Sweden and Canada meet to determine gold
#1 Sweden vs #3 Canada
In early February, a look at the twelve nations competing in the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games revealed four teams with great potential to take home a gold medal. After 28 games over 11 days, it surprises no one the two combatants for Olympic gold are Sweden and Canada.
Both teams travelled similar paths by winning their respective groups in preliminary play, getting spectacular goaltending to win low-scoring games and overcoming adversity due to injury. But that is where the similarities end.
With exception of the semi-final game against Finland, Sweden has coasted to the final game. On the other hand, Canada has struggled to win games with offense causing them to adapt to a style far more reliant on tight defense than an explosive scoring attack. The Canadians hope the defense continues, but wouldn’t mind a little more scoring.
To get to the gold medal game, Sweden began by winning all three games of preliminary play by defeating the Czech Republic 4-2, Switzerland 1-0 and Latvia 5-3 allowing them to finish atop Group C. After earning a first-round bye, Sweden whitewashed upstart Slovenia 5-0 to advance to the semi-final where they defeated Finland 2-1.
In these five games, Sweden has scored 17 goals, seven while with the man-advantage, while only allowing 6, two of which while shorthanded. They have scored on 17 of their 149 shots for a scoring percentage of 11.41%, third in the tournament. In special teams, they have the tournament’s top-ranked power play scoring on 7 of 19 opportunities for a 36.84% conversion rate while ranking fifth in shorthanded conditions allowing only 2 goals on 19 situations for an 86.47% survival rate.
Offensively, Sweden is getting contributions on all parts of the ice with ten different players scoring goals. Opening up play with an ice surface that is 17% greater than the NHL surface is part of their strategy. Of their 17 goals, 4 have come from defensemen. Erik Karlsson leads all goal scorers with 4 from the backline while Loui Ericsson, Carl Hagelin, Patrik Berglund and Daniel Alredsson each have 2 from the forward position. Only one player, defenseman Jonathan Ericsson, has a negative rating at -2.
Defensively, the Swedes play a steady, disciplined style which is backed up by the world-class goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist. The King has been magnificent in making big saves early and stops at pivotal moments in the game to strengthen the confidence of his teammates. Lundqvist has turned aside 117 of 123 shots for a save percentage of 0.951 and a 1.20 goals against average.
For Canada, despite their 5-0 record, their run has been anything other than easy.
Canada gained their spot in the semi-finals after defeating Norway 3-1, Austria 6-0 and Finland 2-1 in overtime during preliminary play to gain the top spot in Group B. By achieving the second seed, Canada gained a first round bye before facing upstart Latvia. The quarter-final game was tied until late in the third period when Shea Weber’s game-winning goal held up to give Canada the 2-1 victory. The victory over the 1-0 victory over the United States in the semi-final game was their third win a row by one goal.
In these five games, Canada has scored 14 goals, two while with the man-advantage, while only allowing 3, one of which while shorthanded. They have scored on 14 of their 205 shots for a scoring percentage of 6.83%, ninth in the tournament. In special teams, they have the tournament’s third-ranked power play scoring on 2 of 9 opportunities for a 22.22% conversion rate while ranking first overall in shorthanded conditions allowing just 1 goal on 11 situations for a 92.86% survival rate.
Offensively, Canada has struggled to find sources of scoring the entire tournament. Only six different players have scored goals in the four games. Of their 13 goals, just 7 have come from defensemen. Defenseman Drew Doughty leads all Canadian players with four goals while Jeff Carter and defenseman Shea Weber each have three. Sidney Crosby, Rick Nash and Chris Kunitz have combined for zero goals and three assists and all players have a positive player rating with Jeff Carter leading the way at a +5. It seems Canada is content on focusing on a relentless defense while capitalizing on the infrequent scoring opportunities when they come.
A key to their success has been the solid play of goaltender Carey Price who has been incredibly solid in 4 of the 5 Canadian victories (Roberto Luongo secured the victory in the 6-0 decision against Austria). Carey Price has turned aside 79 of 82 shots for a 0.963 save percentage and a stingy 0.74 goals against average. Collectively, the Canadian defense has a 0.974 save percentage with a tournament-best 0.59 goals against average.
On display Sunday will be an epic struggle between Canada, the team content on a rock solid defense awaiting the periodic scoring chance, and Sweden, the team built for speed and creativity. While Canada will try to slow down the Swedish rush with physical play, the Swedes will stretch the ice hoping to spread the defensive alignment apart enough to hit a seam and a scoring chance.
Among Olympic gold medal games, this one might end p being the best ever.
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