Monday is an off-day for Men’s Hockey in Sochi, but they will get back at it with four qualification games on Tuesday. Four teams automatically advanced to the Semi-Finals based off of their performance in the preliminary round. Those four teams are Sweden (3-0-0-0), Canada (2-1-0-0), USA (2-1-0-0) and Finland (2-0-0-1). They await the winners of the four qualifying games and will play on Wednesday. Here are the four qualifying matchups and times.
Austria (1-0-2-0) vs. Slovenia (1-0-2-0) at 3 a.m EST.
Prediction: Slovenia wins 3-2.
Result: Slovenia wins 4-0 – Will face Sweden at 3:00 a.m on Wednesday.
Russia (1-1-0-1) vs. Norway (0-0-3-0) at 7:30 a.m EST
Prediction: Russia wins 7-1.
Result: Russia wins 4-0 – Will face Finland at 7:30 a.m on Wednesday.
Czech Republic (1-0-2-0) vs. Slovakia (0-0-2-1) at noon EST.
Prediction: Slovakia wins 3-1.
Result: Czech Republic wins 5-3. Will face USA at noon on Wednesday.
Switzerland (2-0-1-0) vs. Latvia (0-0-3-0) at noon EST.
Prediction: Switzerland wins 2-0.
Result: Latvia wins 3-1. Will face Canada at noon on Wednesday.
With all 12 teams through their first game of the tournament lets take a look at what we can take away from the first six games.
1) The Czechs are not very good
Sweden took it to the Czech all game in Wednesday’s 4-2 win. The Czech looked very slow and not very competitive, albeit in the first game and against a Gold Medal contender. Age likely plays a factor into their team speed and struggles against Sweden. 12 of their 22 skaters are 30-years-old or older including six players over 35. NHLers Radko Gudas and Martin Hanzal were scratched in their first contest, maybe getting them into their lineup on Friday vs. Latvia will help spark the team.
2) Jonas Hiller loves the Olmypics
After almost taking down team Canada in Vancouver in 2010 it was obvious that Hiller is Switzerland’s only hope. To kick off this year’s tournament he posted a 21-save shutout in a 1-0 win over Latvia. Sure, Latvia is not Canada or Russia, but Hiller looked extremely relaxed and dialed in from the moment the puck dropped. Despite the shutout, with the Swiss playing back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, they will rest Hiller on Friday vs. Sweden (Reto Berra of the Flames will start) and get him back in the cage on Saturday vs. the Czech Republic.
3) No Koivu, No Filppula, No problem
Finland kicked off their 2014 Olympics on Thursday morning with a decisive 8-4 blowout of Austria. They fired 52 shots at Austrian netminder Bernhard Starkbaum with six different players scoring goals (2 for Jarkko Immonen and Mikael Granlund). It was an all-around group effort which is what they will need to continue to do with Mikko Koivu and Valtteri Filppula not in Sochi. We know they have the goaltending, but can they continue to score? They play game 2 Friday vs. Norway.
4) The USA can FLY
The Americans were able to stuff six goals into the Slovakian cage in the second period en route to a 7-1 win on Thursday. They showed a ton of speed through the neutral zone and showed that they can adapt well to the bigger European ice surface. The two Maple Leafs combined for five points (1G / 4A) while Paul Stastny had two goals of his own. Jonathan Quick was not tested all that much in this one, so it will be interesting to see if Dan Bylsma elects to stick with him or give Ryan Miller a crack at the Russians on Saturday.
5) The Russians and Canadians are as good as advertised
Both teams got off to compeltely opposite starts, but against inferior opponents they did what we all expected them to; win easily. The Russians jumped on Slovenia quickly with goals from Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. Ziga Jeglic cut the lead to 2-1 and then again to 3-2 in the second period, but that was as close as Slovenia would get as Russia capped it off with two third period goals for a 5-2 final. While Russia got off to a hot start, Canada’s was rather slow. They looked a bit disoraganized and not in-sync in the first period. After a scoreless first Shea Weber blasted one home for their first goal of the tournament at 6:20 of the second. They dominated the entire period barely allowing Norway to cross center ice. When Norway scored 22 seconds into the third, Canada could have panicked, instead Drew Doughty made it 3-1 just over a minute later. While the score indicates it was rather close, Canada was in control the entire time and definitely have something to build off of on Friday vs. Austria.