Winter Olympics 2014: Day 5 Recap
The preliminary round reaches its conclusion; Austria jockeys for position against Norway, USA glides past Slovenia, Russia edges out Slovakia, and Canada scratches Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis in their marquee matchup against Finland.
With the preliminary round now drawing to a close, the remaining games on the schedule served to decide final seeding for the single elimination portion of the tournament, which starts tomorrow.
Austria (3) vs. Norway (1)
In a battle of two of the smaller teams at these Olympics, Austria capitalized on strong goaltending and offense generated by their NHLers to beat Norway 3-1.
Michael Grabner, who scored a hat trick in Austria's opener, was fantastic again. He scored the first goal of the game after feeding a rink-wide entry pass to Robert Lukas, who found Thomas Pock busting up the middle. Pock then it fed it to the side of the net, where Grabner waited to put the puck past an outstretched Lars Haugen and a 1-0 lead.
Thomas Raffl of the Philadelphia Flyers extended the lead to 2-0 on an Austrian power play via a nice feed from behind the net off Grabner's stick, and after Per-Age Skroder drew Norway within a goal, Grabner sealed the victory with a nifty breakaway goal (his specialty in the NHL) deking around a lunging Haugen to put the game away at 3-1.
Mats Zucarello, the only NHLer for Norway, was held without a point, as Austrian goaltender Mathias Lange stopped 23 of 24 shots en route to the victory.
As the 9 seed, Austria will face Slovenia in the elimination stage, while Norway will play host Russia as the 12 (last) seed.
Russia (1) vs. Slovakia (0) (Shootout)
Russia, coming off a heart-breaking 3-2 defeat in the shootout to USA, was looking for improved overall effort, particularly in the offensive zone. Slovakia was just looking so save face after an embarrassing loss to Slovenia in their previous match.
Jan Laco started in net for Slovakia after uninspiring performances in net from Jaroslav Halak of the St. Louis Blues and Peter Budaj of the Montreal Canadiens. The Slovaks were outscored 10-2 by USA and Slovenia.
Laco was near perfect, stopping a whopping 36 shots on net through regulation and overtime. But even with 36 shots, it's not exactly surprising that Russia's offense has sputtered in these Olympics when you consider that their coach, Zinetula "Bill" Bilyaletdinov, is a defensive-minded coach who essentially has his very talented roster playing the neutral zone trap, a strategy that worked for Russia's gold-medal winning team at the World Championships last year, a team also coached by Bill.
Slovakia took five minor penalties which contributed to the high shot count for the Russians, but killed all five Russian power plays to keep the score knotted at 0-0 heading into overtime, which wouldn't settle things either. That forced a shootout to decide the winner -- the second straight game requiring a shootout for the host nation -- but the Russians made good on this one, finally beating Laco with attempts by former NHL players Alex Radulov and Ilya Kovalchuk to secure the 1-0 win after regulation, giving them only two points instead of the full three awarded for a regulation win.
The outcome of this game and the others today determines the match-ups moving forward, and after a hard-fought win that needed extra time and a shootout, Slovakia looks like they could be a handful for whomever they end up playing, which must win to advance while Sweden, USA, Canada, and Finland all earned a bye into the quarterfinals.
Richard Panik, as has been the cast for most of these Olympics, was an afterthough on the 4th line, with a clean sheet in just over 10 minutes of ice time. He didn't take a shot in the shootout, either; NHL forwards Michal Handzus and Tomas Tatar were stopped by Semyon Varlamov to seal the win for Russia.
Russia will face Norway next as the 5 seed playing the 12. Slovakia, by earning a point, moved up to 10th and will play their geographical neighbor, the Czech Republic.
Slovenia (1) vs. USA (5)
Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs led the way for the Americans, scoring a hat trick on three assists from his center, Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks. The first two were highlight-reel tallies, one knocked out of midair and into the net and the other a terrific 1-on-1 move on a rush against an overmatched Slovenian defender.
In spite of all the praise heaped onto "blue collar" players like T.J. Oshie, Ryan Callahan, and David Backes, the line of Joe Pavelski between Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk has been the real offensive dynamo, and the Americans will need them to stay hot moving forward as the Americans win their group and advance straight to the quarterfinals.
Ryan Miller made his first start for USA in the Olympics since the gold medal game versus Canada in Vancouver in 2010; he stopped 16 of 17 shots in earning the victory.
Slovenia earned the 8 seed by beating Slovakia, so they'll face Austria; USA, by virtue of Canada vs. Finland needing extra time, gets a bye and the 2 seed.
Canada (1) vs. Finland (1)
Canada carried play early with Finland relegated mostly to a dump-and-chase strategy while trying to defend the relentless offensive pressure coming from Canada's four lines. That said, Finland did a very nice job of collapsing to the slot, clearing rebounds, and putting goaltender Tuukka Rask in a position where he only had to make one save, with very few rebounds and tip opportunities for the Canadians.
Mike Babcock, head coach of Canada, scratched Tampa Bay Lightning captain Martin St. Louis after he failed to hit the scoresheet with captain Sidney Crosby last game. Patrice Bergeron and Jamie Benn, two thirds of what was formerly the 4th line for Canada, lined up as Crosby's wings for this game, which begs the question -- just what exactly is Chris Kunitz doing on this team again?
The Finns intentionally played a defensive, physical strategy trying to bottle up the Canadian attack. Sidney Crosby drew a penalty and the ire of Teemu Selanne when he fell from contact by Jarkko Immonen, bringing the "Crosby is a diver" comments back to the forefront.
It's understandable to see Selanne's issue, however, as Canada quickly scored on the resulting power play when Drew Doughty snapped an unscreened wrist shot past Tuukk Rask from the left circle to put Canada up 1-0.
Finland continued to grind away, trying to keep Canada to the outside and looking for their chances to counterattack. They finally found one with a loose puck on Ossi Vaananen found a loose puck at the center point and sent it towards Canadian goaltender Carey Price. A waiting Tuomo Ruutu redirected it in front to tie the game at 1 goal apiece, where the score would remain into overtime.
Drew Doughty, already with a goal in the game, scored on the rush in overtime to secure a 2-1 win for the Canadians, making them the 3 seed for elimination play.
Sami Salo, again playing alongside Olli Maatta, was steady if unspectacular, playing tough minutes -- but really, they're all tough against Canada.
By winning, Canada plays the winner of Latvia vs. Switzerland; Finland will get the winner of Russia vs. Norway instead.
The single elimination tournament starts in earnest; Sweden (1), USA (2), Canada (3), and Finland (4) get byes into the quarterfinals. Russia (5) will play Norway (12); Switzerland (6) will play Latvia (11); Czech Republic (7) will play Slovakia (10); and Slovenia (8) will play Austria (9). Those games don't start, however, until early Monday morning at 3AM Eastern, then one at 7:30 AM Eastern and a pair at 12PM noon Eastern.