Olympic Hockey 2014: Biggest Takeaways from Day 1 of Men's Tournament
And on the fifth day of the 2014 Winter Olympics, we were given hockey—some outstanding hockey, at that. The men's tournament opened with a double header that featured the Czech Republic taking on Sweden, while Latvia gave Switzerland everything it could handle in a thrilling goaltending duel.
For the rest of the round-robin style preliminary round, there will be four games a day, but for day one of the tourney there were only two.
Both were outstanding contests that reminded fans and pundits just how high of a level the best players in the world can perform at when they hit a sheet of ice together. There were a handful of things to take away from the first day of competition.
Here are a few pieces of fat to chew on before day two.
Jaromir Jagr Can Still Ball
The Czech Republic made some extremely questionable roster choices before heading to Sochi. They left several of their top forwards at home and decided to scratch their only NHL-caliber netminder for the first game of the Olympics (more on that later).
They didn't err in bringing Jaromir Jagr along, however.
He saw top-six minutes as the Czech Republic battled the Swedes, and he was one of the top players involved in the contest. His one-handed goal from the right side of the cage was vintage Jagr, and he was the spark of the Czech's attack, trying to will them to victory with his effort.
On a team where there are several notable young players who are supposed to be doing some heavy lifting on offense, it was fun to watch Jagr dropping the shoulder while driving to the net like it was 1998 all over again.
Switzerland Might Be Too Conservative on Offense
Jonas Hiller is Switzerland's bread and better. He'll be asked to stand on his head throughout the tournament if the scrappy underdog team wants to have a chance to prevail over any one of the superpowers.
The Swiss weren't supposed to struggle with Latvia though.
It's clear what Switzerland's game plan was: play conservative in the neutral and offensive zones, and turtle at the first sign of Latvia setting up shop or gathering speed on the rush.
That's a fine strategy when you can secure a lead, but the Swiss really didn't push the pace offensively after the first period. No one is going to confuse their lineup with that of Canada, but there's too much firepower in place for the Swiss to play conservative against Latvia.
They were cowering when they should have been running and gunning.
A last-second goal prevented what could have been an interesting overtime period, and the Swiss escaped with three points. They need to find a way to up the pressure when they have the puck, especially against better teams.
Don't Take a Penalty Against Sweden
There's been a lot of hoopla surrounding Russia's top power-play unit in this tournament, but there hasn't been a whole lot of chatter surrounding Sweden's group. That is likely to change after their showing against the Czech Republic.
While they only cashed in on one opportunity, Sweden was incredibly dangerous through more than six minutes of power-play time. You don't see the umbrella formation rolled out very often in the NHL, but the Swedes ran it beautifully while on the extra man.
Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Daniel Alfredsson had a field day with the extra width of the international ice, swapping places and confusing the Czech penalty killers before going bombs-away on the net.
This isn't a team that the opposition should be giving too many chances to. They have too many weapons that are comfortable with the extra time and space that the large ice provides, and the guys running the points all have rockets for shots.
Czechs Cost Themselves a Game with Goalie Gaffe
The Czech Republic seemingly got their goaltending order backwards before taking on Sweden. It was assumed that Ondrej Pavelec would be the undisputed No. 1 starter for the team as he's the only starting NHL goalie on the roster, but he watched this contest from the stands.
Alexander Salak was the backup in this setup as well, while KHL netminder Jakub Kovar got the start. He's apparently been red-hot lately, but he seemed shell-shocked when facing the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Karlsson on the rush.
His GAA following the game was an unsightly 8.63, while Salak filled in admirably after taking over in goal. Since the backup performed so well, one can't help but wonder if the Czechs would have come out on top with steady goaltending throughout the contest.
Sweden in Good Hands with Henrik Lundqvist
Henrik Lundqvist detractors won't have much to say following today's contest between Sweden and the Czech Republic.
While "King Henrik" has been shaky at times for the New York Rangers this season and bashing him has become a popular pastime for some fans, the netminder kept Sweden alive in this game through the second and third periods.
The Swedes seemed to get complacent after the first intermission, and the Czechs hemmed them into the defensive zone on several occasions. The only thing standing between the Czech Republic and a tie hockey game was Lundqvist, who made several spectacular saves to preserve the two-goal lead.
He stopped 27 of 29 and seemed comfortable in the crease while under pressure—a great sign for Sweden moving forward.
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