4.
7. No fighting: Really, it's 2014 -- are we still defending fighting? You could argue it has a place as a release valve -- especially over the course of the long-haul, tight-quarters season in the NHL. But as we wind our way from thrilling Olympic game to thrilling Olympic game, does anyone miss fighting? Did any of the millions who sat on the edge of their seats for the USA-Russia game wonder, “Boy, this game could use a dash of Colton Orr”? And conversely, is anyone talking about the increased stickwork, the dirty play, the headhunting that supposedly results from not having the built-in accountability fighting is said to provide?
The games at the Olympics aren't perfect (the refereeing is wildly inconsistent, for instance), but the NHL has a lot to learn from the Olympics model when it comes to worldwide growth of this great game.
7. Czech Republic
- Sweden plays winner of Slovenia-Austria
- USA plays winner of Czech Republic-Slovakia
- Canada plays winner of Switzerland-Latvia
- Finland plays winner of Russia-Norway
- Winner of Sweden/Slovenia-Austria vs. winner of Finland/Russia-Norway
- Winner of USA/Czech Republic-Slovakia vs. winner of Canada/Switzerland-Latvia
SOCHI, Russia -- It didn't matter the country or the venue -- the T.J. Oshie shootout spectacle was the talk of the hockey world, if not the entire Olympics.
Oshie's stunning performance in the Americans' 3-2 shootout win against host Russia on Saturday, when he scored on four of six shootout attempts, saw his Twitter followers explode from 90,000 to 167,000. He also did an interview with Al Michaels ("Do you believe in miracles?!").
Oshie's performance also brought back memories for Team Canada center Jonathan Toews.
The Chicago Blackhawks captain once upon a time scored three shootout goals for Canada in a World Junior Championships against the United States in a semifinal game in Sweden.
"Yeah, he put on a show. That was pretty cool to watch him" Toews told reporters after Team Canada's morning skate Sunday. "Not only scoring four out of six and probably could have gone six for six had he gotten a bounce on the two that he missed. But just watching him with a smile on his face and how relaxed he looked, I think he was almost 100-percent sure every time that he was going to score.
"Pretty amazing with that pressure to send that same guy out six times in a row. Even if the guy's automatic, it takes a lot of confidence from the coaches to put a guy like that over the boards that many times. He's a great kid and a pretty cool moment in his career, I'm sure."
Some of the Canadian players attended a curling match Saturday and then watched the U.S.-Russia game from the lounge in the athletes' village. Watching the tension-filled game made Toews and his teammates wonder how they would react should the same circumstances present themselves at some point in the tournament.
"It's scary to think about, but who knows? I'll be ready for whatever," Toews said. "I know I've had a lot of confidence in the shootouts this year and in the past as well, so if I'm called upon, you just got to go down there thinking -- find any way you can to score. If we happen to find ourselves in that situation, I think a lot of guys would be ready for that chance.
"I think for us to watch that, we know we might have to go something like that pretty soon so we've got to be ready for
that challenge, ready for that excitement. You can't win a gold medal without going through a few nail-biters like that, so we've got to be ready for it. That's what it's all about."
So, just how deep is Toews' bag of tricks if he does get pressed into shootout duty? The two-time Stanley Cup winner and member of Canada's gold-medal team four years ago wasn't tipping his hand.
"I can't comment on that now," he said. "You'll have to wait and find out I guess."
Oshie was one of a handful of players, including Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks, who fought for the final forward spots on Team USA leading up to the Olympics.
ESPN.com's Scott Burnside was embedded with GM David Poile and the other American decision makers throughout the selection process, and his report from inside contains a prophetic statement from Poile:
As he has throughout, (Blackhawks GM Stan) Bowman speaks on behalf of his player, Saad.
"I think he's a more versatile player than Oshie," Bowman says.
"I think he's got more to his game than Oshie. He's like a young version of [Marian] Hossa. He's such a strong guy. He's just hard to handle. He's smart. He's a guy the coaches would love," the Chicago GM says.
Poile, meanwhile, knows Oshie and likes his personality.
"Oshie's got that shootout move," he adds.
Burnside also reported that the Team USA coaching staff wanted Oshie, in part for his versatility and chemistry with David Backes, as well as his shootout skills.
It appears they put their faith in the right player.
