It’s the best day of the hockey week! A dozen games are on this Thursday’s schedule!
We begin today’s slate in North America with 11 NHL tilts, starting with three (the New York Islanders at Toronto, Minnesota at New Jersey and Columbus at Philadelphia) at 7 p.m. and four more (the New York Rangers at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Tampa Bay at Ottawa [RDS2], Buffalo at Detroit and Washington at Florida [TVAS]) half an hour later. San Jose at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m., followed an hour later by a pair of Western Conference matchups (Colorado at Edmonton [SN1] and Calgary at Arizona). Finally, Dallas visits Los Angeles at 10:30 p.m. to close out the league’s action. All times Eastern.
Of course, there’s also the Olympics to keep in mind. The first men’s semifinal between the Czech Republic and the OAR is scheduled for 2:40 a.m. Eastern time Friday morning.
Of those games, I’ll have my eye on three:
- New York at Montréal: Not only is this an Original Six rivalry, but it’s also a rematch from last season’s Eastern Quarterfinals.
- Calgary at Arizona: G Mike Smith (injured) and D Michael Stone are making their first trips back to Glendale to take on the Coyotes, the team they both spent six seasons with before joining Calgary.
- Czech Republic vs. the OAR: The top two remaining seeds are going at it for a chance to play for a gold medal!
We’ve featured Olympic action the past six days, and I see no reason to stop that trend now. Let’s see who’s advancing to the gold medal game!
Let’s start with the 3-1-0-0 Czech Republic, which posted a 2-1-0-0 record in Group A against the likes of Canada (3-2 SO), Switzerland (4-1) and South Korea (2-1) to clinch a first round bye into the quarterfinals, where it beat the United States in a 3-2 shootout victory.
Offensively, there are few teams in this Olympic tournament that can rival the Czechs, as their three goals-per-game is (t)third-best among all 12 participating nations and (t)second-best of the four squads remaining.
For those wondering: no, you will not witness any of the Czech Republic’s legendary right wings in this game. Instead of Jaromir Jagr, Martin Prochazka and David Vyborny, you should be looking forward to witnessing F Michal Repik (3-1-4 totals) and F Jan Kovar (2-2-4) continuing their stellar tournaments, as both are averaging a point per game.
29-year-old Repik’s performance is of particular interest, as he’s managed his impressive marks from the Czechs’ fourth line and, more importantly, from both special teams. All three of his goals have been scored in different situations: one at even strength, one on the power play and one on the penalty kill. He’s a dangerous Swiss army knife of a player that should be taken seriously on every shift.
The Czechs have also played decently in their own zone, as they’ve held their opponents to an average of only 25 shots against per game – the (t)fifth-lowest mark of all Olympic teams and third-lowest among the semifinalists.
That’s left G Pavel Francouz to shine, and shine he has. Having been the lone goaltender Head Coach Josef Jandac has employed throughout this tournament, he’s posted a solid .94 save percentage for a 1.41 GAA.
Mix all that defensive work together and you get a Czech Republic team that has allowed only 1.5 goals per game for the entire tournament, the (t)third-best mark in comparison to all 12 teams that have participated in PyeongChang and (t)second-best among the semifinalists.
One final advantage the Czech Republic has in its back pocket is its support in the stands. With the exception of the South Koreans, no team has enjoyed larger crowds than the Czechs, who average 5460.25 fans in attendance at each game – almost 450 more than the Russians, who rank fourth in attendance. With both teams bringing their large fanbases, Gangneung Hockey Centre could very well sell each and every one of its 10,000 seats.
Of course, that’s not a knock on fans of the Olympic Athletes from Russia, who’ve had the pleasure of cheering one of the most dominant teams in South Korea. After dropping their first tilt against Slovakia 3-2, the OAR has earned a 3-0-0-1 overall record, beating Slovenia (8-2) and the United States (4-0) to win Group B, and then Norway (6-1) in the quarterfinals.
Not a bad rebound for Красная Машина – The Red Machine – after pundits were already accusing them of choking as favorites at a second-consecutive Olympic tournament.
The strength in the OAR’s game relies heavily on their dominant offense maintaining almost constant possession of the puck, similar to the style the Boston Bruins have employed in the NHL this season. Not only is this a great way to generate goals – which the OAR does, averaging an Olympic-leading five goals per game – but it also limits opposing opportunities. The 19.25 shots faced per game by G Vasili Koshechkin are the fewest any of the 12 defenses in South Korea have allowed, and he’s been able to post a cool .929 save percentage for a 1.37 GAA as a result.
Pair all that together, and the 1.5 goals against per game the OAR has allowed in their first four games is the (t)third-best mark at the Olympics and (t)second-fewest among the final four.
Anyways, back to the offense. The OAR has more than a few stellar skaters at its disposal, but none have been better than F Nikita Gusev, a Vegas Golden Knights prospect should he choose to join them when his contract expires after next season. During this stint with the Red Machine, he’s posted incredible 1-6-7 totals to average almost two points per game.
