It certainly took a very long time, but Team Canada finally looked the part of unstoppable juggernaut during today’s semifinal matchup with Team USA. A 1-0 victory certainly does not impress on paper, but Carey Price only had to make 31 saves as Canada certainly limited the U.S. when they entered the offensive zone.
Transitionally, Team Canada certainly has the advantage. With regards to outright speed, Team USA probably had the best blue line corps in the tournament. Team Canada was able to work a very fluid contest when it needed to and found themselves with some excellent three-on-two opportunities. Team USA was able to block shots to defuse strong chances, and Sweden will have to do the same. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Niklas Kronwall both play very different roles for Team Sweden, but both rank within the NHL’s top 25 defensemen at blocking shots.
Offensively, Team Sweden lacks size but has great depth throughout. At center the team does find itself undersized, and that is what will likely swing puck possession towards Canada’s side significantly. Against The United States Canada was able to keep incredible defensive integrity, sealing nearly all passing lanes in the process.
They will need more of the same against a very talented Swedish team that loves to use its finesse and has a knack for finding open ice. Sweden is working under a presumption that because all their players grew up playing on large, European ice they hold a natural advantage. Yet, as nearly all Swedish players will likely tell you, they have been “Americanized” in that their NHL experience has changed their style of play.
That stylistic difference plays directly into Team Canada’s hand. Their defense was able to withstand all sorts of pressure from Team USA today — whether it was on the rush, battling along the low boards, or sealing passing lanes as the puck was on a talented forwards stick along the half boards.
Perhaps if Sweden was healthier, such as having Henrik Zetterberg and Henrik Sedin, they would have a very good chance. Perhaps if goaltender Henrik Lundqvist had look incredibly impressive, Sweden would fare better in the paper matchup.
And perhaps if Sweden had actually beaten anyone impressively, the script would be different. Nonetheless, Sweden has gotten here by playing their mistake-free, consistent style of play. Their chemistry had been better than Team Canada’s throughout the early stages of the tournament, but today marked Canada’s unofficial return to the world’s unquestioned hockey superpower. The affirmation will come Sunday with a gold medal, but it certainly would be unfair to count Sweden out completely. The tale of the tape is skewed very much so in one direction. Team Canada simply does not have enough chinks in their armor, and Team Sweden simply doesn’t have a strong enough arsenal.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486