Feb 11, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
When Olympic rosters were announced in early January, each nation knew it was unlikely all players would remain healthy until Sochi.
Sweden, however, probably didn’t count on half its roster getting hurt.
An exaggeration? Yes, but only slightly. The Swedes endured a tough January as a number of key players went down with injury:
— Henrik Zetterberg missed two games to a back ailment, having already missed 11 earlier in the year with a herniated disc.
— Daniel Alfredsson missed six games with back spasms.
— Alex Steen missed 11 games with a concussion, and is currently playing with a fractured toe.
— Loui Eriksson missed 15 games with a concussion, his second of the year.
— Henrik Sedin missed eight games with a rib injury.
— Johan Franzen missed 16 games with a concussion, returned to play once, then was put on IR again.
In the case of Sedin and Franzen, their injuries were serious enough to rule them out of Sochi, replaced by Marcus Johansson and Gustav Nyquist respectively. In Sedin, the Swedes lost an experienced international performer (part of the ’06 gold medal team in Turin) and a top center; in Franzen, they lost a quality goalscorer who thrived in his last international competition, scoring nine points in seven games at the 2012 Worlds.
It’ll be very interesting to see how Sweden fares without the Sedin twins playing together. Swedish head coach Par Marts had planned on playing them on the same line and in a top-six forward role, and has been forced to re-jig his lineup — Daniel will now be centered by Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom.
“I think [Henrik and Backstrom] are pretty similar in their playing styles,” Sedin said, per the Olympic News Service. “They like to keep the puck and move it up, so I think it will work very well. He is an incredible passer and a smart player, so it’s going to be fun.”
“Of course, it is sad for [Henrik], but that’s just how it is. He has never been injured, so this is definitely the longest I’ve played without him.”
Thankfully for Sweden, the positions considered to be its greatest strengths — defense and goaltending — are operating at full health. Henrik Lundqvist was razor sharp for the Rangers leading up to the Olympics and, on Monday, Marts rolled out what looked to be three formidable defense pairings, as Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson skated with 2012 Norris winner Erik Karlsson, while the Detroit and Chicago boys — Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson — made up the other pairs.
That left a pair of pretty quality NHL blueliners on the outside looking in. Henrik Tallinder and Alex Edler were tagged as the seventh and eighth defensemen, which illustrates just how deep (and healthy) the Swedish blueline is.
“I think there are a lot of teams that have pretty good teams, and we’re definitely one of them,” Karlsson told NHL.com. “We have a lot of guys that have been around for a while and even won in the past. We have some younger guys that have been playing really good lately.”
With that said, it does seem the x-factor is health. Zetterberg, Alfredsson, Steen and Eriksson will need to put their respective ailments behind them, which is a tall order given the compacted nature of the Olympic schedule. Teams could end up playing as many as seven games in 10 days to win gold — and make no mistake, gold is the goal for Sweden.
“People talk about Canada, the U.S. and Russia, and rightly so. They’ve got great teams,” Alfredsson said. “But we feel we can give them a good match, and we’re looking forward to playing one of those teams.”
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