<
>

Sweden picks apart Czech goaltending

Erik Karlsson and Sweden took an early lead then cruised to victory. AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Burnside: Well, my friend, we finally got to see Olympic puck action Wednesday night in Sochi after several days of practice. The Czechs and the Swedes didn’t fail to deliver the goods in what was an entertaining tilt ultimately won by Sweden 4-2.

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!