Happy Friday! Settle in and catch up on some puck this weekend.
Like we’ve been doing all week, the day’s action begins at 7:10 a.m. Eastern time in South Korea with Group C play of the men’s Olympic tournament. The Finns are squaring off against Norway and group-leading Sweden is taking on the Germans.
Back on our side of the Pacific Ocean, four games have been scheduled for our viewing pleasure, all starting half an hour after the game before them. We start with Philadelphia at Columbus (TVAS) at 7 p.m., trailed by and the New York Islanders at Carolina half an hour later. Colorado at Winnipeg follows suit at 8 p.m., while tonight’s nightcap – St. Louis at Dallas (NHLN) – finds an early 8:30 p.m. start. All times Eastern.
Back at the Olympics, we have two games scheduled for 10:10 p.m. One involves the Canadian men taking on the Czech Republic, but the most important of that time slot is the OAR vs. Switzerland in the women’s quarterfinals. Similarly, two final games are slated for 2:40 a.m. Saturday morning, one involving Finland vs. Sweden in the other women’s quarterfinal and South Korea vs. Switzerland in men’s group play. All times Eastern.
What a tough selection. There’s at least two big NHL games today (I’d argue that all four are important, but I’ll let you be the judge), while I expect the Scandinavian women’s quarterfinal to be a closely contested match.
Since no teams are getting eliminated from contention today in the NHL, I think we have to hone in on the Olympic playoff game. Off to PyeongChang!
If only DtFR got airline miles for the Game of the Day series… I could have a really nice vacation this summer. Time to take the European tennis tour I’ve always dreamed of!
Between these two teams, Sweden easily looked the better of the two in the group stage. Damkronorna‘s (the Lady Crowns) offense ranked (t)second-best at the Olympics by averaging 3.67 goals per game, while their defense allowed an average of only one goal against in their three showings – the (t)third-best effort in PyeongChang.
Offensively, the Lady Crowns are led by the indomitable F Pernilla Winberg, who has posted wildly impressive 2-1-3 totals in her first three showings. However, she’s not the only one averaging a point per game, as D Elin Lundberg (1-2-3), F Fanny Rask (1-2-3) and F Erika Grahm (0-3-3) are all matching her in that effort. In total, 16 of Sweden’s 20 skaters have found their way onto the scorecard, an impressive total given only three games have been played.
The Lady Crowns have also been an imposing presence in their own zone. Though the Swedish defense did allow 32.33 shots against-per-game in the group stage (third-worst among the six teams to advance to the knockout round), they’ve had the distinct luxury of G Sara Grahn dominating her crease to keep opposing offenses at bay.
With the exception of leaving the ice for 62 seconds against Switzerland to make way for a sixth skater, Grahn has been involved in every second of Sweden’s three opening games – and with good reason. Posting one shutout and allowing only one even-strength goal, she’s posted an impressive .969 save percentage and 1.01 GAA.
Meanwhile, Finland enters this game as the third place team from Group A play having earned a 1-0-0-2 record (1-2-0 if you want to put it in NHL format).
Statistically, Naisleijonat looks to be the second-worst team of the six that qualified for the knockout round. Their 2.33 goals per game, 2.67 goals against per game and 33 shots allowed per game are all superior to only the OAR, the very team they beat on the last day of group play.
Offensively, the Finns are led by a trio of skaters averaging a point per game. Of those, F Michelle Karvinen and F Riikka Valila have been most impressive with their 2-1-3 totals, but F Petra Nieminen has also been solid with her 1-2-3 effort.
As for the defensive end, the Lady Lions’ leader in net is none other than G Noora Raty, who started all three of Finland’s group stage games. Though she’s allowed seven total goals in her three appearances, it’s been largely because her defense has been trying to bolster their applications for Swiss passports (it’s a long-winded Swiss cheese joke) by allowing so many shots. Given the pressure, Raty has actually performed fairly well, posting a solid .929 save percentage and 2.39 GAA.
