As one of his country’s top forwards, David Krejci can impact an Olympic elimination rivalry bout by accentuating the Czech Republic’s physical energy. Fellow Boston Bruins player Zdeno Chara can offset that potential discrepancy by leading Slovakia in a charge to build on a burst of psychological "oomph."
When the geographic neighbors tangle in one of Tuesday’s playoff qualifiers, Krejci’s club will do so three days removed from their previous game. Chara will have barely had a 48-hour interval between the conclusion of his greatest sweat so far in Sochi and Tuesday’s opening draw.
Krejci is third among Czech forwards with 54 minutes and 17 seconds on his transcript through three Olympic contests. That trend, along with his skill set as a primal playmaker, points to him seeing his share of shifts against his NHL teammate.
Chara, Slovakia’s captain, is second only to Andrej Sekera for the team lead with 69:46 of cumulative ice time so far in the Olympics. But his efficiency is elevating and, in accordance, his team’s hopes ought to be as well.
The fact that they fell short in the subsequent shootout is beyond moot now. The towering two-way blueliner partook in 27 minutes and 39 seconds whilst helping his club to its lone round-robin point and, perhaps more importantly, a confidence booster at the eleventh hour.
In the Olympics, peaking at the preliminary-to-playoff threshold can amount to peaking at the right time. Chara can stamp the notion that his squad is doing just that by posing the same frustrating fortress Tuesday as he did Sunday.
As Chase Hughes of CSN Washington observed after the Slovakia-Russia contest, evaluating the host country’s presumptive electrifier, “Alex Ovechkin led Russia with seven shots on goal in the team’s loss to U.S.A. on Saturday, but was stifled for only two shots through the first two periods against Zdeno Chara and Slovakia.”
That hindrance was doubtlessly a key to the Slovaks restoring their self-assurance and perhaps instilling a little self-doubt to the opposing strike force. If they are to rerun that act and set a tone on Tuesday, they will need to victimize Krejci, among others, to the same effect.
The other Bruin in this match, however, can impact the complexion of the contest by using his blades and the extra ice to eschew the boards and Chara’s shadow. When his shifts overlap with Chara’s, Krejci and his linemates can foster a multifold benefit in the attacking zone by establishing a feet-moving, puck-moving rhythm without fail.
First, they can puncture and drain Slovakia’s laboring defensive catalyst in sustained even-strength attacks, complete with quality passes and shots. Second, they can embolden their advantage by luring any Slovak skater into penalty trouble.
As small as the sample size may be, the Slovaks boast one of the best penalty-killing brigades so far, having warded off 10 of 11 opposing power-play attacks. Chara has committed only one minor infraction in the tournament and it happened when he still mustered that 27:39 versus Russia.
One can argue that Team Slovakia bent, but did not break, when Chara’s infraction started a succession of unanswered shorthanded segments. His penalty carried over from Sunday’s second period to the third and the closing 20-minute stanza saw the Russians reap another three straight power plays.
Special teams can tighten their sway when an elimination game arrives. In turn, Krejci can lend himself and his team a tournament breakthrough if they force their opponents to hold forth with a penalty kill-weary Chara or without a box-bound Chara.
Of course, the same notion has as much chance to come to fruition at the Czechs’ expense. One of their housekeeping priorities should be keeping the puck away from a potent point patroller and discipline will help to fulfill that priority.
By flustering the Czech Republic’s prime suspects Tuesday much the same way they did Sunday to Russia, Chara and his allies can transform this matchup into a basis of residual momentum.
While the Slovaks kept their last round-robin opponent scoreless through regulation, Krejci and company are coming off a bitter 1-0 blanking via Switzerland. If they do not muster encouraging, let alone productive chances on Tuesday, they could spill their discipline on multiple fronts. That can come in the form of penalties or turnovers that precipitate swift counterattacks.
If that happens, the odds of facing Chara’s offensive flair, either at even strength or on special teams, will swell. And as vital as it is for their captain to perform in his day job, Slovakia cannot ask for a much better lift than a denting offensive-zone cycle involving the Bruins behemoth.
Naturally, there is a score of other individuals on each bench that will vie to ensure their own invaluable contribution. But even with three other Spoked-B employees on teams with a quarterfinal bye, New England puckheads will most likely not have another Bruin-on-Bruin bout quite like Tuesday’s for the balance of the 2014 Olympics.
It is a natural geographic feud dividing a top-line pivot and top-rung defenseman, each of whom may have yet to flaunt their best in the tournament. Even if neither emerges as the single top performer of the day, whoever outshines his NHL colleague stands a solid chance of finishing on the happier side of the handshake line.