Any day with hockey is a good one. Today must be a great one, because we have a total of 10 games on tap.
Like we’ve been doing since the Olympic Games began, we start our day in South Korea with the two games that are completing group play in the men’s tournament. Canada is taking on the host South Korea at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time, which is the same time Sweden and Finland will be squaring off.
Back on the continent the writers of this website call home, the greatest hockey league in the world has scheduled seven games to complete its weekend. The action starts at noon when Philadelphia visits the New York Rangers (NBC/TVAS), followed three hours later by Edmonton at Colorado. Starting at 5 p.m. with New Jersey at Carolina, games start dropping the puck at the top of each hour. Pittsburgh at Columbus starts at 6 p.m., followed by Toronto at Detroit (SN) at 7 p.m. and a pair of tilts (Dallas at San Jose and Florida at Winnipeg) closing out the day at 8 p.m. All times Eastern.
Finally, we return our attention to PyeongChang for the first of two women’s semifinals. Dropping the puck at 11:10 p.m. Eastern time, Team USA will have a rematch against Finland with a berth into the Gold Medal Game on the line.
I say it most days, but what a slate of games. Here’s the games that really stick out to me:
- Canada vs. South Korea: It’d be the upset of the century if the hosts could beat the top-ranked team in the world.
- Sweden vs. Finland: Who’s going to win Group C? This game will answer exactly that question.
- Philadelphia at New York: Broad Street vs. Broadway is yet another storied chapter in the bitter rivalry between these two cities.
- New Jersey at Carolina: G Eddie Lack is making his first return to PNC Arena today, but he probably won’t see any action after beating the Lightning 4-3 yesterday in Tampa Bay.
- Pittsburgh at Columbus: Ohio does not like Pittsburgh sports teams, and that animosity will be on full display in this tilt.
- Toronto at Detroit: Speaking of rivalries, this is one of the most storied in the NHL.
- USA vs. Finland: Both teams are ensured the opportunity to play for a medal, but gold and silver taste a lot better than bronze.
Let me say it again: how about today’s slate of games? There should be some exemplary action today all around the world.
While it would seem to make sense to feature the women’s semifinal, that game just doesn’t excite me all that much – probably a sign of an American’s potential over-confidence in his women’s team. However, the Sweden vs. Finland match could prove to be very important in either team’s quest for its respective third or first gold medal. Let’s hone in on that one.
To put this entire preview in one sentence, this game is going to be an intense war between Finland’s offense and Sweden’s defense. In their first two games, the Finns have averaged five goals per game (the best at the Olympics), while the Swedes are the last team remaining that haven’t yet yielded a goal against.
Before we start with Leijonat‘s – or the Lions’ – offense, I do need to admit one thing: all of these stats were collected before the Czech Republic and Switzerland squared off in Group A. Any statistics comparing Finland or Sweden could be slightly different based on the occurrences in that game.
What makes Finland’s offense so potent is the fact that it is so unpredictable. Through only two games played, a dozen different Finns have found the scorecard, including seven different goal scorers.
Of all of those skaters, none have been more impressive than F Eeli Tolvanen, the Predators’ first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. At only 18-years-old, he’s dominated from his spot on the Lions’ second line, posting 3-3-6 totals.
In addition to Tolvanen, four other skaters are averaging at least a point per game, including D Sami Lepisto (2-2-4 totals), F Petri Kontiola (0-4-4), F Joonas Kemppainen (1-1-2) and F Sakari Manninen (1-1-2), a group that includes three players with NHL experience.
However, don’t make the mistake of focusing so hard on Finland’s offense that you neglect its defense, as the Finns along the blue line have also played solidly. Allowing only an average of 23 shots against, Leijonat‘s defense ranks third-best in the Olympics. As such, G Mikko Koskinen has needed to do little work to post his .935 save percentage, good enough for a 1.5 GAA. Of note, of the three goals Koskinen has allowed, two were while his defense was shorthanded.
However, every defense and goaltender are looking up at Team Sweden, as the Tre Kronor have posted back-to-back shutouts to open their 2018 Olympic Tournament.
Similar to Finland’s defensive success, much of Sweden’s winning ways can be attributed to an excellent combination of stellar play by the defensemen as well as solid play in net. Behind a defense that has allowed a second-best 22.5 shots against per game, G Jhonas Enroth and G Viktor Fasth have both been able to post clean sheets. Of the two, Enroth has easily been more impressive, as his shutout required 28 saves as compared to Fasth’s 17 shots faced.
Unfortunately, the Three Crowns have not found quite the success on the offensive end, as their 2.5 goals per game is good enough for only (t)sixth-best in PyeongChang.
Though it hasn’t been as quite a dynamic attack as Finland’s, Sweden has employed a similarly unpredictable offensive strategy, as 11 different skaters have registered a point in the Swedes’ first two games. Of those, none have been more exciting than third-liners F Linus Omark (0-3-3 totals) and F Dennis Everberg (1-1-2), as they are both averaging at least a point per game.
Of course, 2.5 goals is more than the zero Sweden allows, so it would seem a safe assumption that Head Coach Rikard Gronborg hasn’t had too much to complain about so far. However, Finland is definitely a far superior team to Germany and Norway – the remaining two teams in Group C – so it would seem safe to say that Sweden will need its best performance yet to pull off the victory.
Finland and Sweden last squared off in the semifinals of the 2017 IIHF World Championship, with Tre Kronor claiming a 4-1 victory en route to their first title in that tournament since 2013. F William Nylander, who’s currently preoccupied with the task of beating the Red Wings today, was a major part of that victory, as he posted two points, including a goal and the secondary assist on D John Klingberg‘s game-winning goal. Of course, neither of those players are available today, so I wouldn’t expect a similar score in this matchup.
The biggest problem in this game seems to be the Swede’s attack. While scoring 2.5 goals per game is usually more than enough to earn – in this case – three points, Finland’s offense dominating play paired with the stellar play of Koskinen might be a bit more than the blue-and-gold can handle.
The Olympic Athletes from Russia’s men showed no mercy in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, as they beat the United States 4-0 at Gangneung Hockey Centre to clinch first place in Group B.
It took only 7:21 of action for the OAR to find its game-winner, as F Nikolai Prokhorkin (F Sergei Mozyakin and F Alexander Barabanov) was able to beat G Ryan Zapolski for the lone goal of the frame, his first in PyeongChang.
Quick goals was apparently all the rage in the OAR dressing room, because the Red Machine set the score at 2-0 only 2:14 courtesy of another tally from Prokhorkin (F Sergei Shirokov and Mozyakin). Much to Team USA’s chagrin, seeing the third-liner score two goals seemed to inspire F Ilya Kovalchuk (F Sergei Andronov) to find the scorecard, as he scored a slap shot from the blue line with only a second remaining in the second period to expand the OAR’s advantage.
Kovalchuk (D Vyacheslav Voinov and Andronov) completed the game’s scoring 28 seconds into the third period, setting the 4-0 final score.
G Vasili Koshechkin earned the shutout victory by saving all 29 shots he faced, leaving the loss to Zapolski, who saved 22-of-26 (.846 save percentage).
Officially listed as the road team, the OAR helped the visitors in the DtFR Game of the Day series to win their second-straight game and pull within 22 points of the 70-43-17 hosts.