It's a gold medal edition of the Dobber Ramblings, which is pretty damn exciting.
I hope you're having an early beer and enjoying what should be a pretty good game. I previewed the game exhaustively if you're looking for some late night/breakfast pregame reading.
Essentailly Canada is the favorite thanks to their far superior even-strength game, and their surplus of superstar depth. This Swedish team is solid but their fourth line (Carl Hagelin, Marcus Krueger, SHLer Jimmie Ericsson/Jakob Silfverberg) looks like, well, a really good NHL fourth line. Canada's fourth line has Matt Duchene on it.
The real danger to Canada in the gold medal game? That dynamite Swedish power-play, which is generating nearly two scoring chances per opportunity so far this tournament.
Erik Karlsson is clearly the focal point of Sweden's power-play success. Karlsson's shot is deceptively powerful and that's actually where he's doing the majority of his damage in the tournament.
Even beyond Karlsson, the Swedish forwards have authored some solid work with the man-advantage in this tournament too, especially Alex Steen whose had to step up and fill Henrik Zetterberg/Henrik Sedins slot handling the puck on the right half wall.
Sweden's PP is converting on nearly 40% of their opportunities in this tournament, and it would behoove the Canadian team to play a more disciplined game than what they managed against the United States and Latvia.
As good as Sweden's power-play has been, Canada's PK might be the single best special teams unit at the Olympic tournement.
Generally speaking we'd expect a good penalty kill to surrender a chance against every 90 seconds (or 1.33 scoring chances per 2 minutes of short handed ice time). The Canadian penalty-killers, however, are playing a pressure penalty kill about as well as you'll ever see, and are permitting way less than a half chance per opportunity.
Canada's short handed play has been enormously impressive, and the hockey nerd in me is really looking forward to seeing how the special teams battle plays out on Sunday.
There's lots of injuries coming out of the Olympic Games unfortunately -- which especially sucks since the tournament was already marred by the absences of Steven Stamkos, Henriks Zetterberg and Sedin, Mikko Koivu, Valterri Filppula, etc.). This is the single biggest reason that I won't weep if the "NHLers at the Olympics" thing is over and done with after Sochi. If the Olympics is replaced by the World Cup - which would take place in August and September - more countries would be able to ice something that more closely approximates their optimal roster...
Injury wise we already know that Fedor Tyutin (ankle sprain) is out 2-3 weeks and Mats Zuccarello (broken hand) will miss a similar length of time; Henrik Zetterberg is done for the season, as is John Tavares; while Panthers teammates Aleksander Barkov (lower body) and Tomas Kopecky (concussion) are out indefinitely. Beyond the obvious "coming back injured" guys here's some unlisted players whom for a variety of reasons, I suspect are battling or playing through injuries.
An example is St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who I'd be worried about as a fantasy owner.
Now there's no firm news about Tarasenko's health status but he appeared to be labouring at this tournament. A month ago Tarasenko looked like St. Louis' most dynamic player. In Sochi he was ineffective on a pretty solid line with Nikolai Kulemin and Artem Anisimov, before getting dropped to the fourth line in the elimination round (and deservedly).
In the lead up to the tournament Tarasekno missed several games over a two week span with separate undislcosed illnesses. Combine those suspicious circumstances with a physical, quick, skilled forward no-showing at the Olympic tournament, and I'd say it's a situation worth monitoring.
Same thing goes for Minnesota Wild and team USA forward Zach Parise, who obviously still isn't quite his old self after he missed a month with a foot injury earlier this year. Parise returned to action in late January and it was considered a miraculously speedy recovery at the time. You know how sometimes things sound too good to be true, and as it turns out they just are?
Even when America was lighting up the competition in the preliminary round, Parise looked a step (or two) behind his usual pace all tournament long.
Thought that Suomi defender Sami Vatanen was magnifient throughout this tournament. Just like the skilled Finnish blue-liner is upstaged by other talented young defenders in Anaheim (Hampus Lindholm), he'll come back from Sochi the less heralded young Finnish blue-liner (behind Olli Matta) and lagging far behind Suomi teammate and Minnesota Wild forward Mikael Granlund as the "breakout star of the tournament."
But it's worth noting that Vatanen logged the most minutes among all Finnish defenders in this tournament, and was both extremely dangerous offensively and solid and reliable in his own end.
Considering the way fast blue-liners like Vatanen, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, and even Marek Zidlicky just chewed up ground on the big ice and dominated for their respective teams, USA Hockey's brass has to feel pretty silly for leaving Keith Yandle at home. If NHLers go to Pyeongchang in four years, expect Dean Lombardi's spreadsheets to be received a little more openly...
My all non-NHLer tournament team:
LW: Lauris Darzins (Latvia)
C: Jiga Zeglic (Slovenia)
RW: Alex Radulov (Russia)
D: Yevgeni Medvedev (Russia)
D: Sabahudin Kovacevic (Slovenia)
G: Edgars Masalskis (Latvia)
Get these guys NHL contracts already. Well except Masalskis.
Alexander Radulov had a really good tournament - those two untimely penalties against the USA aside - and although he's probably at the tail end of his prime clearly belongs in the NHL. Yeah he's probably not in the best shape and no he doesn't appear to be a guy who is well liked in any room (much less a dressing room). But damn is he good at hockey.
It's not just his offensive skills either, Radulov is a quality defensive player (he willingly and ably blocked shots all tournament) and wins a tonne of puck battles. It's never going to happen, but it would be cool to see one of the world's better two-way wingers play in the best league in the world again. Same goes for Kovalchuk...
UPDATE: My thoughts on the game, and the ultimate vindication of Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock's Olympic machine.
Thomas Drance is a news editor at theScore.