SOCHI, Russia -- Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks and Dan Hamhuis of the Vancouver Canucks will sit out Friday night when Team Canada faces Austria, replaced in the lineup by Matt Duchene of the Colorado Avalanche and P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens.
Duchene and Subban sat out Thursday's 3-1 opening win by Canada against Norway.
Sharp skated on a line with Jonathan Toews and Rick Nash. Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis began Thursday's game as the 13th forward, but ended up playing 10:47 minutes, moving his way up the lineup and staying in it instead of Sharp for Friday's game.
The Swedes looked good in building a 4-0 lead, but give credit to the Czechs, who didn’t lie down, scoring twice in the second period to make the game close. They even started the third period on the power play but couldn’t get any closer.
For me, the story of the night is the ongoing weirdness from the Czech national team. After leaving Radim Vrbata and Jiri Hudler off the roster, coach Alois Hadamczik decided not to start Winnipeg Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec. Worse, the Jets netminder didn’t even dress. What’s up with that?
LeBrun: Has an Olympic coach ever been fired during the tournament? Because Hadamczik would certainly be a candidate. It’s absolutely ridiculous that Hudler and Vrbata aren’t on this team, not to mention Roman Polak. Then Pavelec in street clothes for the opener Wednesday night? That sure worked out well. Jakub Kovar was pulled after allowing Sweden’s third goal, and he looked like he didn’t belong at this level, allowing a couple of softies. Alexander Salak, also a KHL player, promptly allowed a goal on the first shot he faced, but he did shut the door after that.
Still, on an aging roster with holes in it, the decisions around this Czech team are nothing short of puzzling. The word on the street in regard to Pavelec is that it was payback for him declining an invite to the world championship two years ago when the same coach was behind the Czech bench. Geez Louise.
I asked the Czech coach why he didn't dress Pavelec, and he said (through a translator) that he wanted to give Pavelec some extra time off after traveling from North America. He also said he didn't think goaltending was an issue in Wednesday's game.
Burnside: But that’s part of the fun of the Olympics, no? There’s often some backstory and politicking that factors into some of the European national team decisions, which sets this apart from the average NHL team.
As for the Swedes, they looked pretty darn impressive in building their early lead, especially Erik Karlsson, who had two goals and jumped into the play, oh, pretty much every shift. A lot of people were wondering about the Swedes and their health having lost Johan Franzen and Henrik Sedin before the start of the tournament and having a number of guys, including captain Henrik Zetterberg, coming off injury. But they looked very much like a gold-medal contender as they moved the puck smartly and, for much of the first half of the game, were a step or two quicker than the Czechs.
LeBrun: The Swedes looked terrific on that power play with Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson playing the points, although you wonder what Oliver Ekman-Larsson has to do to get entry to that unit. It kind of surprises me he’s not the other point guy, no offense to Alfredsson.
To be honest, Scotty, I think the Swedes didn’t look very good once they were up 4-0. They really took their foot off the gas and frankly were fortunate Pavelec didn’t start this game because I’m thinking he stops two, if not three, of those goals.
Burnside: Agreed on the Swedes’ power play. As this tournament moves along, teams are going to have to be wary about taking penalties against the Tre Kronor.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the outcome of the other game played Wednesday night in Sochi. A gritty Latvian team coached by Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan hung in to the very end before dropping a 1-0 decision to Switzerland, which scored with 7.9 seconds left in regulation to earn the victory. I thought the Swiss were going to be a much-improved team from four years ago when they took Canada to a shootout in the preliminary round before losing to the U.S. in the quarterfinals, but the Latvians gave them all they could handle.
LeBrun: I wouldn’t be down on the Swiss just yet. First of all, they won the game, so no damage done. They were silver medalists at May’s IIHF World Championship in Sweden, so it’s a program that continues to evolve and grow. I would not take the Swiss lightly whatsoever. It’s just another example of how difficult it is to win this tournament as more teams have widened the pool of legitimate contenders. No better example than Slovakia getting to the semifinals four years ago in Vancouver or Belarus upsetting Sweden in Salt Lake City. The international game over the past 15 years has grown tremendously. There are eight or nine teams now that can create havoc.
Anyway, until tomorrow my friend, when Canada and the U.S. kick off their tournaments, as well as host Russia!