Despite the Loss of Henrik Zetterberg, Sweden Can Still Win Hockey Gold

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Despite the Loss of Henrik Zetterberg, Sweden Can Still Win Hockey Gold
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Henrik Zetterberg is done. Sweden is not.

The Swedes showed as much Friday in their 1-0 victory against Switzerland, using defense, goaltending and a third-period goal by Daniel Alfredsson to win without their captain, who will miss the remainder of the men's tournament at the 2014 Sochi Olympics with a herniated disc.

Unlike in the NHL, an injured player can't be replaced once the Olympics have begun. That leaves Sweden with 24 players for the rest of tournament.

It's the latest blow to Sweden's roster, which had already lost the services of Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen before the tournament began.

Sweden's Forward Lines Without Henrik Zetterberg
Left Wing Center Right Wing
Daniel Sedin Nicklas Backstrom Loui Eriksson
Gabriel Landeskog Patrik Berglund Alexander Steen
Gustav Nyquist Marcus Johansson Daniel Alfredsson
Carl Hagelin Marcus Kruger Jakub Silfverberg/Jimmie Ericsson

IIHF.com

The Swedes are without two of their top three centers but they can still win gold because they have the best defensive corps/goaltending combination of any team at Sochi.

Another thing the Swedes have going for them is they have already clinched Group C. It guarantees them a spot in the quarterfinals and depending how the relegation round shakes out, they will likely face an inferior opponent for a trip to the semifinals.

The Swedes will play Latvia on Saturday, allowing them another game to fine-tune things and adjust to life without Zetterberg.

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

The true strength of Sweden is in net. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been on top of his game since January and has carried that play into the Olympics. He has stopped 53 of 55 shots and was at his best against Switzerland when the margin for error was nonexistent.

Lundqvist won gold for Sweden in 2006 and is capable of doing it again. He won't have Nicklas Lidstrom patrolling the ice like he did in Turin, but he has a mobile, physical and complete defensive corps in front of him that rivals anything Sweden has had in the past.

Erik Karlsson, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Niklas Kronwall, Johnny Oduya, Jonathan Ericsson and Henrik Tallinder are a formidable top-six, although Tallinder is clearly the weak link of the group. The good news for Sweden is Alexander Edler will be back against Latvia now that he has finished serving a suspension for a hit in last year's World Championships.

Karlsson is an effortless skater and offensive machine who has two goals in two games. Kronwall can deliver bone-crushing hits and learned at the feet of Lidstrom while they were teammates with the Detroit Red Wings. Ekman-Larsson could be a Norris finalist this season and Oduya is an underrated two-way player who won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks last season.

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The Swedes are depleted on offense, but they are still good enough to win 2-1 or 3-2 games against elite teams like Canada, Russia and the United States.

And it's not as though the Swedes are lacking offensive talent with Zetterberg out. They still have Nicklas Backstrom, Daniel Sedin, Loui Eriksson, Gabriel Landeskog and Alfredsson up front. That's more than enough weaponry if Lundqvist and the defense are firing on all cylinders.

The Swedes are the not the threat they were 10 days ago, but they are still plenty good enough to win gold.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

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