It will look like a hockey game (bold prediction)
The vast majority of the games in the Olympics this year have looked very little like the hockey North Americans have become accustomed to – teams trying to create chances, trying to score goals, trying to win. The gross talent mis-matches have led to one team (rightfully) pulling into a defensive shell and trying to keep anything interesting from happening. Canada and Sweden have the two best defensive corps in the tournament, and neither team has their group leashed to the goal-posts with four foot long ropes. Because those guys are allowed to push and create, hockey happens. Which is fun.
There still won’t be a ton of goals
As much as both teams have the ability to score, and the interest in playing in a way that creates goals, they still won’t give up many. Goals often come after a mental lapse leads to a defensive mistake. It’s rare in the NHL to see guys get beat with plain speed or muscle. Because of the weight of the game – Olympic gold, for heaven’s sake – players will be extremely focused on making sure they’re not the goat. Heads, they will be a-swivellin’, much to the delight of coaches everywhere. There won’t be many coverage errors, which should limit Grade A chances. (Oh, and the game features two pretty deec goaltenders as well.)
Deflections and rebounds
When teams know they’re up against a great goaltender, they tend to avoid wasting possessions by chucking unscreened wristers at them. As it went in the Canada/USA semifinal, their best bet is to try to establish traffic, tip pucks, and hunt for rebounds. Lundqvist and Price in net? The strategy makes sense.
Canada will stick with short shifts and maintain their possession obssession
Canada seems intent on having two things in this tournament: fresh legs, and the puck. When a coach preaches something unique (like Babcock’s insistence on Earth’s shortest shifts) and it works, players buy in pretty quick. We’re of malleable minds, hockey players. A Canadian lead would be awfully tough to reverse given their dedication to those two things.
Battle of the D-corps
These two teams have the best D-corps of all the countries in the tournament. Erik Karlsson is tied for the tournament lead in points, Canada has more goals from defensemen from any country…it’s not even that close. While it’s fun to pick apart the forwards and how they stack up, you can’t help but feel that at some point, this will come down to a big play at a big moment from a defenseman.
It’s gonna be early, but it’s gonna be fun. See you on the other side.