Team Sweden: 2
Team Russia: 1
Group B Standings:
North America: 0-0-0
By Frank McNichol
No Lundqvist? No problem for Team Sweden. Led by Victor Hedman and surprise starter Jacob Markstrom, Sweden kicked off Group B action by smothering the Russian attack in a 2-1 victory. Despite it being a one goal differential, Sweden was by far the superior team from the get-go.
The first period was rather uneventful, with Sweden out shooting Russia 10-8 in an evenly paced, and scoreless period. Both teams killed failed to convert on their respective powerplay opportunities in the period. The big question for Sweden to start off the game how would Jacob Markstrom, who filled in for an ill Henrik Lundqvist, deal with his nerves? Markstrom dispelled any of those concerns early, stopping all 8 shots including a one timer from Ovechkin not even a minute into the contest. Not to be out done, Sergei Bobrovsky looked just as composed for team Russia, stopping all 10 shots fired his way.
Things would heat up in the second period, especially for Team Sweden. After 10 and a half scoreless minutes, Daniel Sedin took a hooking minor sending Team Sweden to the Powerplay. That powerplay lasted a mere 4 seconds after Nicklas Backstrom cleanly won the faceoff back to Erik Karlsson who sent the puck over to Gabriel Landeskogg who blasted a one-timer from the top of the right hand cricle past a screened Bobrovsky. Just a little over two minutes later, Sweden pushed their lead to 2-0 after Carl Haeglin tapped a back handed pass over to a pinching Victor Hedman in the slot who wristed the puck past a helpless Bobrovsky. Despite outshooting Sweden 11-10 in the period, Russia failed to generate many quality chances against Sweden’s stout defense, and when they did they were all answered by Jacob Markstrom.
One of the biggest challenges Team Sweden faced this game was shutting down Alex Ovechkin, and thanks to Victor Hedman they did just that for the first 2 periods. Ovechkin looked like the hungriest player on the ice all game, laying hit after hit but failed to generate anything of substance, and it was all thanks to Hedman’s lockdown defensive play.
In the third period, Russia was faced with overcoming a 2-0 deficit against the Swedes. They came out looking for offense, but Sweden would continue to shut them down at every turn. Any rush up the ice by the Russians was immediately shut down by the Swedes in the neutral zone, causing Russia to ice the puck many times. The Russians were getting completely frustrated, as displayed by Ovechkin needlessly slashing Mikael Backlund giving the Swedes a power play with just over 14 minutes to play in the period. Russia held tight and killed the minor penalty off, but any chance at gaining momentum was quickly stifled by the Sweden defense.
Things were looking hopeless for Russia who failed to solve Jacob Markstrom 19 minutes into the period. But just as the game looked to be slipping away from Team Russia, Captain Ovechkin redeemed himself for the earlier penalty and flung a hail mary wrist shot from the top of the left hand circle past Markstrom to cut the lead to 2-1, giving Russia some life. With the new found energy, Team Russia pressed further into the offensive zone, and while they failed to score on the ensuing possession they forced Team Sweden to take an icing, giving Russia one last gasp to tie the game. With ten seconds remaining, Datsyuk won the offensive zone faceoff back to Vladimir Tarasenko who slapped it on goal, off of Markstrom’s chest, into Oveckin’s glove and into the net. For moment, Russia had done the unthinkable and miraculously tied up the game.
But the referees quickly squashed their hopes by waving it off, saying Ovechkin knocked the puck in with his glove. Ovechkin was insistent that the puck had touched his stick after corralled by his glove, but the video evidence did not back up those claims and the call stood, no goal. With 8 seconds remaining, the face off was moved to center ice where Backstrom would win the face off, but there was no play to be made, the time ran out and Sweden held on to win.
Leading the way for Team Sweden was Victor Hedman who scored the game winning goal and logged 22:54 of ice time, more than any skater on either team. While scoring the goal was huge, the fact that he kept Ovechkin in check all game played a huge part in Team Sweden getting the victory. Jacob Markstrom looked incredibly composed in net stopping 27 of the 28 shots fired his way. Outside of those two it was difficult to single out any other players for Sweden who had great individual performances, but that is what makes Sweden successful; they excel as a team, not as individuals.
For Russia, Alex Ovechkin looked like the alpha out on the ice which sometimes led to sloppy play, but also led to their only goal of the game. While he let his head get the better of him at times throughout the game, he was just about the only Russian skater who looked hungry on the ice. St. Louis Blues winger and NHL 17 cover man, Vladimir Tarasenko tied for the lead in shots for Russia with 4 and looked Dangerous for Russia all game. In the second period, he displayed a great individual effort blowing past the Sweden defense and got a quick wrister in alone on Markstrom, but Markstrom was up to the task snuffing out the opportunity. Despite being the losing goalie, Bobrovsky did just about all he could in the game stopping 27 of 29 shots. It would be very hard to blame him for either of the goals scored on him.
If Russia is going to make any noise moving forward this tournament, they are going to need more from veteran forward Pavel Datsyuk. Despite assisting on the only goal of the game, the Magic Man failed to make a significant impact on the game often going unnoticed. However, the biggest area of concern for Russia has to be their defense. Team Sweden was able to walk all over them in the offensive zone all game, leading to a barrage of scoring opportunities. This was a concern of many going into the tournament, and so far they have done nothing to dispel those concerns.
Team Russia will look to bounce back against Team North America on Monday, while Sweden will look to continue rolling against their arch rivals in Finland on Tuesday.