Swedes must improve against Belarus
BELARUS (0-1-0-0) vs. SWEDEN (1-0-0-0)
NOTE: records are presented as three-point wins (regulation time), two-point wins (OT or shootout), one-point losses (OT or shootout), zero-point losses (regulation time).
What to watch: Sweden faced a strong test by the upstart Germans on Wednesday and skated away with a 2-0 win. Belarus didn't fare so well against Finland in its opener of pool play, losing 5-1 to a Finnish team that may have more firepower than we initially thought.
Based on his calm yet revealing demeanor during his postgame news conference, it was clear that Sweden coach Bengt-Ake Gustafsson wants more from his team. He wants better tempo and shorter shifts and thinks that will translate to more goals.
It'll also be interesting again to watch Peter Forsberg. The former NHL superstar said his chronically injured foot felt good after Wednesday's win. Also, will Gustafsson keep Johan Franzen on the fourth line with Sammy Pahlsson and Fredrik Modin?
As for the Belarusians, they are clearly overmatched in this one -- just as they were against the Finns. But they were also trailing just 2-1 late in the second period in that one and were on a power play. So you know their will is there to hang tough.
Belarus: For a team that has only two NHLers on its roster, Montreal's Sergei Kostitsyn and Ruslan Salei, who has played in two games for Colorado this season, Belarus hung tough against the Finns and at least made it a game going into the third period.
It's no secret that Belarus is going to need absolutely unbelievable goaltending to pull out an upset in this tournament. Vitali Koval was good against the Finns with 40 saves.
"It's is still not enough to win, and that's the main point," Koval said. "Doesn't matter how many saves I made."
Koval will have to be great again against Sweden and the Belarusians are going to have to find someone other than Kostitsyn to put the puck in the net. Still, expect Belarus to play a very conservative game as they try to limit the uber-talented Swedes and hope to cash in on some mistakes or power plays.
It's really their only hope.
Sweden: One game down and it was a shutout, but still the Swedes have lots of questions to answer going forward.
Will Forsberg develop chemistry with Henrik Zetterberg and Patric Hornqvist? Will Franzen stay on the fourth line? Will Mattias Weinhandl stick with the Sedin twins? Why did Mattias Ohlund and not Nicklas Lidstrom lead the Swedes in ice time against Germany? Can they stay out of the penalty box?
Like we said, lots of questions. But, they can all be answered Friday against Belarus -- a game that's really just another tuneup for Rivalry Sunday when the Swedes face their border rivals, the Finns.
"We can skate," Daniel Sedin said. "It's a matter of getting tougher."
Total NHL players on rosters: Belarus 2; Sweden 19
Puck Drop: "There are no easy games anymore," goalie Henrik Lundqvist told NHL.com. "It's a progress to get the speed going. (Gustafsson) gave a lot of guys ice time and maybe down the stretch we'll play some guys a little bit more, but it was important for everybody to get out there."
NHL.com predicts: Sweden finds the chemistry it lacked against Germany and rolls to an easy win, a good sign heading into Rivalry Sunday.