It has been slow going so far for the Tampa Bay Lightning players in Sochi for the Winter Olympics, as no Lightning skater has recorded a point and the only goaltender has yet to leave the bench. After Thursday's action, every player's team has appeared in at least one game as the Group stage marches on.
Finland (8) vs. Austria (4)
What started out looking like a potential upset for upstart Austria quickly turned into a Finnish rout followed by a balanced chess match with two coaches very much aware of the goal differential tie-break in play. Austria led 2-1 at one point following goals from Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders and Thomas Hundertpfund, but Finland would then go on to score five unanswered goals to run away with this one, erasing a terrific effort from Grabner who completed a hat trick with a pair of goals in the third period.
Sami Salo skated 15:57 on 23 shifts, mostly with young defenseman Olli Maatta of the Pittsburgh Penguins as his defense partner. Like he's done with Victor Hedman for most of the past two seasons, Salo was comfortable hanging back and playing it safe while the fleet-footed Maatta jumped into the Finnish attack with regularity. Salo also was fixture on the right point for Finland's top power play unit, which scored a pair of goals. Salo, however, finished with a blank game sheet (0-0-0) and was a -1 despite the big victory. At times, he looked a little slow, especially defending away from the puck, where he was beat to open space or the net on more than one occassion. Salo typically relies on good instincts and positioning to overcome his poor footspeed but that may be an issue for him moving forward on the larger ice surface.
That said, one place the international rink is a little smaller is from the blue line to the net -- a distance about 6 feet shorter:
That means Salo's slap shot, always a weapon especially on the power play, has the potential to be even more lethal as the shorter distance means goaltenders have less time to react and get across to stop one-timers. Salo was credited with 3 shots on net for the game.
USA (7) vs. Slovakia (1)
Only Richard Panik suited up for the Lightning in this match, as the United States squad features no Lightning players for these Olympics after Ryan Malone was part of the silver-medal squad in Vancouver in 2010 and Ben Bishop played for USA at the IIHF World Championships last May.
Slovakia hung around early, as USA led just 1-0 after the first period and Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings tied the game at 1-1 early in the second period off a feed from Marian Hossa following a Ryan Suter giveaway. The floodgates opened for the Americans after that, however, as they hung 6 unanswered goals on the Slovaks split against starter Jaroslav Halak and backup Peter Budaj.
Richard Panik had zero points (0-0-0) and was -2 in 12:42 skating as a bottom-6 forward alongside Marcel Hossa (Marian's brother) and Tomas Marcinko. That line showed some jump early before the game got out of hand, and Richard Panik nearly scored on a nifty backhand move in the slot but the puck slide off his stick and harmlessly to the corner before he could flip it past a sprawling Jonathan Quick.
The Slovaks were bottled up most of the night, however, and exploited by the depth of the Americans who applied offensive pressure from all four lines. Puzzlingly, Zdeno Chara, who skates 24:57 per game for the Boston Bruins this season (13th in the NHL) and widely considered one of the best defensemen in the NHL and the best player on Slovakia, only saw 18:01 of ice time in what ended up as a blowout loss. Chara was even despite the 7-1 final score.
Russia (5) vs. Slovenia (2)
Slovenia's the truest underdog in this tournament, having to scratch and claw their way through qualifying to even secure their place in the tournament. After ceding the first two goals of the game to superstars Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, the Slovenians drew within a goal twice on a pair of goals from Ziga Jeglic, one of which was assisted by Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar. The Russians answered with a pair of goals in the third period to win their opener as the host nation.
This game featured no Tampa Bay Lightning players on either side.
Canada (3) vs. Norway (1)
With Steven Stamkos withdrawing from the Sochi Olympics while still rehabbing is fractured tibia, Martin St. Louis was named as his replacement. All indications heading into Canada's opener versus Norway to start their gold medal defense were that St. Louis would likely be a 13th/"extra" forward, and that mostly held true. He didn't take the first 4th line shift (that went to John Tavares, Jamie Benn, and Patrice Bergeron) and he rotated in and out on that line while also taking a shift or two with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz and with the Jonathan Toews line as head coach Mike Babcock fiddled with the lines early and often looking for more chemistry.
In a quintessential David vs. Goliath match-up, Norway hung in there for most of the game, holding Canada off the board entirely in the first period on the back of solid defense and quality goaltending from regular KHL starter Lars Haugen. The Canadians finally broke through in the second on goals from Shea Weber and Jamie Benn, but Norway refused to go away as they drew within one with a power play goal from Patrick Thoreson to start the third. Drew Doughty answered immediately for Canada to make it 3-1, but Norway did a nice job of keeping Canada from running up the score and making the final score much more respectable than many predicted.
St. Louis finished with 10:47 of ice time on 16 shifts. Only Dan Hamhuis (the 7th defenseman) and Jamie Benn (who finished with two points) had less time on ice, and it's unclear whether St. Louis will stay in the lineup moving forward:
St. Louis doesn’t know if he’s playing tomorrow.— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) February 13, 2014
For what it's worth, that rotating "4th line" for Canada seemed to sustain the most offensive zone time and pressure. St. Louis was +1 and some combination of Benn, St. Louis, Bergeron and Tavares looked to be the most cohesive unit for Canada. The de facto top line of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Jeff Carter struggled to complete simple passes or generate good scoring chances, so expect Babcock to make some more changes before Canada plays again tomorrow vs. Austria.
Czech Republic (Ondrej Palat, maybe Radko Gudas if he's not still sick) vs. Latvia (Kristers Gudlevskis) tonight/tomorrow morning at 3AM Eastern; Sweden vs. Switzerland at 7:30 AM Eastern tomorrow (no Lightning players on either side); Canada (Martin St. Louis) vs. Austria and Norway vs. Finland (Sami Salo) at 12PM noon Eastern tomorrow.