The Czech’s outshot the Swedes in the tournament’s opening game 29-25 (including a 15-5 third period thumping), and you can argue that they didn’t get great goaltending early on. You can make the point that they had a few chances they didn’t convert, or that they just got off to a slow start, and you could take all of these things to mean that the Czechs might be pretty good after all, and maybe the Swedes are overrated? You can do those things, but you’d probably be wrong.
The Swedes went up on the Czechs by a score of 4-0 less than 25 minutes into the game by being active. Their defense jumped into the play constantly, with Erik Karlsson headlining the onslaught, while Niklas Kronwall found himself behind the Czech goal-line with the puck three times in the first period alone. The scary Sedin-Backstrom-Eriksson line used wide spacing low to stretch out the slow-footed Czech D. They simply refused to give up possession, and all this led to pucks behind the struggling Czech tender Jakub Kovar, and the game getting out of hand.
4-0 Czechs, and while the second period had only just begun, the game was over.
That might not have been entirely true, however, because leads like that take players into this team we’re playing is a joke mode. Nobody actually says that on the bench or in the room, but come on – I was making Harlem Globetrotters/Washington Generals jokes from my perch here in Toronto. You don’t think those thoughts cross the mind of the players in the game? Sometimes it just seems easy.
And so, as the stat-heads would say, “score effects” happen.
I’ve written before about “true toughness,” and that’s what’s at the core of that phrase. When the score is tied 2-2 at the Olympics even the guys who aren’t willing to consistently put their bodies on the line know these are the moments that you have to do it, that you have to make that play to beat a guy to a puck by that inch to get it going the right way. Up 4-0…I’m gonna let that guy win the race to the puck and just try to steal it from him. I may not get it, but I won’t get hurt (a big perk of leading hockey games), and it’s pretty unlikely that it’ll lead to a goal.
But when everyone is doing that, the tide turns, and teams start to squirm because it’s real tough to convince yourself to switch back into abuse-taking mode. Nobody likes leaving the beach and walking into the factory. And so, here come the Czechs.
What once looked like a slow-footed d-corps suddenly looked steady, and the possession dominance started to flip flop. The Czechs becoming suddenly impressive seemed dictated by the situation. When the starter’s pistol fired and the teams jumped out of the gate to start the game full steam ahead, it wasn’t close. This isn’t to say the Czechs are bad – they’re just not on the Swedes level. Not many teams are.
On the plus side: the decision by the Czech Republic coach to not pull their tender at the end of the game when it was 4-2 Sweden was absolutely the right choice. Sweden is almost certainly going to win that Group, meaning the Czech’s best chance at a buy to the quarters is to finish second, in which case goal differential is going to make a huge difference in deciding who moves on. If you keep it close with the Swedes and win your next two games (which is quite possible – maybe likely – given that they’ll play Latvia and Switzerland), you’re going to have a shot at moving on. Savvy decision there.
The Swedes played 25 minutes of hockey and it was enough to double up the Czech Republic. That team is more impressive than the score dictated.