With two pre-tournament games under their belts, it seems as though it is a good time to talk about where this team of NHL veterans stand in this international quest for gold.
It is no doubt that Team Sweden is a team that was built with a gold medal in mind. Included on this roster are fifteen skaters who know all too well what it is like to medal at an international level. Over half of Sweden’s current roster won a silver medal with Sweden during the 2014 Winter Olympics. Amongst these olympians are other notable names including: forward Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators and defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Exhibition Week 1
In their first of two pre-tournament games against Team Finland, Sweden failed to maintain their lead and fell to the Finns in overtime. Loui Eriksson was the first player to get Sweden on the board followed by a goal from forward Carl Soderberg. Defensemen Olli Maatta scored the overtime goal for Finland making the final score 3-2, in favor of the Finns.
In the second game between the Scandinavian rivals, Sweden topped Finland, 6-3. A huge asset to the victory over the Finns was the line of Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Loui Eriksson, a line that scored twice in the opening period of the game, putting the Swedes up 2-0 and from there, the game was very much in the hands of the Swedish. The chemistry between this line is nothing new seeing as though the three have played at international levels together before.
Team Sweden’s advisor, Daniel Alfredsson told Sportsnet earlier this year, “It’s their hockey sense (the Sedins) and their awareness on the ice that really stands out to me, not just between themselves but between the other forward on their line.”
That “forward” being the Canuck’s free agent acquisition, Eriksson.
As far as penalties are concerned, both games were very tame with only occasional shoving here and there, exactly what is to be expected during a pre-tournament game, disregarding the physical game between the United States and Canada on Friday, September 9th.
As previously mentioned, experience isn’t anything that this team lacks. Team Sweden is composed of countless NHL veterans who have competed at international levels before. So although this team may not have the speed that say Team North America has, they definitely rise in terms of experience.
Another strength of this team is their defense. This team’s blue line has been talked about since the start of this tournament and was named an “all-world defense” by Stephen Whyno of The Canadian Press. Amongst Sweden’s defense are Tampa Bay teammates, Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman who together got the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 2015. Also included on the blue line is the Ottawa Senator’s top scoring defenseman, Erik Karlsson who finished the 2015-2016 NHL season with 16 goals and 66 assists. Many of the skaters on this defense made it to the finals in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but this particular group is considered to even better after the addition of Stralman and Hedman and the usage of Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson who was benched in Sochi back in 2014.
One of the most notable weaknesses of this team would have to be their speed. In their pre-tournament opener against Finland, it was apparent that the Swedes didn’t come out nearly as fast as the Finns did.
“We had a bit of a slow start. It was the first game for these guys in a long time and they didn’t get the jump that the Finns had,” team advisor Nicklas Lidstrom told Sportsnet.
Something that this team has in favor of them, despite some lack of speed is their size, but will size be enough when it comes to competing against teams like the young guns of North America? Only time will tell.
Injury seems to have been taking it’s toll on this team as well. Before the pre-tournament even began, Sweden’s captain, forward Henrik Zetterberg withdrew from the competition to focus on getting healthy before the start of the NHL season. His captaincy was given to Vancouver’s H. Sedin. Two more hits to the roster early were the losses of the Detroit Red Wing’s defenseman Nicklas Kronwall and forward Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues. Steen was replaced by Anaheim’s forward Rickard Rakell who after only two games of play was hospitalized with an illness and replaced by St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist was also sat out in the first game against Finland after taking a puck to the rib in practice prior to the start of the competition.
With the competition just around the corner, I think it is apparent to the other teams and hockey fans alike, that Team Sweden is a team to watch out for. With no lack of experience during international play and a defense that is being talked about by so many, it is obvious that as long as injuries are kept to a minimum and speed doesn’t pull this team under, Sweden is going to be the team to beat throughout this competition.
(projected lines: pre-replacements)
|Mikael Backlund||Nicklas Backstrom||Gabriel Landeskog|
|Carl Hagelin||Filip Forsberg||Patric Hornqvist|
|Daniel Sedin||Henrik Sedin||Loui Eriksson|
|Rickard Rakell||Marcus Kruger||Jakob Silfverberg|
|Oliver Ekman-Larsson||Erik Karlsson|
|Victor Hedman||Anton Stralman|
|Mattias Ekholm||Niklas Hjalmarsson|
Wednesday, September 14th-
Team Sweden vs. Team Europe – Verizon Center; Washington, DC
7 p.m. ET – ESPN3, SN360, TVA Sports 2
Sunday, September 18th-
Team Sweden vs. Team Russia, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports
Tuesday, September 20th-
Team Finland vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports
Wednesday, September 21st-
Team North America vs. Team Sweden, 3 p.m., ESPN, SN, TVA Sports