Olympic Hockey 2014: Biggest Takeaways from Day 3 of Men's Tournament
Day three of the 2014 Winter Olympics men's ice hockey tournament is in the books, and we're still without a major upset. The Canadians took care of business and opened the offensive floodgates against an unsuspecting Austrian team, while Finland downed Norway in convincing fashion.
Sweden also won their contest, but the victory was severely overshadowed by the news that Henrik Zetterberg would be forced to miss the remainder of the Olympic Games. That single injury changes the landscape of the tournament, as the Swedes—believed to be a medal contender prior to the start of the tournament—are suddenly thin at center.
Rounding out the action today were the Czech Republic and Latvia. After a disappointing effort against Sweden in their first game, the Czechs got into the win column by dusting the Latvians.
Through these four contests, here's what we've learned.
NHL Cold Streaks Don't Carry over to Olympic Play
Martin Erat has now scored the same number of goals for the Czech Republic as he has for the Washington Capitals this season. That magic number is one, by the way. The disgruntled winger is hardly the first player to leave his NHL cold streak at the airport terminal in Sochi though.
Dustin Brown has been downright anemic for the Los Angeles Kings over the last few months as the team has had a tremendous amount of trouble scoring. He found the back of the net during America's whitewash of Slovakia, helping the team to a 7-1 victory.
Another player that has suddenly found his scoring touch in these Winter Games is Patrik Berglund. He's struggled for the St. Louis Blues this season and hasn't scored since Jan. 9 in the NHL, but he has one goal through two games for Sweden in Sochi. Add Jeff Carter to the list, too.
He's in the midst of an eight-game scoring drought with the Kings, but buried three for Canada against Austria.
Sweden in Trouble After Losing Henrik Zetternerg
Henrik Zetterberg has been forced to pull out of the Olympics for Sweden according to various sources, including Greg Beacham of The Associated Press, and that leaves a massive hole for the team at center.
They were already without Henrik Sedin, who didn't make the trip to Sochi in the first place. Without these two pivots, Patrik Berglund becomes the squad's No. 1 center. Suddenly Sweden's Gold medal aspirations appear to be in danger.
After convincingly beating the Czech Republic in their first game of the preliminary tournament, the Swedes appeared somewhat lost without Zetterberg while facing Switzerland, but were able to secure a 1-0 victory because of Henrik Lundqvist.
Can Sweden recover and find a way to win without any center depth whatsoever? Moving forward, this will be the main question for the team.
Mike Babcock Is a Master Motivator
Since last summer, pundits and fans have been wondering who would play where for Team Canada. On a squad where the reigning Art Ross trophy winner has spent time as a 13th forward and the defending Norris Trophy winner sits out a game as a scratch, the possible line combinations seem endless.
Depth can be both a luxury and a curse.
It's been Mike Babcock's job to figure out how to get the most out of his group of All-Stars, and so far he's done a masterful job reading a group of players that he's not all that familiar with. Against Austria, for example, he took Carter off of Sidney Crosby's line and played him on the fourth unit instead.
Carter responded by scoring three goals in the second period and dominating down low. It could be argued that the Detroit Red Wings bench boss is utilizing the same tactic with P.K. Subban. The defender didn't play against Norway and he didn't play all that much against Austria.
It's speculation on our part, but don't be surprised if Subban is suddenly a top-six guy once the medal rounds arrive. He'll be fired up to prove that Babcock made a mistake in benching him, and Canada will be all the better for it.
Finland's Goal Differential Will Be Fine
Finland managed to scored eight goals in their first contest against Austria. That was the good news. The bad news was that they gave up four, thus hurting their all-important goal differential. To make matters worse, the chippy Finnish squad suddenly had questions on their blue line and in goal.
Netminding was supposed to be a strength for the Finns. No other nation had a better set of three goalies in Sochi. Then Tuukka Rask coughed up four goals to the Austrians? It didn't quite add up.
The team ironed out those defensive issues without losing the scoring touch against Norway, and put together a strong 6-1 victory. That salvaged Finland's goal differential, which could be important in a Group B that also features Canada.
Offense from Defense Is All the Rage
The one thing that all the top teams in this tournament seem to have in common is that they're attacking from the blue line. In the NHL, the focus is almost always on the center of the ice. In Sochi, it seems that offense is flowing from the defenders.
It isn't their job to just get the puck to the forwards through the neutral zone or down low. The more talented guys are activating constantly, pushing into the slot whenever the opportunity is there. Canada and Sweden in particular have been able to adapt their offenses to the way European coaches tend to handle defense.
With all five defensive players collapsing into a compact space trying to control the center of the ice, low-to-high movements have been incredibly hard to track and prevent. That's why offense seems to be flowing from guys like Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty.
They're always offensively aware, but they're being utilized as quaterbacks during five-on-five play and it's been a blast to watch.