But the Czechs shouldn’t focus all their efforts on Gusev, or else one of the other six Russians averaging at least a point per game will fly right by them. F Ilya Kovalchuk, Minnesota Wild prospect F Kirill Kaprizov, F Sergei Mozyakin, D Vyacheslav Voinov, F Sergei Andronov and F Pavel Datsyuk have united to form what may be the strongest Russian team since its days as the USSR.
It’s like they should have been favored to win this tournament or something.
Usually this is where I jump into recent matchups, but I’d instead like to point out how each team handled a common opponent: Team USA. The OAR manhandled the United States in their Group B finale, dominating the game to a 4-0 final score. By comparison, the Czechs required not just overtime, but also a shootout to knock off the Americans 3-2 in the quarterfinals.
There’s certainly much to be said about how the Americans approached either game. The US appeared nervous when playing the OAR, remembering the stories their parents, coaches and just about any other American hockey fan had told them about that fateful day 38 years ago.
There was no second act of the Miracle on Ice for Team USA in this tournament against the OAR, and the Russians made them pay for their inability to string together more than a pass or two.
Comparatively, the rivalry between Team USA and the Czech Republic ranks just above the rivalry between the American and Mexican hockey teams – in other words, its non-existent. Pairing the lack of heightened emotion with G Ryan Zapolski’s excellent play, the Americans rode out the Czechs’ stellar play and countered at just the right times to stave off elimination as long as they could.
Now, this is not supposed to be a summary of Team USA, even if it did seem that way. Instead, I simply pose the question: if the Americans weren’t so riled up to play this game, would they have been as big a thorn in the Russians’ side as they were to the Czechs?
I feel the answer is yes, but the OAR still would not have needed a shootout to knock them off. With that in mind, I feel safe in my prediction that the Olympic Athletes from Russia will be playing for the gold medal after beating the Czech Republic.
With a 3-2 shootout victory in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the curse has been lifted on the United States’ women’s hockey team as it beat Team Canada to clinch the gold medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Penalties were the big story in the first period, as Team USA earned a whopping three power plays. The first two opportunities amounted to only a combined two shots on goal, but F Sarah Nurse’s interference infraction with 1:34 remaining in the frame turned into a F Hilary Knight (D Sidney Morin and F Brianna Decker) deflection 68 seconds later to give the American’s a 1-0 advantage going into the first intermission.
It didn’t take long for the Canadians to level the game. Only two minutes into the second period, F Haley Irwin (F Blayre Turnbull) set the score at 1-1 by deflecting a Turnbull pass pass past G Maddie Rooney out of mid-air. 4:55 later, who else to give Team Canada than F Marie-Philip Poulin (F Meghan Agosta and F Melodie Daoust)? With Agosta firing a reverse pass from the goal line, Poulin lifted her snap shot from the left face-off circle to the near post.
That 2-1 Canadian advantage lasted into the second intermission and through the midway point of the final frame. If any doubt was beginning to creep into the Americans’ minds that they couldn’t beat G Shannon Szabados one more time to level the game, it was dashed with 6:21 remaining in regulation when F Monique Lamoureux-Morando (F Kelly Pannek) scored to tie the game and force overtime.
With no goal struck in the 10-minute four-on-four overtime period, the gold medal would be awarded to the team that won the six-round shootout.
- F Natalie Spooner was the first Canadian to try to beat Rooney, but the netminder stood tall to keep her off the board.
- F Gigi Marvin gave Team USA an early lead in the shootout by beating Szabados.
- Facing an early hole, Agosta leveled the shootout score at one-apiece, but Szabados still had to face her second shooter to complete the turnaround.
- She did just that by keeping F Hannah Brandt’s attempt out of the back of her net. The shootout score read 1-1 through two rounds.
- Having already beaten Rooney in regulation, Poulin was Canada’s third shooter. However, she didn’t find the same success, as the American kept her net clean.
- Usually playing defense, Emily Pfalzer was given her opportunity to make an offensive contribution in the third round. Her shot was saved by Szabados, leaving the shootout tied through three rounds.
- Canada’s next hope was Daoust, and she made good on her opportunity by beating Rooney.
- However, that advantage didn’t last long, as F Amanda Kessel was able to level the shootout at 2-2 in her half of the fourth round.
- With the opportunity to force a miss-and-lose situation for the Americans, F Brianne Jenner’s attempt to set the shootout score at 3-2 were nullified by Rooney.
- That gave Team USA its first opportunity to win the shootout. Who else to send to center ice than Knight? However, her attempt was saved by Szabados, forcing an extra shootout frame.
- The Americans won the coin toss and elected to shoot first. F Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson made good on that decision, employing a triple move against Szabados to force a miss-and-lose on Team Canada.
- The Canadians called on Agosta to find the leveling goal, but Rooney was there to clinch the Americans’ second gold medal in women’s ice hockey.
Rooney earned the shootout victory after saving 29-of-31 (.935 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Szabados, who saved an impressive 39-of-41 (.951).