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Injury-plagued Swedes see room for improvement

Sunday, 02.16.2014 / 11:24 AM ET / News
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Injury-plagued Swedes see room for improvement

SOCHI -- Mention Sweden around Bolshoy Ice Dome or Shayba Arena and a second or two later you'll hear the word "injuries." What you won't hear is the word "undefeated," but maybe that belongs in the conversation too.

"You can't complain when you're 3-0," Sweden goalie Henrik Lundqvist said of his team's preliminary-round performance at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

After sweeping through Group B with wins against Czech Republic (4-2), Switzerland (1-0) and Latvia (5-3), the Swedes took Sunday off to get out and about around Olympic Park, allowing them to see some events and take in the sights.

It's a well-deserved and well-earned break for a team that sees itself as a gold-medal contender in spite of a back injury that knocked captain Henrik Zetterberg out of the Olympics after one game, a rib injury that kept center Henrik Sedin at home in Vancouver, and a concussion that prevented forward Johan Franzen from joining his countrymen in Sochi.

The Swedes are off until the quarterfinals Wednesday. Their opponent is still yet to be determined.

"I still believe we can do this," Lundqvist said.

However, when they get back on the ice, which presumably will happen Monday, coach Par Marts won't be short on checklist items that he'll want to work on.

The Swedes might be 3-0, but they know they're an underwhelming 3-0. Two of those games could have gone the other way had it not been for Lundqvist and Sweden's lethal power play, which produced four goals against Latvia and is 5-for-13 in the tournament.

"We haven't played well at all," center Patrik Berglund said. "I think we struggled against Switzerland, and we struggled even more [against Latvia]. They are really good teams, but we've got to play better, and we haven't. We've been winning the games, but we haven't played well."

Berglund's harshness is somewhat warranted. The Swedes haven't stacked up well enough against other gold-medal contenders such as the United States, Russia, Canada or even Finland, which wasn't seen as a contender for gold coming into the tournament but is a dangerous medal contender.

Sweden scored 10 goals on 86 shots in three games. Finland had 14 goals on 91 shots in two games before its showdown Sunday against Canada, which had scored nine goals on 84 shots in its first two games.

Sweden gave up two power-play goals Saturday, when it got sloppy in the neutral zone and had too many giveaways that led to quality scoring chances for Latvia. Lundqvist had to stop a breakaway midway through the third period when Sweden's lead was only 4-3.

When Lundqvist was asked about the state of his team after three games, his answer was telling.

"I'm not sure," he said. "I mean, the most important thing is we won our three games here. We took care of business. But I think facing a really good team in the quarterfinal, we'll have to improve a lot. We have the skill, we just have to be smart with the puck.

"But we've got a couple of days now to regroup and go over a couple of things. It's tough, you know, everybody is trying to get used to the system and the big ice, but the most important thing is we got three wins."

He's right. The Swedes did what they were supposed to do. They did what they were expected to do. And they did it despite some significant injuries that changed the perception around them.

They came into the tournament as a gold-medal favorite along with the Americans, Russians and Canadians. Now they're an underdog because of the injuries, but they're an undefeated underdog that has more time than anybody else to work out the kinks before the elimination round begin.

"We're one of those teams that can do it," defenseman Johnny Oduya said. "We're going for the gold. We want to win the gold. Maybe a playoff round will wake us up a little bit. We can play better."

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EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 WSH 53 40 9 4 175 120 84
2 FLA 55 32 17 6 153 127 70
3 NYR 55 31 18 6 157 140 68
4 BOS 55 30 19 6 163 150 66
5 DET 55 28 18 9 138 134 65
6 NYI 53 29 18 6 150 131 64
7 TBL 54 30 20 4 144 130 64
8 PIT 54 28 19 7 139 136 63
9 NJD 56 28 21 7 124 124 63
10 PHI 54 24 20 10 128 140 58
11 CAR 55 24 21 10 131 143 58
12 MTL 56 27 25 4 151 151 58
13 OTT 56 25 25 6 157 173 56
14 BUF 56 22 28 6 131 155 50
15 CBJ 56 22 28 6 140 173 50
16 TOR 53 19 25 9 122 149 47

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
D. Larkin 54 18 20 25 38
H. Zetterberg 55 10 28 5 38
T. Tatar 54 16 17 -1 33
G. Nyquist 55 14 16 -1 30
P. Datsyuk 40 9 21 14 30
J. Abdelkader 55 14 15 -2 29
M. Green 47 4 17 -7 21
N. Kronwall 45 3 14 -10 17
B. Richards 41 5 11 6 16
D. DeKeyser 51 7 8 12 15
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
P. Mrazek 21 10 5 .933 1.94
J. Howard 7 8 4 .904 2.89