The Olympic tournament finally got underway on Wednesday and thus far each team has played one game as the Sochi Games head into Friday morning.
It sure looked like a few of the teams were struggling to find some cohesion (Canada and Sweden) while the United States came out of the gate like gangbusters on Thursday to defeat Slovakia 7-1.
It's early so there should not be any worries for Canada, Russia and Sweden who were in games that were tougher than they should have been.
Sweden vs. Czech Republic
The Swedes knocked off the Czechs 4-2 but may have lost captain Henrik Zetterberg for the rest of the tournament as he is suffering from a herniated disc. Sweden got off to a 4-0 lead 24-plus minutes into the game as the Czechs, for some reason, started Jakub Kovar instead of Winnipeg Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec. Kovar was chased after giving up three goals on only 10 shots before he was replaced by Alexander Salak who stopped 14 of 15 shots.
Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Erik Karlsson make a formidable duo on the blueline and this combination should be around for the next 10-plus years as they are 22 and 23 years of age respectively. Karlsson led the way with a couple of goals while Ekman-Larsson chipped in with a couple of helpers.
Henrik Lundqvist, who in my opinion, is the best goalie at the Olympics (not to mention that he is the best in the world) stopped all 15 shots in the third period and had 27 saves in the win.
New Jersey teammates Marek Zidlicky and Jaromir Jagr were the only two Czechs to score on Lundqvist.
Sweden takes on Switzerland on Friday while the Czech Republic plays Latvia. Look for Pavelec to get the start for the Czechs while Sweden could rest Lundqvist and go with Jonas Gustavsson.
Switzerland vs. Latvia
Simon Moser scored with only eight seconds to go in the third period to lead Switzerland to a 1-0 victory over Latvia on Wednesday. Anaheim Ducks' netminder Jonas Hiller stopped all 21 shots for the shutout but it was Latvian goaltender Edgars Masalskis who almost stole the show.
Masalskis turned aside all 38 shots that came his way until Moser put the puck towards the net and it bounced off Latvian defenseman Georgijis Pujacs and past Masalskis and into the yawning net. It was a tough goal to give up by Latvia who gave the favored Swiss all sorts of fits before the fluke goal ended it. Mark Streit of the Flyers drew the only assist.
The Swiss take on Sweden Friday and it may not be Jonas Hiller between the pipes but rather Calgary goaltender Reto Berra while Latvia will play the Czech Republic and it's hard to see anyone other than Masalskis in goal.
Finland vs. Austria
In the wildest game of the opening two days, the Finns, behind the two goal and one assist performance of Mikael Granlund, defeated Austria 8-4 Thursday.
Austria's Thomas Vanek, who is currently on the trade block with the Islanders, came out after the game and slammed goaltender Richard Starkbaum for giving up a few easy goals and stating that Starkbaum had to be great and not just good for the Austrians. Funny, I thought Starkbaum played quite well and held Austria in the game.
Finland's Tuukka Rask on the other hand, struggled throughout the game as he gave up four goals on only 20 shots while Starkbaum turned aside 44 shots. Kari Lehtonen is slated to start for Finland against Norway and if he plays well, Rask may not see the net again in the tourney.
Former Maple Leaf draft choice Jarkko Immonen also scored twice for Finland while Sami Vatanen chipped in with three assists. Penguins rookie Olli Maatta and and Immonen scored eight seconds apart in the final minute of the first to change the complexion of the game in the Finns favor.
Islanders forward Michael Grabner had the hat trick and now leads the tournament in goals with three. Thomas Hundertpfund gave the Austrians a 2-1 lead in the first for the Austrians other goal.
Teemu Selanne was injured in the first as he suffered an apparent neck injury and did not return for the final two periods. He is expected to be okay to play on Friday but Finland may decide to rest the 43-year-old in the second half of a back-to-back.
Look for Starkbaum to play against Canada on Friday, despite what Vanek says.
Russia vs. Slovenia
The Russians prevailed 5-2 but Slovenia gave the home side all they could handle as the Slovenians trailed only 3-2 heading into the third period before Russia salted it away in the third.
The Dallas Stars' top rookie, Valeri Nichushkin scored an insurance goal four minutes into the third before defenseman Anton Belov of the Edmonton Oilers finished the scoring with a shot from the face off circle that beat Slovenian goalie Robert Kristan who turned aside 30 shots to hold his side in the game far longer than Russia thought he could.
Semyon Varlamov stopped only 12 shots so look for Sergei Bobrovsky to get the start on Saturday in the featured matchup against the United States.
Ovechkin has been the face of the Olympics for the Russians and has been excited about the Games coming to his home country since it was announced in 2007. He also set up Malkin to give him a two point night. Former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk, who now plays in the KHL after 'retiring' from the NHL last season, also scored for Russia.
United States vs. Slovakia
In what many thought would be the best and closest game of the first two days turned into the most lopsided as the Americans flexed their muscles in earning an easy 7-1 win over Slovakia.
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel who is fourth in NHL scoring at the break, scored once and added a couple of assists to lead the United States to the easy win.
The U.S. took a 1-0 lead into the second period as Washington defenseman John Carlson scored after he was set up by Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
Slovakia tied the game only 24 seconds into the second on a goal by Tomas Tatar of the Detroit Red Wings but the Americans scored six straight in the middle stanza to chase Jaroslav Halak from the cage after the U.S. made it 5-1 as Peter Budaj gave up the last two goals in only 1:50 minutes of action.
Paul Stastny, whose father Peter was a star in the NHL after defecting with his brother Anton (and eventually older brother Marian a year later) from the then Czechoslovakia in 1980, scored twice, including the goal that forced Slovakia to make the goaltending change. Peter Stastny made the Hall of Fame and in 1994 played for his new home country of Slovakia in their first ever Olympic appearance.
Ryan Kesler, David Backes and Dustin Brown also scored for the United States while Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick made 22 saves for the win.
The Americans play the Russians on Saturday and it could be Quick again in goal. Follow Rotoworld for the latest in goaltending probables.
Slovakia on the other hand, will take on Slovenia. Look for Halak to be back between the pipes.
Canada vs. Norway
In what was thought to be the most one-sided game, Canada struggled to beat Norway despite out chancing them 24-4 as Team Canada scored a 3-1 win.
Canada started out tentatively as they ended the first period scoreless. Lars Haugen, who stopped 35 shots for Norway, was only required to make nine saves in the first period.
But the second period was different as Canada dominated, scoring twice on goals by Shea Weber and Jamie Benn while not allowing a Norwegian shot for the first 18 minutes of the period. Haugen held Norway in the game and a late penalty to Duncan Keith gave Norway a power play heading into the third.
Former Edmonton Oiler and Philadelphia Flyer Patrick Thoresen cut the lead in half early in the third on the power play as Carey Price misplayed the puck behind the net, but Drew Doughty quickly restored the two goal lead at the 1:47 mark of the third to end the scoring. Doughty also added an assist while Patrice Bergeron had a pair of helpers for the Canadians.
Former Columbus defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, was a force on the blueline for Norway as he threw his weight around forcing the Canadians to keep their head up as he nailed a couple of players with thunderous body checks. He had two seasons of 100-plus penalty minute seasons for the Blue Jackets in 2006-07 and the following year.
Carey Price had a fairly easy time in net, stopping 19 shots. Roberto Luongo will get the start in goal for Canada on Friday against Austria with Mike Smith backing up. Look for Haugen to play against Finland.
P.K. Subban and Matt Duchene were healthy scratches for Canada Thursday but both are expected to be in the lineup on Friday.
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