Day 3 of the men's hockey tournament at the Sochi Olympics saw a few positive changes for the various Tampa Bay Lightning players in action, as Martin St. Louis was moved up to the top line for Canada alongside Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby; meanwhile, Sami Salo became the first Lightning player to hit the scoresheet at Sochi with an apple.
On the flip side, both Ondrej Palat (Czech Republic) and Kristers Gudlevskis (Latvia) languished on the bench, an especially surprising demotion for Palat after starting the tournament on left wing in the top-6 with David Krejci of the Boston Bruins.
Czech Republic (4) vs. Latvia (2)
The Czechs started their only NHL goaltender in this game, Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets, after healthy scratching him in their opening loss to Sweden. That wasn't the only change they made, however, as Ondrej Palat wasn't scratched but was listed as the 13th (extra) forward after skating 10+ minutes alongside David Krejci and Jakub Voracek versus Sweden.
Palat did not take a shift for the entire game.
Overall, the Czechs looked better than against Sweden, getting goals from Jaromir Jagr, Marek Zidlicky, Jakub Voracek, and Martin Erat. They generated good offense on the rush and on their power play and while Pavelec was shaky as usual he was better than either netminder that played versus Sweden.
Edgars Masalskis, the Latvian goaltender who started their opener versus Austria and stopped all but one shot in a 1-0 loss, got the nod again for Ted Nolan's squad. Masalskis was under siege all game long as the Czechs went to the net early and often to make his job difficult. The Latvian netminder became incensed at one point following what he felt was goaltender interference (it probably was) but the Tim Peel-led officiating crew let play carry on.
The Czech strategy appeared to work, as Masalskis looked noticeably less comfortable than against Switzerland and allowed 4 goals on 39 shots (.897 save percentage). That led to Nolan naming Lightning goaltending prospect Kristers Gudlevskis the starter for Latvia's next match versus Sweden.
Käsittääkseni Kristan vs. Halak, Lundqvist vs. Gudlevskis, Quick vs. Varlamov, Hiller vs. Pavelec. @JuhoYrttiaho— Matias Strozyk (@MaStrozyk) February 15, 2014
While it will be exciting to see Gudlevskis get between the pipes, it's a less than ideal situation for the young goalie, who was forced to watch Masalskis have great success against lesser competition because he wasn't quite adjusted to the new time zone. Now, he'll get his opportunity -- against one of the more formidable opponents in the tournament, even without a pair of Henriks. Good luck kid.
Radko Gudas, who has been reportedly fighting a fever, sat out his second straight game. He practiced today, however, alongside Tomas Kaberle and is expected to make his debut in Czech Republic's next match in place of Michal Roszival.
Switzerland (0) vs. Sweden (1)
Speaking of the Henrik-less (well, they still have one left) Swedes, their path to a medal in Sochi is now going to be one that highlights their defensive acumen. They may even need some blue-liners capable of playing well in big minutes and multiple situations ... but I digress.
Switzerland started Calgary Flames goaltender Reto Berra against Sweden's Henrik Lundqvist in what ended up as a tremendous goalie duel. Lundqvist edged Berra by a goal, as the King stopped all 26 Swiss shots and Daniel Alfredsson potted the only goal for either side in a tightly contested 1-0 win for the Tre Konor.
Canada (6) vs. Austria (0)
Just like many other teams, Canada is still going through a process of feeling out their line combinations, team chemistry and strategies. One adjustment head coach Mike Babcock made was moving Martin St. Louis to the "top" line with Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz, which bumped Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter down the lineup.
Carter managed only 8:46 of ice time as essentially the 13th forward (the role previously played by St. Louis) but he also scored a natural hat trick as Canada shook off some of the rust from their unimpressive victory over Norway with a 6-0 stomping of Austria. Carter quickly found chemistry with Patrick Marleau, who assisted on all three of Carter's 2nd period goals as Canada blew the game open and padded their goal differential stat a bit.
St. Louis held his own and looked quite good on Crosby's right wing in 12:58 of ice time, putting four shots on net and contributing to a couple of very good scoring chances for Canada. He remains without a point, however, through two games so far. It is unclear moving forward what additional changes Babcock will make to the lineup, as he's been an unabashed line tinkerer so far, but one thing has become abundantly clear -- Chris Kunitz does not belong on this team. The purported chemistry with Crosby has produced nothing offensively and he seems to lack either the confidence or the offensive creativity to keep up with Crosby and St. Louis. That Marty had to slide in the backdoor to these Olympics while Kunitz was basically handed a spot is becoming more and more of an obvious, egregious mistake by Hockey Canada and, by extension, Steve Yzerman.
Finland (6) vs. Norway (1)
Finland's strength was supposed to be in net.
So to see them romp to a solid win, allowing only one goal to Norway, and with Tuukka Rask, who may very well be the best goaltender in the world right now, not even on the bench -- was not really a surprise. Kari Lehtonen was strong as expected and the Finns were tough defensively, allowing Norway to fire only 20 shots on net.
What was surprising was how explosive and exploitative the Finnish offense was against a Norwegian team that only allowed 3 goals to the juggernaut that is Canada.
Sami Salo and Olli Maatta -- the defense pair that looked a little slow and out of sorts versus Austria -- was firing on all cylinders against Norway, making crisp outlet passes and transitioning well between offense and defense, though admittedly, Finland was on offense most of the time. As a pair, they were each +4 and on the ice for 5 of the 6 even strength goals that Finland scored. Salo was the first Lightning player to score a point in Sochi, the primary assist on a second period goal by Winnipeg Jets foward Olli Jokinen.
With Sweden fading due to injury and a suddenly hot offense, Finland looks like a threat to make some noise in the elimination stage and may end up an even stiffer test than Canada expected when those two teams face off tomorrow.
Slovakia (Richard Panik) vs. Slovenia is live right now, 0-0 through two periods; tomorrow's game slate includes the marquee match-up of the tournament so far as the host nation Russia takes on the early favorite USA at 7:30 AM Eastern; that match is followed by a pair of games at 12PM noon Eastern: Czech Republic (Radko Gudas, Ondrej Palat) vs. Switzerland and Sweden vs. Latvia (Kristers Gudlevskis).