Canucks in Sochi: Latvia falls short, Sweden squeaks past Switzerland, Canada dominates

During the Olympics, Pass it to Bulis has transitioned to Pass it to Zamuner and will be going full bore with Team Canada coverage, including full I Watch This Game posts for each Team Canada game.

There are, however, other countries participating in the Olympics — I know, I’m surprised too — and several other countries feature Vancouver Canucks players and prospects. It’s only fitting, then, that we keep an eye on these players and how they’re performing in a feature we like to call “Canucks in Sochi.”

It took me a while to catch up with all the games from Valentine’s Day, so this is going up a little late. Okay, a lot late. Saturday’s games have already happened and I’m just catching up on Friday. There’s too much hockey! Stop it with all the hockey, Sochi.

Czech Republic 4 – 2 Latvia

The Czech’s performance against Sweden raised some serious questions about the team’s personnel and decision-making. Their performance against Latvia did little to answer those questions. The Czech Republic certainly outplayed Latvia, outshooting them 39-20 over the course of the game, but Latvia hung around in their typical scrappy fashion.

After the Czech Republic opened the scoring, Latvia tied it up on a goal that was somehow missed by the refs and had to be reviewed at the next stoppage, 45 seconds later. When Jaromir Jagr scored a big goal in the final minute of the first period, it looked like it might ease the tension, but Latvia responded just a couple minutes into the second period.

Even as the Czech Republic took a two-goal lead, the outcome seemed in doubt, partly due to Ondrej Pavelec’s shaky goaltending. Speaking of, Edgars Masalskis couldn’t match his incredible performance against Switzerland, but still made 35 saves, some of them spectacular. He should have had the fourth Czech goal, however, which was the one that put this game firmly out of reach.

Canucks notes:

  • Ronalds Kenins played a fine game, finishing plus-1 thanks to his strong forecheck that helped free up the puck for the second Latvian goal. He had just 12 minutes of ice time, however, as Ted Nolan relied upon his veterans, particularly Sandis Ozolins, rather than his younger players.

Sweden 1 – 0 Switzerland

There’s no getting around it: Sweden was awfully lucky to beat Switzerland. That’s a shocking result, even with the upsets that Switzerland has been able to manage in the past. For long stretches of this game, Switzerland simply outplayed Sweden.

What was most surprising was that Switzerland was not sitting back. They attacked with a strong forecheck and swarmed the net when they had offensive opportunities, out-shooting Sweden in the first period 13-5, but were just unable to capitalize on their many chances. The momentum only turned in Sweden’s favour thanks to a series of Swiss penalties. Switzerland honestly seemed like the better team in this game at 5-on-5.

Meanwhile, Calgary Flames goaltender Reto Berra was outstanding until he suddenly wasn’t. Berra has been one of the worst goaltenders in the NHL this season, with an .896 save percentage, but for most of the game he held Sweden at bay, ensuring that Switzerland had a chance. Then, with 7-and-a-half minutes remaining, a weak wrist shot from Erik Karlsson that Berra should have easily swallowed up instead squirted free into the crease for Daniel Alfredsson to chip in.

Canucks notes:

  • Daniel Sedin, like most of the Swedish skaters, had a fairly quiet game. He played big minutes, spending time on both the power play and the penalty kill, and finished with 2 shots on goal, but couldn’t break down the Swiss defence.
  • Daniel’s best moment came in the third period, when he executed a gorgeous spin-o-rama past Yannick Weber, drawing a penalty in the process. He actually grabbed hold of Weber’s stick, pulling it into his midsection to make the hook seem a lot worse. I’m guessing those two might have words in the Canucks locker room once the Olympics are over.
  • Weber and Raphael Diaz both had great games, both defensively and offensively, as the Swiss depend on their defencemen to lead their offensive attack. Diaz was second in ice time for the Swiss with an even 20 minutes, while Weber was fourth at 18:25. Both played key roles on the penalty kill and power play. Weber finished with 4 shots on goal.
  • Surprisingly, Weber’s best moments came on the penalty kill. He had one great sequence where he blocked a shot, then did well to box out two bigger Swedish forwards from Berra’s crease.
  • Diaz was quietly one of Switzerland’s best players, despite not logging a shot on goal. He was relied upon heavily to start the breakout from the defensive zone and distributed the puck well on the power play. On one power play in the third period, Diaz made a fantastic slap pass, but Henrik Lundqvist was able to barely hang on to the tipped puck.

Canada 6 – 0 Austria

I wrote the IWTG for this game, but here’s the gist: Austria isn’t particularly good, while Canada is particularly good. Their particulars are respectively bad and good.

Canucks notes:

  • Roberto Luongo was way better than he had to be in net, stopping every shot he faced for his first ever Olympic shutout.
  • It has to be nice to finally get some goal support, with Canada putting up 6 on Austria. Luongo hasn’t received that much goal support in exactly two months. The last time the Canucks scored 6 goals was on December 14th against the Boston Bruins.
  • Dan Hamhuis didn’t play, with P.K. Subban taking his spot as the seventh defenceman. There’s speculation, however, that he’ll step in against Finland, taking the spot of someone like Marc-Edouard Vlasic or Jay Bouwmeester. We’ll see.
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