Sweden-Finland: Olympic Hockey Preview

Matthew Hogan@MattNHLHoganAnalyst IFebruary 20, 2010

TURIN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 26: Teemu Selanne #8 of Finland in action during the final of the men's ice hockey match between Finland and Sweden during Day 16 of the Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 26, 2006 at the Palasport Olimpico in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Today’s pre-article Olympic observation will focus on my new second favorite sport: curling.

John Shuster has missed more game-clinching shots for the U.S. men’s team—which was 0-4 heading into Saturday afternoon’s game against Sweden—than the number of women Tiger Woods has had affairs with.

Having said that, you really do have to feel bad for Tiger. He had the world a silver platter, had an amazing family, was considered the best golfer of all-time, and had enough money to buy his own continent—but come on, is that really enough?

Okay folks, it’s hockey time.

Tomorrow’s hockey game between Sweden and Finland presents fans with one of the best matchups of the Olympics.

The defending gold medalists, Sweden, have done what they needed to so far. While they haven’t looked great, they’re still 2-0.

Finland, on the other hand, has looked fantastic to this point. A balanced offensive attack combined with a defense that is really clicking right now has the Finns off to a 2-0 start—outscoring opponents 10-1 in the process.

The game will come down to a few different factors, all of which I’m sure you can guess: offense, defense, goaltending, and the power play.

Surprisingly, Henrik Zetterberg has been kept off of the score sheet through the first two games. The Sedins looked very disappointing in the first game, but really came on the second game, and will only be better against Finland.

But right now I’d say the offensive edge goes to Finland. Mikko and Saku Koivu have looked great to this point and the Finns are getting production from all four of their lines. Not to mention Teemu Selanne is officially the Olympics all-time leading scorer—the 39-year-old looks like he hasn’t lost a step.

Defensively, it is the Swedes who have a better core, on paper at least. Led by future hall-of-famer Niklas Lidstrom, the Swedish blue line has a healthy balance of hard-hitting defense and quick-moving offense.

But again, the Finnish defense has been stellar and has the edge over the Swedish defense to this point. Joni Pitkanen and veteran leader Kimmo Timonen have looked fantastic, and have gone above and beyond for their country—their hard-nosed efforts will only continue against Sweden.

This game is defined by a goaltending match-up that will be hard to best. Henrik Lundqvist has been one of the most consistent goaltenders in the NHL over the course of the last four seasons. And don’t forget he has already led Sweden to the goal medal once. Lundqvist’s 2.26 GAA and .925 save percentage put him among the league-leaders in both categories.

Right behind Lundqvist with a .924 save percentage and an identical 2.26 GAA is Finland’s Mikka Kiprusoff. The two goalies could not be more evenly matched.

However, in this category, the edge has to go to Sweden. While both goalies have been incredible so far, Lundqvist’s Olympic experience absolutely gives him the edge.

All of the previously mentioned factors will be important in tomorrow’s match-up, but in order for the Swedes to prevail they will have to stop the Finnish power play which has been inexorable to this point.

Finland is 6-for-13 on the power play thus far and they toasted Germany for four power-play goals on Friday night. The Finnish power play has been very simple: Get the puck to the point and get the shots through to the net.

While the Swedes boast a number of penalty-killers who can potentially stop the Finns’ threat, there is no doubt that the game may come down to who can be more effective while Finland has the man-advantage.

The United States—Canada game has stolen a lot of the spotlight for tomorrow, but do not miss the rematch of the 2006 gold medal game between Sweden and Finland—it has the potential to be the best game of the whole tournament.