The 2014 men’s hockey tournament has certainly been eventful, from Switzerland unexpectedly challenging Sweden to the United States (and T.J. Oshie) finally trumping Russia in one of the lengthiest shootouts in recent memory. Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Martin Erat, John Carlson, and Alex Ovechkin each saw their share of playing time–some more than others.
Team Sweden recently took on Team Switzerland, which was never pegged as a particularly strong unit (before the Olympics actually started, at least.) Surprisingly enough, the Swiss narrowly lost to the Swedes (one of the strongest teams competing at Sochi) in a Valentine’s Day showdown. Next, they defeated the Czechs, another traditional hockey powerhouse.
With that being said, let’s focus on Sweden, whose roster has been decimated by injuries to its supremely talented forwards. With Henrik Zetterberg potentially out for the remainder of the 2013-14 season, the Swedes will have to turn to other players for a powerful dynamic on and off the ice.
Fear not–during Saturday’s matchup with a weaker Latvian team, the Swedes saw their five goals come from five different players: Patrik Berglund, Erik Karlsson, Daniel Alfredsson, Jimmie Ericsson, and Alexander Edler. You’ll notice that neither Backstrom nor Johansson, who saw some ice time in light of Zetterberg’s injury) was able to light the lamp. However, each Cap tallied an assist in the victory, which guaranteed a trip to the quarterfinals.
Few have viewed the Czech Republic as a serious contender for the gold–or a medal at all, especially in light of some questionable snubs. While the Czechs haven’t played exceptionally well, they proved that they can still be a force.
A solid 4-2 win over Latvia was the Czech team’s penultimate game of the preliminary round, and one in which Erat–lo and behold–scored a goal. Jaromir Jagr followed suit, as did Jakub Voracek and Marek Zidlicky. Overall, they played good, not great, and this trend would continue into their next game versus Team Switzerland.
The Czech Republic failed to score, even after peppering Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller with 26 saves. Czech goalie Ondrej Pavelec coincidentally faced the same number but allowed one, which would be just enough for the Swiss team to secure a 1-0 win.
A win and an overtime loss mean that Russia has four points and currently trails the United States by one in Group A standings. After falling to the Americans in an epic shootout duel, the Russians are aiming to finish strong with a win over Slovakia. Though they were crushed by the Americans, the Slovaks have been consistently dubbed the dark horse of these Olympics. That’s not to say Russia’s star-studded lineup could still manhandle Slovakia, but the game could go either way.
After an incredibly strong start in Russia’s first win, Ovechkin has cooled off–but not by his own choice. Though he recorded seven shots, the Americans’ strong defense prohibited him from becoming the serious scoring threat he is. Whether the Slovaks are able to do the same remains to be seen.
Carlson is the only Capital on Team USA, but he was essentially benched after a poor performance resulting in a game-tying goal against Team Russia. However, his play didn’t reflect that of his teammates. Jonathan Quick in particular had a remarkably strong showing, stopping 29 of the 31 shots he faced–and that’s not even factoring in the legendary shootout starring T.J. Oshie of the St. Louis Blues.
Bear in mind that the shootout format is different in the Olympics; if the shootout has gone to three rounds without a winner, then each coach may send out any player, including one that’s already had his turn.
Oshie kicked off the shootout by scoring on Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped James van Riemsdyk and Joe Pavelski. Quick denied Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk, but Ilya Kovalchuk tied the shootout. Thus began the Oshie saga, in which Dan Bylsma sent the center out another five times. Oshie and the rest of Team USA eventually prevailed but couldn’t celebrate for too long–they face their final opponent, Slovenia, on Sunday.