SOCHI - This is not your typical Team Finland that is playing hockey in Sochi.
Still methodical in the execution, but with more spice. Still conservative in defense, but tend to give up chances.
Yet the biggest question for this Finnish team with the game against Canada coming up is who will start in goal. With Tuukka Rask’s somewhat shaky performance against Austria, it was Kari Lehtonen’s turn in goal against Norway on Friday, two days ahead of the big showdown against Canada.
The game was over in the first period, with the Finns scoring three times on thirteen shots. Lehtonen was bored in net, having faced just six. It was certainly not a good game for the goaltender to really showcase his abilities to win the starter role for Saturday.
Through two games in Sochi, Finland has already scored more goals than they did in the entire Vancouver Olympics four years ago.
“It helps a lot when the game is 5-0 after 25-30 minutes.” Lehtonen said after the game. “The game is over at that point. It made it a lot easier tonight. But the next game is different, so let’s see what happens in that one.”
In a game that was so lopsided there was really no need for animosity and hard feelings, the former Toronto Maple Leaf Leo Komarov, considered the biggest pest in the KHL, still managed to get under the Norwegians’ skin. He received a few crosschecks. It almost started a minor scuffle.
Lehtonen at times looked so bored that one was expecting him to just sit on the goal, just like he famously did on a number of occasions. Yet Lehtonen decided to entertain himself in other ways, like trying to beat the whistle after catching the puck by quickly releasing it and playing it with his stick. On other occasions, he skated so far away from his net, that it looked he was disoriented. Was he trying to create something to do for himself because the Norwegians couldn’t?
“Well, that was not my plan.” Lehtonen said after the game, laughing. “But I was trying to get more comfortable in the net. So I moved forward a lot, I went a little bit further behind the net to stop those rims. I was kind of testing things out, and they did not go too well a few times. And that certainly brought some action to my end."
It's unlikely that Antti Niemi will get the call against Canada, because he hasn't played a second in these Olympics. (There was a moment in the second period ,with the Finns so comfortably ahead, where Lehtonen skated to the bench and it looked like Niemi would get his chance. But Lehtonen simply wanted to change his stick).
“I think there were two different-level teams out there tonight," Lehtonen said after the game. "I was happy that I got some action there. But it wasn’t the toughest test yet.”
“The four lines that Canada has. Any of their lines would be the top lines on any NHL team. It’s exciting. But it is a tough task for all goalies. If I get to play that one, it is going to be one exciting game.”
Are the three Finnish goaltenders anxious who will start on Sunday?
“No, not really.” Lehtonen responded, dismissively. “We knew when we came here that we had to accept any role. Whoever gets to go out there, the other two support him. It’s fair game. You go game by game and see what happens.”