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."