No. 1 seeds in all tournament-style competitions are supposed to be feared as Goliaths meant to be toppled by underdogs or watched with a sort of reverence and comparisons to the all-time greats. None of this, however, applies to Team Sweden, the No. 1 seed for the men’s hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Injuries were long the question mark for Team Sweden, and the loss of Captain Henrik Zetterberg has only made the issue loom larger. Without him, Henrik Sedin and Johan Franzen, the Swedes certainly have had to rely on their depth and remain 3-0 after pool play.
But what an underwhelming 3-0 they are. In three contests, the Swedes have shown little consistency and were nearly upset by Switzerland — a team that mirrors them albeit with less NHL talent. That NHL talent is what separates Sweden from the pack despite injury and what can carry them to a medal.
It starts with the Chicago Blackhawks and their three Olympians who make up Sweden’s depth. Marcus Kruger has found himself in the same role with the team at fourth line center, but Sweden’s penalty kill gave up two goals to Latvia who nearly had the game tied in the third period.
With Zetterberg out of the lineup, Kruger can certainly make a statement and earn some more ice time. He is no longer the offensive force that he was before coming to the NHL, but all it takes is opportunity, skill and maybe a bit of luck for the puck to end up in the back of the net.
On the flip side, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have proven to be non-factors with regards to blue-line scoring. Sweden’s offense has found success up top, especially with Erik Karlsson, but nonetheless Hjalmarsson and Oduya are non-factors. In three games, they combined have no points and a plus/minus of zero.
Sweden will need more of their defensemen as they play elite level competition such as Russia or Finland. Henrik Lundqvist has been excellent so far, but he has not had to face an excessive amount of shots thanks to competition more than Sweden’s smothering defense. His performance, in spite of injuries, creates a constant confidence that keeps Sweden within medal discussion among the world’s elite.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486