Now that all those numbers are out of the way, we almost need to entirely throw them out the window.
We need to remember something about the characters of the two very different groups from which these teams came. Sverige – that’s Swedish for “Sweden” – had the luxury of playing against the Japanese and Koreans in Group B, two teams that did not challenge Damkronorna whatsoever but allowed them to inflate their numbers. That was made very apparent when Sweden and Switzerland squared off, as the Swiss were able to pull off a tight 2-1 victory with only 8:32 remaining in regulation, due largely to the fact that Grahm’s tripping penalty cost Sweden the game-winning power play goal.
Meanwhile, as one of the top-four ranked teams in the world, Naisleijonat was thrust into the unenviable position of being in Group A with Teams USA and Canada. Against those powerhouses, the Lady Lions struggled mightily, scoring one goal apiece against either side. However, Suomi – you guessed it, it’s “Finland” in Finnish – showcased why it had earned its world rank by dominating the Olympic Athletes from Russia to a 5-1 victory, leading many, or at least me, to think that they are a far better side than the North Americans allowed them to seem.
Long story short, I think it’s safe to say that the Finns and Swedes are a better, more competitive matchup than they’ve seen for most of the tournament. While their statistics from the group stage might highlight either team’s particular strengths and weakness, I don’t think we should expect either team to have such a distinctly pronounced advantage over the other.
Finland’s very real chance at beating Sweden is made no more apparent than the last three results between them, as it’s the Lady Lions that swept the Lady Crowns at the 2017 Four Nations Cup. In the group stage of that tournament, the Finns beat the Swedes 3-1, followed by a 2-1 overtime victory in the third-place game. Going back even further, Finland posted a dominant 4-0 victory over Sweden in the 2017 IIHF Women’s World Championship quarterfinals.
Keeping in mind these recent results, I think I have to lean towards Finland taking this game. However, I’m not 100 percent confident in that pick, as Sweden, even though it lost, had a solid showing against Switzerland and is more than capable of holding its own against its Scandinavian neighbor.
Whichever team wins this game will lock itself into a matchup with the United States of America in the semifinals. Additionally, qualifying for the semifinals ensures a team the shot at a medal, whether it be the Olympic Finals or the Bronze Medal Game.
With a three-point performance by First Star of the Game C Nico Hischier, the New Jersey Devils beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 at Prudential Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.
Two goals were struck in the first period, but fans that left their seats to get a jump on first intermission concessions wouldn’t have known it. With 2:40 remaining in the frame, F Jeff Skinner (C Victor Rask and RW Justin Williams) broke the scoreless tie with a wrist shot, but Jersey drew even only 2:21 later with a snap shot from Third Star D Damon Severson (Hischier).
It took far less time to find the first marker of the second period, and it was in this frame that the game-winning goal was struck. Second Star RW Stefan Noesen (C Travis Zajac and LW Miles Wood) broke the draw at the 6:48 mark, but just like in the first period, the game was tied once again soon after. Only 55 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Noesen, D Brett Pesce (D Jaccob Slavin and Williams) scored his third goal of the season to pull the Canes back even.
The game-winning goal belonged to W Kyle Palmieri (Hischier and D John Moore), a wrister struck with 2:32 remaining in the second period. It was one of those second chance goals, as Hischier somehow lost control of an attempted wrap-around shot in G Scott Darling‘s crease. However, with Darling already committed to saving that attempt, it left Palmieri with the opportunity to beat Darling five-hole.
The Devils continued to apply pressure in the third period, scoring two goals in the ninth minute to set the 5-2 final score. Hischier (F Taylor Hall and G Keith Kinkaid) and Noesen (Severson) provided the insurance tallies.
Kinkaid earned the victory after saving 27-of-29 shots faced (.931 save percentage), leaving the loss to Darling, who stopped 17-of-22 (.773).
Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series are reestablishing their dominance lately, as they’ve earned points in three-consecutive games. As such, they’ve improved their record to 70-41-17, giving them a 26-point advantage over the roadies.